ayn rand had it all wrong.

As many of you know, I generally self-identify as a libertarian.  That’s why the following statement about libertarianism may come as a surprise:

Libertarianism is a boutique philosophy.  In real life, it’s just as unworkable as communism. 

It’s just as unworkable because it shares the major flaw of communism: it ignores human nature.  Communism fails because it doesn’t take into account self-interest, which is the most potent driving force behind human interaction.  Libertarianism fails because the philosophy at its core is centered on rational self-interest, and it ignores the fact that rationality is a rare commodity.  People pursue their self-interest all the time, but they rarely do it in a rational way.

So why do I still make my mark next to the Libertarian candidates on the ballot most of the time?  Because Libertarianism errs on the side of personal and economic freedom (which, in reality, are the same thing.) Of all the political philosophies, libertarianism allows for the least amount of penalties for success, and the least amount of rewards for failure.  A libertarian system also has the least amount of friction with the Bill of Rights, because it puts the most restrictions on government power.

11 thoughts on “ayn rand had it all wrong.

  1. I really appreciated your comments. I think that the problem we have been facing is that we have turned our backs to our native American Philosophy. Pragmatism can take into account both human nature and reason, it was made us successful with our Yankee know how. We were less incline to grand theories of ideas, and more incline to what works.

  2. BobG says:

    I have yet to see a political ideology that is workable in its pure form. All of them assume that people are honest, hard-working, and intelligent.

  3. Sevesteen says:

    I’m not sure I would prefer a Pure Libertarian government to what we’ve got now. However, I have no argument with the general direction, only the length of the journey–There is a long way to go towards Pure Libertarian before I’m ready to put the brakes on. I’m pretty sure that if we ever get to the point where I argue that a proposed law is too libertarian, we will be in a much better situation than now.

  4. Eric says:

    “We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry, would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a religious and moral people. It is wholly inadequate for the government of any other.”

    John Adams, 1798

  5. Gregg says:

    I agree, to a point.

    Thing is, both Communism and Libertarianism can work in suitably sized communities.

    At the band level, or even arguably the tribal level communism can work. Get much larger and it falls apart. At those levels it is possible to ostracize or exile the people who do not share well.

    I like to think that libertarianism can survive in a slightly larger population. however, it is difficult to find test-beds as populations the size of New Hampshire, etc…, tend to be swallowed up by neighboring polities with larger militaries.

  6. “Of all the political philosophies, libertarianism allows for the least amount of penalties for success, and the least amount of rewards for failure.”

    This is, I feel, one of the places where libertarianism falls short. How do we define “success” and “failure?” In terms of the accumulation of power and wealth, like in this society? As such, those in government who are so selfishly benefiting from this so-called “War on Terrorism” are bastions of libertarianism. Those people, more than anyone, do not believe that government should restrict their actions (even though they are themselves in the government).

    Such literal libertarians also represent perfectly the attitude of “personal and economic freedom.” This is the whole idea behind NAFTA (exploiting the natural resources of our neighbors), and has been the ethos behind US foreign policy for decades (see Vietnam and all of the shenanigans down in Central and South America for evidence).

    Personally, I see much of the impetus for “libertarianism” coming straight from the basic, selfish, genetic center of human nature. No rationalism required, regardless of whether one thinks their self-interest is “rational.”

  7. Rory says:

    I’m not going to defend Libetarianism, capital L or none. I believe it is a corrupt philosophy – essentially because it has nothing to do with Ayn Rand, not because ‘Ayn Rand had it all wrong’.

    I will address what you focus on – that free markets fail because individuals aren’t guaranteed of being rational. This is true, and it has been an issue in economics. ‘Assume ‘x’ acts rationally and then everything will work’.
    The point is though, that in a Laissez-Faire society, it isn’t that one is guaranteed to act rationally – the point is, that if you don’t, then you reap the consequences of your actions.
    Rationality is enforced, not by government edicts, but by the rules of reality.

  8. ChrisB says:

    I think you’d need to define “Libertarianism” for this discussion to be truely meaningful, that word means may different things to people. Some “libertarians” have accused me of being a Nazi because I believe in government, though a very limited one.

    I’ve also had discussion with others that believed that all roads and transportation infrastructure should be private, and while in theory I like the idea I believe it would work very poorly in practice.

    So what, exactly, are you referring to and what measuring stick do you use to quantify whether or not it “works”?

    And finally, why the heck haven’t you gotten “Dirty White Boys” yet? It’s one of the best damn pageturners out there, and it’s available for pennies on Amazon.

  9. Vaarok says:

    I always just reject economic libertarianism because it’s the economic antithesis of communism, and just as unworkable, while the political will required for social libertarianism is impossible to manage simply because it’s too easy- and arguably impossible not to- resort to promises and scare tactics to motivate people rather than appeal to their rationality and responsibility.

    As Heinlein said, “Never appeal to a mans better nature, he might not have one…”

  10. Jared says:

    I look at most politics as a pendulum, swinging in two dimensions across a landscape that spans the various philosophical end points. Each of the endpoints is sufficiently flawed that it can never capture the pendulum. At best they can stop it for an extra long moment before the gravity of the inherent flaw drives the pendulum off in another direction.

    I’m a libertarian because I believe that that political end point is the most effective point from which to pull on the pendulum to avoid a dangerous extreme in the in the direction it is currently headed. If the pendulum were ever to approach an extreme libertarian end point, I’d be pulling back in the opposite direction.

  11. Jared,

    Quit looking at your pendulum, it’s putting you to sleep.

    The essence of the argument here is about authority, not Right/Left. Those are unimportant in the grander scheme.

    It’s long passed time to neuter the government in this country, to limit their effectiveness at control. THAT is what libertarianism is really about, keeping the long arm of the “God-almighty Law” from beating everyone’s skull in with onerous regulation, taxation and outright imprisonment.

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