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Some individuals found their support of libertarianism upon ideological elements derived from the philosophy of novelist Ayn Rand, which she called Objectivism.[1] The fiction of Ayn Rand is also popular among some libertarians who do not consider themselves to be Objectivists. Yet some Objectivists are hostile to the libertarian movement. [2]


Rand's influence on libertarianism

Many influential figures in the 20th Century libertarian movement were not significantly influenced by Rand's work. Economists such as Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman, and James M. Buchanan were writing in defense of free markets long before Rand's philosophy rose to prominence. Similarly, early popularizers of libertarian ideas, including Leonard Read and Henry Hazlitt, came to their views before Rand published her iconic novels.

One libertarian intellectual who was influenced by Rand was anarchist Murray Rothbard. His libertarianism was focused on political questions, and consequently did not endorse Rand's views on metaphysics, epistemology, or ethics. However, Rothbard's philosophy and Objectivism do share the non-aggression principle. Some libertarians, including Rothbard and Walter Block, took the view that the non-aggression principle is an irreducible concept: it is not the logical result of any given ethical philosophy but, rather, is the necessary precondition of all virtuous conduct. Rand, too, argued that liberty was a precondition of virtuous conduct[3], but argued that her non-aggression principle itself derived from a complex set of previous knowledge and values. For this reason, unlike Objectivists, libertarians refer to the non-aggression principle as the non-aggression "axiom".

The Libertarian Party's first candidate for President of the United States, John Hospers, credited Rand as a major force in shaping his own political beliefs.[4] One Rand biographer quoted Rothbard as saying that he was "in agreement basically with all [Rand's] philosophy," and saying that it was Rand who had "convinced him of the theory of natural rights..."[5] The libertarian magazine Reason: Free Minds, Free Markets takes its subtitle from Rand's 1957 novel, Atlas Shrugged, in which she argues that "a free mind and a free market are corollaries."

Libertarian L. Neil Smith described himself as an Objectivist.[6]

Libertarian views of Rand

Prominent libertarians' views of Rand are mixed. Many credit her for inspiring young people to explore libertarian ideas, but some fault her for dogmatism and the cult of personality they perceive among her followers. For example, in 1995, Milton Friedman described Rand as "an utterly intolerant and dogmatic person who did a great deal of good." [7] Similarly, David Boaz, executive vice president of the libertarian Cato Institute, describes Rand's work as "squarely within the libertarian tradition" but writes that some libertarians are put off by "the starkness of her presentation and by her cult following." [8]

Rothbard became a particularly harsh critic of Rand, writing in The Sociology of the Ayn Rand Cult that:

The major lesson of the history of the [objectivist] movement to libertarians is that It Can Happen Here, that libertarians, despite explicit devotion to reason and individuality, are not exempt from the mystical and totalitarian cultism that pervades other ideological as well as religious movements. Hopefully, libertarians, once bitten by the virus, may now prove immune.[9]

Rand's view of libertarians

Ayn Rand condemned libertarianism as being a greater threat to freedom and capitalism than both liberalism and conservativism[10]. Rand said of libertarians that:

"They are not defenders of capitalism. They’re a group of publicity seekers... most of them are my enemies... I’ve read nothing by a Libertarian (when I read them, in the early years) that wasn’t my ideas badly mishandled—i.e., had the teeth pulled out of them—with no credit given."[10]


Political advocacy and philosophical foundations

Ayn Rand regarded Objectivism as an integrated philosophical system. Libertarianism, in contrast, is a political philosophy which confines its attention to matters of public policy. For example, Objectivism argues positions in metaphysics, epistemology, ethics and aesthetics, whereas libertarianism does not address such questions.

Responding to a question about the Libertarian Party in 1976, Rand said:

"The trouble with the world today is philosophical: only the right philosophy can save us. But this party plagiarizes some of my ideas, mixes them with the exact opposite–with religionists, anarchists and every intellectual misfit and scum they can find–and call themselves libertarians and run for office."[11]

On another occasion, she said:

"Further, their leadership consists of men of every persuasion, from religious conservatives to anarchists."[11]

Rand believed that political advocacy could not succeed without addressing what she saw as its methodological prerequisites, such as ethics and epistemology.

Different interpretations by Objectivists

Some Objectivists argue that departures from these prerequisites undermine the argument for capitalism. Accordingly, they follow Rand's lead and reject any affiliation with the libertarian movement.[12] This stance is most clearly identified with Peter Schwartz, Leonard Peikoff, and the Ayn Rand Institute.

Others have argued that Objectivism is not limited to Rand's own positions on philosophical issues. They have departed from Rand's antipathy toward the libertarian label. They have been willing to work with and identify with the libertarian movement, despite the presence of non-Objectivists within the movement. This stance is most clearly identified with David Kelley (who separated from the Ayn Rand Institute because of disagreements over the relationship between Objectivists and libertarians), Chris Sciabarra, Barbara Branden (Nathaniel's former wife) and others. Kelley's Atlas Society has focused on building a closer relationship between his philosophy and the libertarian movement. Nathaniel Branden has approved of Kelley's efforts, quoting from a Talmudic passage: "A hero is one who knows how to make a friend out of an enemy."

