Ayn Rand & Libertarianism

Rand and Libertarianism

Tibor R. Machan

The
question still comes up, "What does Rand have to Contribute to
Libertarianism?"  Of course, late in her life Rand tried to
disassociate herself from libertarians, whom she called "hippies of the
Right."  In fact, of course, what she found most objectionable about
libertarians is their alleged disdain for a philosophical foundation
for their political ideas and ideals.  Rand was convinced that
philosophy matters very much in the defense of a free society.  She
stressed, moreover, that in the last analysis she was not a capitalist,
not an egoist, not even an individualist but, first and foremost, a
champion of human reason.  From this, she argued, one can infer most of
what really matters to us all, including the vital importance of a free
society.

Libertarians, however, tend to want to have an open
door policy–they don’t want to exclude people from the rank of those
who defend liberty even if their defense is wrong or weak or really
badly put.  Be you a Moonie
or Christian or even socialist in your personal viewpoint, libertarians
want to extend an invitation to you.  This seems only sensible,
strategically prudent–it will swell the ranks of those who will
support human liberty, never mind why.  Yes, hippies, too, were welcome
and still are, as are Mormons and prostitutes and bowlers.  The more
the merrier.  It is quantity that matters, not quality, since
libertarianism is a political movement, primarily.  It needs to have
its supporters swell in numbers as far as possible.

Rand,
however, believed that without the best case for liberty, liberty would
lose out no matter how good the numbers.  No ill founded doctrine of
liberty can hold up against all the attacks from the various sophists
who are eager to show how flimsy the defense of human liberty really
is.  Today it is the communitarian, especially, who mounts a
sophisticated case against freedom by first attempting to discredit
elements of libertarianism such as individualism.  For Rand unless a
sound case for these elements exist, it makes no difference how large
the number of libertarians is.  In the end it is the soundness of the
argument that matters most, or so she believed, because she held that
human beings are rational animals and only when ultimately something
appeals to their reason, will they give it long term support.

One
aspect of Rand’s position that has not managed to make itself heard
clearly is her view that what you think isn’t the result of your
personal history and, indeed, this idea follows the long appreciated
view of most philosophers that one ought not to commit the genetic
fallacy, of judging a viewpoint by the history and origin of those who
advance it.  Rand is now being more and more judged, even by
sympathizes such as the authors of the two recent biographies, one from
Doubleday, the other from Oxford, not so much by whether her case for
her ideas is sound but by reference to her upbringing or history. 
Since she was raised in Soviet Russia, she is often deemed to be
captive of her origins. This is nonsense, of course, considering how
many others who find her ideas sound didn’t share her history at all. 
I did and that has been held against me by adversaries all my career,
but they have used it mostly as a ploy since they new that many of
those whom they embraced, refugees from right wing dictatorships, were
not biased by their history, only educated by the experience of it. 
And that holds for the likes of Ayn Rand and me.  But to acknowledge
this would mean giving up a possibly effective weapon against our ideas!

But
why do her recent biographers keep insisting on committing the genetic
fallacy?  I think the reason is that contemporary biographies are all
written under the influence of scientism, the view that everything must
be explained (away?) by means of efficient causes in a person’s
life–upbringing, nutrition, climate, economy (a la Marx), psychology
(a law Freud), etc.  To understand Ayn Rand, then, amounts to have
explained her along such lines. This is what is demanded by modern
(mechanistic) science (though not by contemporary science, which has
largely shed its mechanist premises).

There is an important
scholar of recent times who fought against such a way of understanding
thinkers of the past.  Leo Strauss, of the University of Chicago’s
Committee of Social Thought, insisted that those who try to understand
Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and many other great thinkers by these
means fail miserably and miss out on their valuable teachings.  And, of
course, they are also facing a fatal paradox: If the subjects of their
study are to be understood by explaining away their thinking, then so
must be the biographers, as well.  And that would leave truth out of
the equation completely.     

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