"Dear Miss Rand:It's a great letter, and worth reading in its entirety, but it's not directly the subject of my post today.
The purpose of this letter is to convert you to free market anarchism. As far as I can determine, no one has ever pointed out to you in detail the errors in your political philosophy. That is my intention here. I attempted this task once before, in my essay "The Contradiction in Objectivism," in the March 1968 issue of the Rampart Journal, but I now think that my argument was ineffective and weak, not emphasizing the essentials of the matter. I will remedy that here.
Why am I making such an attempt to convert you to a point of view which you have, repeatedly, publicly condemned as a floating abstraction? Because you are wrong. I suggest that your political philosophy cannot be maintained without contradiction, that, in fact, you are advocating the maintenance of an institution – the state – which is a moral evil. To a person of self-esteem, these are reasons enough."
Because I enjoyed it, I posted the letter on Facebook and it's generated a number of great comments from a lot of people. Most of the comments come from my anarcho-capitalist friends who already agree with the ideas contained in the letter.
However, today, an Objectivist friend - Nathan - came to the defense of Ayn Rand. That's something I might have done about 10 years ago... Maybe even 6 or 7 years ago... But it is precisely because of the kinds of questions raised by Childs regarding Rand's philosophical inconsistencies that I turned away from Objectivism (and even the lower-case "o" kind) years ago, so I think it's worth addressing Nathan's points.
Truthfully, Nathan didn't go into all that much detail about his objections to Childs' points, but since I'm procrastinating on an article I've been trying to write for days... I'm going to address his arguments one by one.
The first objection Nathan raised was that Childs' conclusions were "nonsensical" - however, he left the point far too vague for me to comment on that issue specifically so I'm going to skip directly to his second objection... Nathan writes:
"Secondly, he [Childs] claims any form of government is a "moral evil," but never says why. Disqualified."Actually, Childs letter does explain why. It's based first on defining the word "government". Childs writes:
"One of the major characteristics of your conception of government is that it holds a monopoly on the use of retaliatory force in a given geographical area. Now, there are only two possible kinds of monopolies: a coercive monopoly, which initiates force to keep its monopoly, or a non-coercive monopoly, which is always open to competition. In an Objectivist society, the government is not open to competition, and hence is a coercive monopoly."If government is not a coercive monopoly - i.e., if there were alternatives for securing contracts and personal safety and if you are not forced to pay for the government's existence, then we're already dealing with market anarchism anyway.
In short - if a government does not have a monopoly on force, it isn't a government anymore.
Government's coercive monopoly on the use of force within a given geography results in all kinds of badness, such as border/territorial disputes & wars, forceful intervention into attempts at self-government (i.e. Waco) and rather importantly, the mandatory collection of taxes forcing the public to support the government rather than charging for services rendered as one would do in a market.
That way, unlike a competitive service provided in a market, even if you want additional protection from a private organization, it would be just that... "additional".
You are required to pay for government no matter what. Consequently, claiming that a government can exist purely "defensively" or purely to protect people against the initiation of force while itself initiating force against people in order to exist at all is entirely paradoxical. It's not a point Childs is confused about - but it is a severe problem with Rand's logic.
Now, real quick... Let's look at non-coercive monopolies for a moment to explain the contrast.
Imagine a small town with one grocery store (like the town I went to high school in, for instance). Technically that store does have a monopoly on all grocery business, however there is nothing except their own actions which prevents competitors from cropping up and instantly eliminating their "monopoly". They only maintain their monopoly by providing adequate services at prices their consumers found to be reasonable. Economists sometimes use the term "efficiency monopoly" to describe this situation.
If the store started jacking up prices beyond what consumers were willing to pay and beyond the actual market value of the goods, new competitors would be able to easily jump into the grocery market and offer a lower price and take away most (if not all) of the original store's customer base.
Can that happen with governments? No.
Why not? Again... Because governments initiate force against anyone who might offer a competing defense service, thereby destroying them. A parallel in the grocery world would be if a store maintained its monopoly in a region by burning down anyone else's shops. Fortunately, that does not happen, and on the off chance that some business did burn down their competitors' stores, we would correctly recognize that as a crime.
And this is the point where it all comes back together!
Government relies on the initiation of force to maintain its very existence. This breaks the non-aggression axiom Rand takes for granted as the basis for moral good & evil. Thus, government is itself - literally by definition - a moral evil. QED.
"Rand never advocates a 'middle ground.'"By defending the existence of the state, Rand did - in fact - advocate a "middle ground". Though she would have been the first to insist otherwise (albeit purely by assertion, as Nathan has unfortunately also done).
Limited government is the middle ground between authoritarian statism and the absence of a state (i.e. anarchy). This much should pretty much be obvious... But we can also do it graphically! Take note:
Anarchy ------------- Limited Government ------------- Authoritarianism
There are many fine arguments to be made for the idea that limited government might possibly be preferable to either anarchy or authoritarianism... But while Rand advocated far less statism than most people of her time and certainly more than most people today, it must still be stated that Rand's advocacy of so-called limited government is clearly the "middle ground" between other alternatives. Again... QED.
"Rand advocates an objectively definable set of laws, which require retaliatory force to enforce, otherwise no laws can exist, and without such laws, no values can exist in any real way, even your "right to life.""Ayn Rand and her modern-day supporters use the word "objective" way too much.... but that's a side-issue.
