Exit Strategies

Ayn Rand's Curious Bloodlust


On October 2, 2001, less than a month after the collapse of the Twin Towers, the Ayn Rand Center took out a full page ad in the New York Times with the title “End States Who Sponsor Terrorism.” Written by the organization’s director Leonard Peikoff, the page referred to “the notion that a terrorist is alone responsible for his actions” as a “guarantee of American impotence” in dealing with radical Muslims. The author seconds Paul Wolfowitz’s view that the American government must overthrow regimes that support terrorism making sure that such battles are “fought in a manner that secures victory as quickly as possible and with the fewest U.S. casualties, regardless of the countless innocents caught in the line of fire.” The death of civilians can be laid at the feet of their terror loving governments, for “[t]here is no way for our bullets to be aimed only at evil men.”

Peikoff suggests that while taking out the Taliban would be a good start, Afghanistan is, in the big picture, insignificant.  The Iranian government is the most fanatical in the Middle East and must be dealt with. Even though in the long run this is a battle of ideas against an implacable foe, as of now the American military must use everything in its arsenal to destroy the nation’s enemies.

Unsurprisingly, the face that the ARC presents to those visiting its website makes what it published in the Times appear pacific. A page entitled “In Moral Defense of Israel” informs the reader that although the Jewish state isn’t perfect, it, like the US, “retains a significant respect for individual rights. Its citizens, whatever their race or religion, enjoy many freedoms, including freedom of thought and speech, and the right to own property.” Therefore, “Israel has a moral right to exist” in contrast to the absolute collectivists which oppose her.

In no sense can one say that the center the bears her name has perverted Ayn Rand’s message. When asked about what the U.S. should do with regards to the 1967 Israeli-Arab war, she called on the Americans to do what they could to help the Jewish side.  Her main reason, she admited, for supporting Israel was that the Arabs are “typically nomads” (unlike the Jews!) and “savages who don't want to use their minds.” Rand wasn’t making a special exception to her philosophy when it came to Israel. She always held that if there was an aggressive country which made war on another, the people who live under the belligerent state are responsible for their passivity if nothing else.  In the Cold War context she once pontificated,

If we go to war with Russia, I hope the "innocent" are destroyed along with the guilty. There aren't many innocent people there -- those who do exist are not in the big cities, but mainly in concentration camps.

Unsurprisingly, the ARC believes that America should be proud of its firebombing of German and Japanese cities during World War II. Recently, a representative from the institute was on the Glenn Beck Show decrying the current rules of engagement American soldiers operate under.

Most familiar with the philosophy of Objectivism, a body of thought based on the axiom that coercion is unacceptable unless person or property is directly threatened or one is retaliating for past crimes, will find this pro-war position strange.

Of the major contemporary political philosophies, this basic premise, which refuses to exempt states from the principle of non-aggression, is shared only by various kinds of libertarians. Yet on foreign policy, these anti-statists couldn’t be further away from Objectivists.

In response to the prominent position foreign policy issues came to occupy in the “post 9/11 world,” Hans-Hermann Hoppe put together a series of articles in The Myth of National Security, mostly arguing for the feasibility and morality of private defense agencies being utilized to protect individuals and territories from attacks by aggressors. Murray Rothbard’s essay, “War, Peace and the State,” lays out a position on foreign policy more in tune with a philosophy that stresses the primacy of individual rights.  Like the Randians, to Rothbard a person may employ violence to punish an aggressor; he may not, however, kill innocents in the process. If a criminal runs into a building full of people, we do not demolish the whole edifice and call it justice. If we do, then we become as immoral as the perpetrator of the original act, if not more so.1 While the followers of Rand are fine with the use of nuclear weapons, Rothbard argues that since such weapons can not be aimed soley at guilty parties, there is no legitimate case for them to exist. “Highest priority on any libertarian agenda, therefore, must be pressure on all States to agree to general and complete disarmament down to police levels, with particular stress on nuclear disarmament.”

In his essay, Walter Block points out difficulties, if not refutations, with regards to the underlying premise of statist defense. How can a government claim to protect a citizen from aggression when it itself is forcing him to pay taxes and sometimes serve against his will in the state army?  Hoppe asks how economists can accept the law which states that a monopoly will provide unsatisfactory service at too high of a price but grant government the exclusive right to keep peace.

Privatized security is not just a theoretical concept, but has a long history in the West. In the early Middle Ages, a citizen of one territory was able to get a permit to achieve restitution against a foreigner (more exactly, his country) who had victimized him. The aggrieved would arm a ship and set off to find a merchant vessel flying the flag of the country of the offender. He then impounded and auctioned off the cargo. These “privateers,” as they came to be called, became common throughout the Mediterranean. As shown by Larry Sechrest in "Privateering and National Defense," the practice evolved and by the 19th-century, governments were issuing permits only for private citizens to seize enemy merchant ships during times of war.  As in all other cases, the market proved to be superior to the state. According to one historian, “without the presence of the American privateers in the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, the United States would never have been able to hold off the British Navy” and another concludes that between 1600 and 1815, privateers “probably contributed much more than warships” to inflicting losses on enemies.  Private maritime forces were banned in the 1856 Declaration of Paris under pressure from career naval officers and in the interests of larger states wishing to prevent smaller rivals from using a cost-effective option to challenge their dominance in the world’s oceans.

