libertarianism’s last days

NPR is doing a three-part series on Ayn Rand – On Capitol Hill, Rand’s ‘Atlas’ Can’t Be Shrugged Off. 

At the time, Rand’s novels were almost universally panned. Her ideas were called “the height of immorality.” Her followers, the objectivists, were seen as a radical sideshow in politics and economics.

But now?

“Every time you submit to a regulation, it diminishes your liberty,” says Republican Rep. Steve King of Iowa, speaking just off the House floor a few weeks ago. King says he loves Rand.

Freshman Rep. Mick Mulvaney, a South Carolina Republican, has read Rand’s novels six or eight times each.

“It’s almost frightening how accurate a prediction of the future the book was,” Mulvaney says.

In Atlas Shrugged, which Rand considered her masterpiece, the wealthy corporate producers are the engines of the American economy, but they are constantly stymied by invasive legislation and terrible government regulations.


Conservative blogger Robert McCain writes, Ayn Rand On The Liberal And Liberal-Lite Parties In The U.S.

NPR quotes Ayn Rand:

“Both [GOP and Democrats] today are for socialism, in effect — for controls. And there is no party, there are no voices, to offer an actual pro-capitalist, laissez-faire, economic freedom and individualism,” she said. “That is what this country needs today.”

[  ]…The Rand quotation comes from a 1959 interview. Since then, we’ve entered an Information Age. The Nanny State was as brutally stupid toward individuals then as it is now. Subsequently, the demographics have worsened, and the people who used to scream at home, clutching their newspapers, are now blogging, commenting, networking, and comparing notes. The Nanny State delenda est. The likelihood of success for the GOP nominee is proportional to the degree (s)he gets it.


The “Nanny State” is brutal is a reference to anti-poverty and social safety net programs such as Medicare, Social Security and supplemental food assistance (food stamps). Before the 1950s and certainly before S. Security was implemented in 1935 most U.S. citizens lived in actual brutal poverty. Even today it is estimated that Social Security alone keeps over 20 million Americans out of poverty. I’ll have to make a notation in my copy of Websters to include McCain’s new definition of brutal – any time a government program helps people. The last bit of Latin is a disturbing reference. – Carthago delenda est” (English: “Carthage must be destroyed”) or even in modern usage means “total warfare”. My definition of words already differing there might be some reasonable justification for McCain thinking nothing less than death of the safety net and the ensuing actual deaths of U.S. citizens will be enough for America to reach the golden heights of Randian utopia.

Libertarians and Republitarians like to skim over the fact that none of the programs that comprise the safety net were forced on the people of the U.S. Our elected representatives passed them into law. Thus far those opposed to them have been stopped by the democratic republic processes of the voting booth – not tanks rolling down the streets of Washinton. Our own Constitution does provide for such programs in the general welfare clause. We can disagree about how far the meaning of that clause extends, but it is hardly a clause one would find in the Randian constitution. She was admittedly opposed to any concepts of the general welfare even though she did say government was necessary to carry out certain activities.

Libertarianism does take and adopt some liberalism into its general philosophy. It also takes a quite a bit of anarchism and fascism. In case there are libertarians who pass by who disagree on the basis of that is not the kind of libertarianism I subscribe to…well admittedly there are dozens of brands. With that in mind this article starts out not being too critical of libertarianism,yet lays the groundwork for a good argument against it, Smashing the state – The strange rise of libertarianism

The libertarian insistence on seeing government as a malevolent or at best obstructionist external force fails to acknowledge its organic, changing nature. Government does, of course, set policy and attempt to dictate the course of events, but much of what it does is respond to, and referee, conflicts in society. Far from being a reified Other, government exists precisely to grapple — through the instrument of law — with issues that individuals cannot resolve by themselves. The libertarian failure to recognize the flexibility of law gives a scholastic, how-many-angels-can-dance-on-the-head-of-a-pin quality to many of its arguments. When property rights clash with environmental rights, for example, who adjudicates? Government does, through law: No libertarian solution would produce a different framework. Government will not resolve those problems to the liking of all interested parties — but neither would any other process. We have big government in large part because we live in an enormously complex society — because we have big problems.