Policy disagreements

Libertarians and Objectivists both advocate limited government and individual liberty, but some Objectivists regard the policy differences between libertarians and themselves to be important.[13]


Some libertarians are anarchists, believing that the essential functions of government, such as courts and national defense, can be provided by private firms. Rand strongly opposed this element of the libertarian movement. She regarded government as necessary to safeguard individual rights by "placing the retaliatory use of physical force under objective control."[14] Thus, she saw the anarchist wing of libertarianism as seeking to eliminate objectively justified government-enforced restraints on the violation of the rights of individuals by their families, communities, and whatever organizations might be formed in place of government in an anarchist society.[15]

Rand wrote:

Above all, do not join the wrong ideological groups or movements, in order to 'do something.' By 'ideological' (in this context), I mean groups or movements proclaiming some vaguely generalized, undefined (and, usually, contradictory) political goals. (E.g., the Conservative Party, which subordinates reason to faith, and substitutes theocracy for capitalism; or the 'libertarian' hippies, who subordinate reason to whims, and substitute anarchism for capitalism.) To join such groups means to reverse the philosophical hierarchy and to sell out fundamental principles for the sake of some superficial political action which is bound to fail. It means that you help the defeat of your ideas and the victory of your enemies.[16]

Peter Schwartz, a prominent Objectivist associated with the Ayn Rand Institute, argues that any association with anarchists, however rare or numerous within the movement, undermines the advocacy of capitalism.[17]

Psychologist Nathaniel Branden, who for 18 years was one of Rand's closest associates until they had a falling out, has claimed that Rand "...did not realize that the majority of people who called themselves 'libertarians' were advocates not of anarchism but of constitutionally limited government (in essence, the Objectivist model)... In any event, today libertarianism is part of our language and is commonly understood to mean the advocacy of minimal government. Ayn Rand is commonly referred to as 'a libertarian philosopher.' Folks, we are all libertarians now. Might as well get used to it."[18]

Foreign policy

Libertarians and Objectivists sometimes disagree about matters of foreign policy. For example, scholars at the libertarian Cato Institute have opposed military intervention against Iran[19], while the Objectivist Ayn Rand Institute has supported invading Iran.[20][21]

See also


  1. ^ Rand, Ayn, For the New Intellectual (1961) Random House; see also, Peikoff, Leonard, Objectivisim: the Philosophy of Ayn Rand (1991) Dutton.
  2. ^ Schwartz, Peter (May 18, 1989). "On Moral Sanctions". The Intellectual Activist 5 (1).  
  3. ^ Rand, Ayn (September 23, 1974). "From My 'Future File'". The Ayn Rand Letter 3 (26): 4–5.  
  4. ^ Hospers, John, Libertarianism, Nash, 1971; "Conversations with Ayn Rand," Liberty, July 1990, pp. 23-36, and Sept. 1990, pp. 42-52; and, "Memories of Ayn Rand," Full Context, May, 1998.
  5. ^ Branden, Barbara, The Passion of Ayn Rand, Doubleday, 1984, p. 413; according to his biographer, Justin Raimondo, Rothbard wrote a letter to Rand declaring, "Atlas Shrugged is the greatest novel ever written," Raimondo, Justin, An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard, Prometheus Books, 2000, p. 118, cf. Rothbard, Murray, "Letters: the Philosophy of Ayn Rand," The National Review, January 18, 1958, p. 71.
  6. ^ Smith, L. Neil (December 1987). "Unanimous Consent and the Utopian Vision". Future of Freedom Conference. Culver City, California. Retrieved 2009-08-04.  
  7. ^ Doherty, Brian (June 1995). "Best of Both Worlds". Reason.  
  8. ^ Boaz, David (February 2, 2005). "Ayn Rand at 100". Retrieved 2009-08-04.  
  9. ^ Rothbard, Murray (1972). "The Sociology of the Ayn Rand Cult". Retrieved 2009-08-04.   Rothbard's essay was later revised and printed as a pamphlet by Liberty magazine in 1987, and by the Center for Libertarian Studies in 1990.
  10. ^ a b "Ayn Rand’s Q & A on Libertarianism", Ayn Rand Institute
  11. ^ a b Rand, Ayn (2005). Mayhew, Robert. ed. Ayn Rand Answers, the Best of Her Q&A. New York: New American Library. p. 73. ISBN 0-451-21665-2.  
  12. ^ Schwartz, Peter, "Libetarianism: the Perversion of Liberty," in The Voice of Reason, L. Peikoff, editor (1988) New American Library, pp. 311-333.
  13. ^ Schwartz, Peter, "Libertarianism: the Perversion of LIberty," The Voice of Reason: Essays in Objectivist Thought, Peikoff, L., edit., New American Library, 1988.
  14. ^ Rand, Ayn, "The Nature of Government" in The Virtue of Selfishness, p. 144 (paperback p. 107)
  15. ^ Rand, Ayn, "The Nature of Government" in The Virtue of Selfishness, p. 144 (paperback p. 107)
  16. ^ Rand, Ayn. "What Can One Do?" Philosophy: Who Needs It
  17. ^ Schwartz, Peter, "Libetarianism: the Perversion of Liberty," in The Voice of Reason, L. Peikoff, editor (1988) New American Library, pp. 311-333.
  18. ^ Objectivism and Libertarianism
  19. ^
  20. ^ See, e.g., Capitalism magazine, October 2, 2001, Peikoff, Leonard, "End States That Sponsor Terrorism," (retrieved 4-16-09)
  21. ^ "Iran and the 'Axis of Evil,'" The Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights, Feb 4, 2002 (retrieved 4-16-09);


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