Guerilla wars are another kind of privatized defense, even if the insurgents occasionally receive support from governments. Just since the end of World War II, we’ve seen time and time again primitive forces challenge and often even defeat the armies of powerful states: the Chechens against the Russians, Algerians against the French, Vietnamese against the French, Vietnamese against the Americans, Afghanis against the Russians, Afghanis against the Americans, Iraqis against the Americans, Kurds against the Turks, Kurds against the Iraqis, Kurd against the Iranians, Chinese communists against the Nationalists, Cuban communists against the Batista regime, Lebanese against the Israelis, Irish against the British, Palestinians against the Israelis, and the communists in Greece, among other movements.  The guerillas enjoy all the advantages that privately funded and staffed enterprises have over states such as the ability to adjust quickly, greater incentives for satisfactory performance, a superior workforce and a more meritocratic promotion system.

One would think that either the moral or practical arguments would move the disciples of Ayn Rand. After all, if seizing money for parks, schools and healthcare for the “common good” is collectivism, then surely taxing in order to kill should be opposed. Even if one is fine with the goals of bombing children and laying the blame on the “collectivist governments” that they “passively accepted,” a defender of laissez-faire must at the very least oppose the state raising funds for its missions through confiscation.

To understand the seeming discrepancy one must comprehend the true nature of Ayn Rand’s philosophy and what separates it from classical liberalism and libertarianism.  I believe I can demonstrate the difference with direct quotes better than a long explanation. Take the proposition, “It is better and more dignified for humans to face objective reality than to believe what they wish to be true.”

Here’s how Ludwig von Mises2 puts the idea in Human Action.

To those pretending that man would be happier if he were to renounce the use of reason and try to let himself be guided by intuition and instincts only, no other answer can be given than an analysis of the achievements of human society. In describing the genesis and working of social cooperation, economics provides all the information required for an ultimate decision between reason and unreason. If man reconsiders freeing himself from the supremacy of reason, he must know what he will have to forsake.

Here’s how Ayn Rand expresses it, via John Galt,

No, you do not have to live as a man; it is an act of moral choice.  But you cannot live as anything else -- and the alternative is that state of living death which you now see within you and around you, the state of a thing unfit for existence, no longer human and less than animal, a thing that knows nothing but pain and drags itself through its span of years in agony of unthinking self-destruction.

Who are these scum?  They’re not just Arabs and those who end up under communist governments, as the villains in Atlas Shrugged include among them the simply lazy, religious, unintelligent, unimaginative, and statist inclined; in other words the vast majority of humanity. Their limitations, or “evil” as Rand prefers, end up destroying them after the “men of the mind” go on strike. Of course, a novel about the superiority of capitalism would be pretty boring if the moochers simply ended up making $15 an hour sitting at a desk and going home to play with their cats, though one has to wonder about a philosophy whose “utopian” novel ends with the most commonplace and boring human foibles justly bringing great suffering to those committing the crime of being pedestrian.

It is worth noting that few of the Randian heroes of her magnum opus had any children.  Galt’s Gulch had little need for a daycare center. Since Objectivism takes a position on topics such as the correct music, sexual preferences and literature, it’s hard to believe that the philosophy is neutral towards natalism; it’s more logical to assume that Ayn Rand was biased against parenting. One wonders how the world’s creators are supposed to bring about a sufficient number of more like themselves in the future. The novelist was at least somewhat of a hereditarian; Cherryl Brooks and Eddie Willers represent those with the correct values but not the minds to be equal to the greats (they die, too).

Faith, racial pride and even loyalty to one’s family if it isn’t based on selfishness were also judged harshly by Rand. In Myth, on the other hand, Joseph Stromberg lists religion and nationalism alongside “the desire for freedom, hatred of the enemy, [and] social pressure to do the right thing” as possible requirements for maintaining independence from states.

The wise libertarian has made his peace with human nature. But like Marxists, fundamentalist Christians and all others who blame man for the faults nature has cursed him with, the Objectivist can’t help but desire that in the end, the universe, the gods, history, or (in Rand’s case) the rules of logic are conspiring to get their revenge against those who sin against the One True Faith.  In Atlas Shrugged, the “looters” ended up humiliated and destroyed. In real life things are never this simple, so the vengeful mind deems Communists or Arabs as the enemy that needs to be eliminated for being relatively collectivist in comparison to Americans, most of whom would deserve to die too if they took their opposition to real-life Dagny Taggerts and Hank Reardons to its rational conclusion.

Rand once went as far as saying, “If we become a dictatorship, and a freer country attacks us, it would be their right.” Presumably Americans have the right to kill all the Arabs they want but we ourselves are one cancelled election away from deserving to be vaporized by Canada.

Whether the apocalyptic showdown comes about due to too large of a state or the government taxing the citizenry so it can kill foreigners is less important than the fact that it needs to take place.  All shades of gray must be turned into black or white, and individuals collapsed into collectives for the sake of the thrill of the moralistic crusade. Such a vision can't be bothered to see human beings as they really are, much less its own contradictions.



1 -- Forget the neocon argument that those who target civilians are worse than those who go to war knowing many will meet their end as “collateral damage.”  It’s little consolation to the dead that their lives were taken into consideration, but in the end deemed expendable for some greater good.

2 -- Though much more genial, Mises actually shared many of Rand’s anti-egalitarian sentiments. In one letter he wrote to her, “You have the courage to tell the masses what no politician told them: You are inferior, and all the improvements in your condition, which you simply take for granted, you owe to the effort of men who are better than you.” There’s a difference, however, between understanding the grossness of the masses and hating them for it, and Mises seemed to have understood it, even if he did admire Rand’s work. No one dislikes dogs for their limitations.