The only reason rights to life, liberty & property are accepted as valid is as a result of accepting the premise that individuals are self-owners and thereby entitled to make their own decisions regarding mind & body... Rights are a consequent from deductive logic once you accept that particular premise and you are actually committed to being consistent about it. It is that understanding which laws should also be created in line with (not to say that they always are).
People have the right to life, therefore it is illegal to murder. People have the right to liberty, therefore it is illegal to enslave. Etcetera.
But Nathan's statement mistakenly presumes that the law is the basis for rights - rather than the other way around. In the "Rights of Man", Thomas Paine wrote one of my all-time favorite quotes on the topic:
"It is a perversion of terms to say that a charter gives rights. It operates by a contrary effect — that of taking rights away. Rights are inherently in all the inhabitants; but charters, by annulling those rights, in the majority, leave the right, by exclusion, in the hands of a few.... They...consequently are instruments of injustice."Rights don't come from laws, but from individual sovereignty - as noted above. More on this in the short version of my video on the Bill of Rights:
(By the way... You can buy the full two-part Bill of Rights series for $4.00 at www.citizenamedia.com. Just sayin... you should do it!)
Anyway... The law definitely does not create the natural rights of man, and as such - it is a massive logical error to assume that only a government is capable of adequately defining how best to defend those rights. Moreover, Roy Childs' objections to Ayn Rand's view on the matter - and to anyone who maintains the need for the state in these matters - are directed at Rand as follows [emphasis mine]:
"This contradicts your epistemological and ethical position. Man's mind – which means: the mind of the individual human being – is capable of knowing reality, and man is capable of coming to conclusions on the basis of his rational judgment and acting on the basis of his rational self-interest. You imply, without stating it, that if an individual decides to use retaliation, that that decision is somehow subjective and arbitrary. Rather, supposedly the individual should leave such a decision up to government which is – what? Collective and therefore objective? This is illogical. If man is not capable of making these decisions, then he isn't capable of making them, and no government made up of men is capable of making them, either. By what epistemological criterion is an individual's action classified as "arbitrary," while that of a group of individuals is somehow "objective"?"That pretty well sums it up, doesn't it?
If people as individuals are not capable of defining which laws are necessary and which are not, then they are not capable of collectively coming to such an agreement either. Remember: Society is just a word we use to describe a large group of individuals who share some geography or culture. It isn't a thinking creature all its own!
It goes back to the fundamental flaw in reasoning underlying governments and democracy in general based on the idea that most, if not all people are evil. Jefferson put it quite well:
"Sometimes it is said that man cannot be trusted with the government of himself. Can he, then be trusted with the government of others? Or have we found angels in the form of kings to govern him? Let history answer this question."Anyway... There's more from Nathan to deal with:
"It is his contention that "limited government is a floating abstraction which has never been concretized by anyone; that a limited government must either initiate force or cease being a government" is completely incorrect. I assume he's talking about tax collection.
To that I say... what is the point of defining air-tight, objectively definable values and a moral and ethical code, if you're just going to turn around and say it's immoral for anyone to enforce it, or ask anyone to live by it."This is a multi-part issue.
First... Limited government is a floating abstraction, and America is the living embodiment of that idea. America set out to be the first nation on the planet with a carefully and strictly limited central authority. And that worked for what... a couple of years?
It was just 9 years into our nation's existence when the 1st Amendment was abandoned by John Adams' "Alien and Sedition Acts"... and year after year the government has grown steadily, regardless of our Bill of Rights or the other charters that were supposed to keep it in check. I tend to think that America's set-up was about as good as any country could ever hope to achieve on the limited government front and now we've arrived at a point where merely traveling around the nation by air requires individuals to completely give up their right to liberty as "guaranteed" by the 4th Amendment.
So yeah... "Limited" government seems to be a temporary condition at best...
Secondly... I don't think Childs was talking about tax-collection. Tax collection is a given, and by itself would prove that limited governments initiate force against individuals in order to exist (see my point about the paradox above!), but there are other abuses as well. Continual warfare comes to mind.
Third... Nathan has engaged in a straw-man.
No one has claimed that it is immoral to "enforce" (by which I assume he means protect) individual rights. Quite the opposite, in fact. It's merely been claimed that it is immoral for only one organization to have a monopoly on the protection of those liberties... as to maintain such a monopoly requires the government to initiate force - thereby violating the very idea of liberty it is ostensibly designed to protect.
The essence of government is contradictory to the protection of liberty. This is a big damn problem... Especially for Ayn Rand's views.
As I said earlier, Childs' full letter is definitely worth reading... But, I came to the same conclusions on my own after spending some time seriously considering all that I had read from Ayn Rand. I think a lot of libertarians should eventually undergo this transition actually... The moral arguments against the state are a good starting block but if most goods & services - like food production or health care - can be better provided by market-competition, why not defense? Why must government have a monopoly on force?
The economic arguments like externality issues and free-rider problems just don't hold up in my mind anymore... And even if they did, it wouldn't make supporting government in principle logically consistent - which, as far as I know, was always Ayn Rand's goal. As much as she liked to claim she had a completely consistent philosophy, I think issues like this conclusively show that not to have been the case at all.
I would love to have been a fly on the wall when she first read Childs' letter though. I'm sure Ayn Rand's outrage would have been the stuff of legend.