QUESTION: What is the difference between Ayn Rand’s Objectivism and libertarianism?
MY SHORT ANSWER: In my opinion, the differences are more cultural than real, in political matters. Both Objectivism and libertarianism are based on the non-aggression principle of honoring our neighbors’ choice (not initiating physical force, fraud or theft) and making things right with our victims if we don’t.
Objectivism is a comprehensive philosophy of life that includes not just political beliefs but strong and unified beliefs on virtually every aspect of human existence, including religion, art, romance, and so on. Libertarianism, in contrast, is a strictly political philosophy.
Rand believed that government’s proper role was protection of rights and that government should have a monopoly on defensive force to fulfill this role. Many libertarians agree with her. Others believe that governments are a poor protector of rights and that competition in this realm is right and proper.
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LEARN MORE: Suggestions by Liberator Online editor James W. Harris for additional reading on this topic:
Ironically, although Ayn Rand publicly disavowed libertarianism, she is unquestionably one of the most influential figures in the modern libertarian movement and is commonly identified today as a libertarian. And her political views are libertarian, by any common definition of the term.
Here are two short pieces that explore this seeming contradiction. Please note, this is a subject about which many people disagree.
* “What Is the Objectivist View of Libertarianism?” an essay by David Kelley and William R. Thomas. David Kelley is Founder and Executive Director of the Atlas Society, which promotes Objectivism.
Excerpt: “If we exclude anarchism [that is, the kind of non-government libertarianism advocated by Murray N. Rothbard, David F. Friedman, and others, sometimes known as ‘anarcho-capitalism’ or ‘market anarchism’], we can say that libertarianism is the Objectivist position in politics. But Objectivism includes more than politics. It is a systematic philosophy that also includes a specific view of reality, human nature, and the nature of knowledge. It includes a specific code of morality based on the requirements of life in this world. The Objectivist commitment to individual rights and a ban on the initiation of force is grounded in its view of nature, knowledge, and values. Its political conclusions thus stand on a firm and quite specific foundation …Philosophically, some libertarians are Objectivists, or would at least agree with the core elements in the Objectivist case for liberty, such as the individual’s need to act by means of reason in pursuing his life and happiness as ultimate values.”
* “Objectivism and Libertarianism” by Nathaniel Branden. In this very short 1999 article Branden, at one time one of Rand’s closest associates, tells how Rand considered, and rejected, the label libertarian — and what that word now means in today’s political world.
Excerpt: “[T]oday libertarianism is part of our language and is commonly understood to mean the advocacy of minimal government. Ayn Rand is commonly referred to as ‘a libertarian philosopher.’ Folks, we are all libertarians now. Might as well get used to it.”