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A common issue I deal with when discussing government with libertarians (who more and more seem to be anarchists of some flavor or another) is that the vehemently disagree with the suggestions for government action in the Objectivist philosophy. They will often state the this element of Rand's philosophy is contradictory. An example, "As far as inconsistency, a monopoly on force infers an unequal and thus subjective moral standing by positing the initiation of force is moral in one instance where it is immoral in all other praxeologically similar situations."

The two biggest issues seem to be: 1. That this delegation of the use of force is improper. This view I feel is largely effected by the fact that libertarians prefer to treat the Non-Aggression principle as an axiom, devoid of contextual concerns, etc. Could a simple clarification be provided of exactly how and why government gets the "right" to retaliate against individuals from its constituents (a government can't have rights that its constituents don't have, in Ayn Rand's wording), even though individuals can only act in self-defense?

  1. A proper clarification of what makes an action self-defense and what makes it retaliatory

  2. How we can be sure that this retaliatory force will be used properly and not for the purposes of solidifying control/power by the government.

asked Nov 22 '10 at 19:30

capitalistswine's gravatar image

capitalistswine ♦

edited Nov 26 '10 at 00:10

Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

Greg Perkins ♦♦

I wrote a critique of libertarian anarchism @ http://labeit.economicpolicyjournal.com/2010/07/epistemological-problem-with-anarchism.html a few months ago here if anyone's interested

(Nov 23 '10 at 02:16) Michael Labeit Michael%20Labeit's gravatar image


I think as you frame it, the distinction between self-defense and retaliation is this. Self-defense refers to the use of force against aggression (either the initiation or the threat of the initiation of the use of force) during the act of aggression, where recourse to the police is impossible. Retaliation refers to the after-the-fact use of force against aggression, where the immediate aggression employed by an aggressor has ceased and where recourse to the police is possible.

(Nov 23 '10 at 02:31) Michael Labeit Michael%20Labeit's gravatar image

Wine, seriously I think you will benefit from reading my anarchism critique because I have had the same questions.

(Nov 23 '10 at 02:32) Michael Labeit Michael%20Labeit's gravatar image

You have all shown a good understanding of Rand's philosophy. It makes coming here worthwhile. I had to check the Lexicon's use of the phrase "it means that the government as such has no rights except the rights delegated to it by the citizens for a specific purpose." I would like to see us stop using "rights" except as they apply to individuals and, instead, use the language that Rand used elsewhere to describe the government's assignments by its citizens as "tasks" or "functions" on behalf of the citizens.

(Nov 27 '10 at 01:14) Mary Harsha Mary%20Harsha's gravatar image
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It is crucial to challenge the anarchist's premise. In a society, there is no individual right to retaliation based upon one's arbitrary judgment, nor even upon one's rational but secret judgment. The use of force is different from other choices that one might make, because by its nature force is a potential threat to others, and thus it is legitimately other people's business. In a society, people need a way to determine that a particular act of retaliatory force is in fact retaliation, rather than a crime.

The establishment of a proper government is an extension of every individual's moral right to self-defense, which is not given up. The purpose of government versus a state of anarchy is to bring the power of retaliatory force under the control of an objective process, so that innocent people are not subjected to arbitrary retaliation from anyone who accuses them of initiating force.

Once a government exists, the question of the legal right of an individual to use force in self-defense -- as opposed to illegal retaliation, that is, vigilantism -- is a specialized matter for the philosophy of law. The general principle should be that self-defense is an emergency action, rather than an after-the-fact meting out of punishment (which is the government's role, after investigation, trial, and conviction).

In answer to why the government needs to have a monopoly on retaliatory force, I refer to my reply to the question, "Why is any government needed at all?"

answered Nov 23 '10 at 17:54

Andrew%20Dalton's gravatar image

Andrew Dalton ♦

This topic's Objectivist defense is riddled with contradictions. Not only Andrew's - "there is no individual right to retaliation" vs "every individual's moral right to self-defense". But further, the initiation of force by a Government upon anyone who acts upon the very reason Objectivists claim the need for a Government in the 1st place- Objective Law. I am referring of course to competing courts, police, Government. There does exist a very simple non-contradictory line of logic that disproves Anarchy. Cont...

(Jun 13 '11 at 10:00) dreadrocksean dreadrocksean's gravatar image

A free market only exists in a free society. A free society presupposes a force already in place to protect individual rights - i.e. Government. A Government cannot function in a competitive market that presupposes the existence of its function.

(Jun 13 '11 at 10:06) dreadrocksean dreadrocksean's gravatar image

The "contradictions" that you identify are actually your incorrect conflation of separate issues; namely 1) morality in general vs. principles for living in a society, and 2) self defense vs. retaliation.