Libertarians are fond of saying the regulatory welfare state is somehow a continuation of despotic power — as if there were a historical thread running between the Sun King and Sweden’s social democracy. This tendentious view, verging on paranoia, is not only ahistorical, it ignores the role modern governments play in moderating corporate power. How odd that for libertarians state power is always coercive, whereas corporate power is always beneficial.


I have posted before on how libertarianism is so reactionary against collectivism that it ends up being a form of collectivism itself. This one of the personal agendas that pervades Rand’s writings. She lived in a society ruled by totalitarian aristocrats – in her mind the wonderful era before everything was stolen. The Bolshevik Revolution was a radical reactionary movement against the despotism that Rand was lucky enough, by birth, to be a part of. America’s libertarians try to paint liberals and progressives as some kind of continuation of the Bolsheviks. On the contrary liberalism and progressives are moderate reactions against the extremes of communism and plutocracies whether based on – monarchism, feudalism or finance. Historically communists and fascist do have some one thing in common their hatred of liberalism.

“Anti-individualistic, the Fascist conception of life stresses the importance of the State and accepts the individual only in so far as his interests coincide with those of the State, which stands for the conscience and the universal, will of man as a historic entity (11). It is opposed to classical liberalism which arose as a reaction to absolutism and exhausted its historical function when the State became the expression of the conscience and will of the people. Liberalism denied the State in the name of the individual; Fascism reasserts.” – THE DOCTRINE OF FASCISM, BENITO MUSSOLINI (1932)

“I think that they were impelled to take that road by rotten liberalism, which has spread to some extent among a section of the Bolsheviks. Some Bolsheviks think that Trotskyism is a faction of communism — one which makes mistakes, it is true, which does many foolish things, is sometimes even anti-Soviet, but which, nevertheless, is a faction of communism. Hence a certain liberalism in the attitude towards the Trotsky-ists and Trotskyist-minded people. It scarcely needs proof that such a view of Trotskyism is deeply mistaken and harmful. As a matter of fact, Trotskyism has long since ceased to be a faction of communism. As a matter of fact, Trotskyism is the advanced detachment of the counter-revolutionary bourgeoisie, which is fighting against communism, against the Soviet regime, against the building of socialism in the U.S.S.R.” – Some Questions Concerning the History of Bolshevism, Letter to the Editorial Board of the Magazine “Proletarskaya Revolutsia”, 1931 by Joseph Stalin

This is part of a much longer paper critical of libertarianism, With Liberty for Some

The social atomism of the Libertarian is a false description of both individual and social human nature.

If Margaret Thatcher truly believes that “there is no such thing as society,” one must wonder what this former British Prime Minister must make of Lord Nelson’s charge to his officers at the Battle of Trafalgar: “England expects that every man will do his duty.”   And for what did the magnificent aviators in the Battle of Britain sacrifice their lives?  For England?  But “England” is an alleged “society,” and according to Baroness Thatcher, there is “no such thing.”   Thus we encounter a curious evolution in Tory philosophy, from Churchill’s “there will always be an England,” to Thatcher’s “there is no such thing as England.”

In fact, as every sociologist, psychologist and anthropologist well knows, human existence, including human consciousness, thought, evaluation, history, and culture – including property and markets – is inconceivable without society.



NPR’s series should include a fair rebuttal of equal length. I guess we’ll have to wait and see if they do one. While it has zombie-like qualities I see libertarianism and conservative variations on it as being the modern equivalent of the Catholic Reformation. The  Catholic Reformation was a last-ditch attempt to save the last vestiges of the once sprawling and all-powerful  Holy Roman Empire. As that reformation failed so will libertarianism.


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