22 October 2009

Rant on Rand. Nothing to see here.

I read Friedman, Smith, and Mill before I got around to Rand (though I think we read Anthem in high school and I recall not being all that fond of it). Nozick and Hayek came later. There are definitely better ways to be introduced to libertarians or to arrive at a libertarian ideology. Many people I talk to with Rand or to some extent Rothbard as their gateway are even totally intolerant intellectually (in the same way that Rand is). In particular, the hostility toward Kant and Mill seems to be utterly misplaced, forming a sort of tyranny of its own under Rand's philosophy. The tyranny being that of the individual. I also am just not sure what the benefit of these super-man type philosophies are when the characters themselves are assessed such massive and glaring deficiencies in their ability to do much of anything with other human beings. There are not, generally speaking, human beings that can do without in this manner. Seems more practical, and probably moral, to conclude out that the other people are going to be in the way and try to get them organised in the least amount necessary to keep them from being an annoyance or a barrier to the things that make a person capable of fulfilling their wants and needs.

I think I would concur that the lack of alliance between left-leaning liberals (particularly social liberals) and libertarians wasn't just Rand's fault though. The emphasis on markets, the dogmatic certainty that this was correct to rely on them more than not, is not a particularly Rand-limited trait. As anyone who has ever seen an interview or speech with Friedman can attest. There is not, from what I can observe of the current crop of libertarian economists and theorists, a big drop off on this. As in, that isn't a point that can be easily compromised off. You can say for example that the public should invest money in defence, or in education, or in care for the elderly or poor. But the libertarian will consistently figure out ways to do these things with the minimum of government involvement and insist on that, if there is to be any state involvement at all. That isn't a position that's very likely to be easy to compromise with and gain some obvious collective action over things like (at the time, as with now) foreign wars and various civil rights, even though liberals/progressives and libertarians are in considerable agreement on those issues. Sure Rand is even less likely to compromise over anything at all than the average libertarian. But you don't trade away the things you are certain of. More over, much of the power of the present liberal coalitions is derived from interests (as was true at the time when Rand was a major figure). Interests which may be opposed or shared by conservative interests, but interests which are quite often antithetical to libertarian considerations of individual interests. It's hard to say that the actual figures shaping policies for liberals are going to be intellectually independent enough to consider divorcing these interests as a base of support.

There's a definite paradox to the practicality of noting this weakness in a potential ally and the inability to do anything about it. See how big the libertarian party is, as a band of "rugged" individualism without major sponsorship outside of the economics field and few civil liberties issues like narcotics decriminalization, and then consider how much influence the Democratic party would have without its various trade unions backing them up (farmers, teachers, labour workers, lawyers, etc). I don't imagine they would matter very much either. Given that I, and many other libertarians, end up picking bigger fights on the conservative front rather than the liberal one, what with the tendency to rely on tradition for the sake of tradition or institutions which are not universally shared or reliable (religions, corporations), this leaves it rather difficult to get enough people to take seriously the core position of a free market. Which I guess is where Ayn Rand enters the scene. So I shouldn't complain of her resurgent popularity. But it's just not that much fun to have these new "allies" who are still living in the "weak man" argumentative world where Hayek is to be considered some sort of ideological foe.
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