(Jun 13 '11 at 10:10) Andrew Dalton ♦ Andrew%20Dalton's gravatar image

But we are not out of the woods yet. This does not explain the morality of initiating force upon a man who acts in the protection of individual rights through Objective Law. Every attempt at explanation that I have read is contradictory in nature. Maybe someone here can break through.

(Jun 13 '11 at 10:11) dreadrocksean dreadrocksean's gravatar image

Also, the "simple non-contradictory reason" that you give is actually the answer to a somewhat different question, the one that I linked to in my answer.

(Jun 13 '11 at 10:13) Andrew Dalton ♦ Andrew%20Dalton's gravatar image

"This does not explain the morality of initiating force upon a man who acts in the protection of individual rights through Objective Law."

As stated, there is nothing to "explain," since such an action would be immoral. The debate that inevitably comes up regarding anarchism is this: exactly what constitutes initiated force or threat of force in an organized society, and how do we know in any given instance?

(Jun 13 '11 at 10:17) Andrew Dalton ♦ Andrew%20Dalton's gravatar image
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The Ayn Rand Lexicon contains five full pages on these questions in the entry on "Physical Force." Topics covered in that one entry include the nature of physical force, why it is destructive of human life, the difference between initiating the use of physical force and using physical force in retaliation against those who initiate its use, why the retaliatory use of physical force cannot be left to the discretion of individuals, why retaliatory physical force must be placed under objective control by means of a proper government, and thus why men need such a government.

As for how to achieve an objective government, the Lexicon entry on "Government" explains some essential fundamentals, including the proper functions of government and the principle that "the government is not the ruler, but the servant or agent of the citizens [and] that the government as such has no rights except the rights delegated to it by the citizens for a specific purpose." [Excerpted from Ayn Rand's essay, "The Nature of Government," published in both The Virtue of Selfishness and Caitalism: The Unknown Ideal.]

To sum up: a proper government is man's agent of retaliatory physical force, and must never initiate physical force against anyone.

Objectivism also denies that it is possible to achieve a proper, objective government without general public acceptance of the philosophical context that Objectivism offers. Government is comprised of, and run by, people. The propriety, objectivity and effectiveness of government will only be as good as the prevailing philosophy in the culture. Government cannot long endure independently of the generally accepted philosophical context, or in defiance of it. Objectivism seeks to establish the underlying philosophical perspective that will make a proper government possible. The details can then be worked out over time as a consequence. The government that already exists in the U.S., as defined in its founding principles, has worked reasonably well compared to other alternatives found throughout the world today, but the founding principles also included serious philosophical flaws and the lack of a sufficiently worked out deeper philosophy. It is simply not possible to reverse the consequences of bad philosophy by trying to create some kind of governmental structure without the kind of good philosophy needed to sustain it. The path of philosophical change may seem long and arduous, but it is possible; shortcuts in the process are not possible.

Update (responding to a commment)

It may be asked: if we just had a written constitution (along with a large group of intellectuals who understand and support the underlying philosophy), wouldn't that be sufficient to sustain a free society?

The answer that I have gleaned from the literature of Objectivism over the years is that, yes, a written constitution is extremely important, and, yes, intellectuals are crucial. But it's also vitally important for the intellectuals to explain the philosophical principles to the general public, on a level that the public can understand and support. Intellectuals typically love to talk about their ideas, especially to each other. But the task of explaining and defending a free society depends vitally on reaching out to the general public and to intermediate decision makers, as well.

The Framers of the U.S. Constitution did this in many ways, one of which was the "Federalist Papers" (originally published in three New York newspapers). An overview of the Federalist Papers can be found on Wikipedia, here.

It must also be remembered that the whole process of formulating and ratifying the U.S. Constitution took place in the context of the Enlightenment, which influenced virtually everyone, even if few then and now have known the philosophical roots from which the Enlightenment grew.

answered Nov 26 '10 at 22:56

Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image

Ideas for Life ♦

edited Nov 28 '10 at 08:41

I would like to see you re-write your assertion that Government is about people. An Objectivist government and it's agents would be contolled by an enforcable constitution backed up by a complex system of Objective law. Also, it is my understanding that only a minority of Americans at the time of the founding understood the Lockian philosophy that produced the Declaration, the Constitution and the Revolution. We don't need a large number of Objectivist - just Objectivists in the right place when thinking, writing, amending, and judgement are in process.

(Nov 27 '10 at 01:22) Mary Harsha Mary%20Harsha's gravatar image

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Asked: Nov 22 '10 at 19:30

Seen: 2,192 times

Last updated: Jun 13 '11 at 10:18