Government is force.
What Really Limits Government?
Force limits government. First, government is limited by the force it has at its disposal. A government whose agents are armed only with truncheons is far more limited than a government whose agents are armed with machine guns, tear gas, and the hydrogen bomb. Second, government is limited by the force its subjects have at their disposal. Finally, a government is limited by the force other governments have at their disposal.
A constitution can limit a government no more than blueprints for a dam can limit a flood. A dam must be built of something concrete, and likewise a government must be held back with force of arms.
Continue reading The True Nature of Government
This is the fifth entry in my Antistatism Series.
The more I study the Enlightenment, the more astounded I am at the depth and breadth of its contours, and at boldness of its heroes as they sought to shape the West to their new vision. One contour that I think Objectivists admire too distantly was the attempt by the Founding Fathers to engineer a future for themselves and their countrymen by balancing the forces of society and government against each other. The philosophy of statecraft embodied in the U.S. Constitution is one of containment. What is contained? The whim of the mob and the ambition, self-importance, avarice, and, especially, corruption of men-in-government. The ideal the Constitution sought after was perhaps a government of laws and not of men, but the very tripartite structure it established stood testament to reality: all governments are and must be governments of men. Because this is so, the founders thought, a good government must be divided against itself and against the people; it must be made inefficient on purpose, unwieldy on purpose, self-frustrating on purpose. It seems an Objectivist’s constitution would likely repeat this structure, but would it make use of divided government for the same reasons? Does Objectivism agree with the Founding Fathers’ premise that governments-as-such tend toward tyranny?
Continue reading Heaven, Hell, or Hades: What Comes After the Revolution?
This is the fourth entry in my Antistatism Series. Here my argument begins in earnest. We shall see that Ayn Rand tacitly admits that an account of the practicability of government is a necessary component of any political philosophy — and then proceeds to not provide one.
Objectivism has disturbingly little to say about what might happen after the new-and-improved U.S. Constitution is ratified. I believe that the closest approach to these considerations in the main body of Objectivism, and perhaps in all the extant work of Objectivists, is in Ayn Rand’s essay “Government Financing in a Free Society.”* In that essay, Rand takes up the question of how a properly limited government could be paid for without taxation. She admits that it is necessary to account for the practicability, in principle, of voluntary government financing, but demurs that the specifics of a system of finance are beyond the scope of politics, and belong rather to philosophy of law.
Obviously, if it is necessary to account for the practicability of government finance in a free society, it is necessary to account for the practicability of limited government as such. But no argument for the practicability of limited government, other than for the practicability of its finance, is presented anywhere in Objectivism.
Continue reading Practicability: The Unanswered Question of the Objectivist Politics
This is the third entry in my Antistatism Series. Before I can make my own case for antistatism, I must pause to redress a famously misaddressed letter on a related subject.
In 1969 Roy Childs began an Open Letter to Ayn Rand with these words:
The purpose of this letter is to convert you to free market anarchism. As far as I can determine, no one has ever pointed out to you in detail the errors in your political philosophy. … Why am I making such an attempt to convert you to a point of view which you have, repeatedly, publicly condemned as a floating abstraction? Because you are wrong. I suggest that your political philosophy cannot be maintained without contradiction, that, in fact, you are advocating the maintenance of an institution — the state — which is a moral evil. To a person of self-esteem, these are reasons enough.
In part, Childs’ Letter, “Objectivism and the State,” was a response to Rand’s article “The Nature of Government,” in which she had called anarchy a “naive floating abstraction.” Childs went on in his Letter to complement Rand’s dismissal:
[L]imited government is a floating abstraction which has never been concretized by anyone … a limited government must either initiate force or cease being a government … the very concept of limited government is an unsuccessful attempt to integrate two mutually contradictory elements: statism and voluntarism. [Emphasis in original.]
Even those admirers of Ayn Rand’s who are wholly unfamiliar with Childs will be unsurprised to learn that his Letter failed utterly to persuade the philosopher it addressed. Could Childs have done better, then? What arguments would have been more persuasive? Why did Childs fail, fundamentally?
Continue reading Closing the Book on the Open Letter
The Internet hosts many critiques of Objectivism, the philosophy of Ayn Rand, most of which are useless or worse. Michael Huemer’s Why I Am Not an Objectivist (WIANO hereafter) is an exception. It has the great virtue that any Objectivist who engages its arguments can either realize a better understanding of philosophy by overcoming them, or else realize the inadequacy of his understanding by failing to do so.
What follows is a rejoinder to WIANO’s first section, “MEANING.” This is the first revision of a version published earlier here.
Huemer Against Rand on Meaning
Objectivism rejects the analytic-synthetic dichotomy. Michael Huemer accepts it. He correctly recognizes that the basis for Objectivism’s rejection of this dichotomy lies in its identification of the meaning of concepts. Leonard Peikoff writes, in “The Analytic-Synthetic Dichotomy,” “[A] concept means the existents which it integrates. … [It] subsumes and includes all the characteristics of its referents, known and not yet known.” (Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, Second Edition, p. 99. Emphasis in original. Hereafter cited as ITOE.) Huemer also notes that Objectivists consider concepts to be open-ended, or as he would have them put it, “[T]he meaning of a concept is all of the concretes it subsumes, past, present, and future, including ones that we will never know about.” (WIANO, §1)
Huemer prepares his attack on the Objectivist rejection of the analytic-synthetic dichotomy by reference to the story of Oedipus, who famously — and unwittingly — married his own mother, Jocaste. Huemer wants to show that the Objectivist theory entails that Oedipus could not have married his own mother unwittingly, since he knew that he was marrying Jocaste, and since “Jocaste” and “Oedipus’ mother” have the same referent. It is absurd to think that Oedipus knew he was marrying “Oedipus’ mother” just because he knew he was marrying “Jocaste,” so if Objectivism does entail this, Objectivism is absurd.
Continue reading On Nonsense and Referents
Some time ago I promised a series of posts that would outline my argument “against limited government.” The first of these posts was “More Eggs,” which should be considered to be a kind of extended epigraph. The present post shall serve as a general introduction.
When I said I would provide a series of posts arguing against limited government, I meant exactly what I said and said exactly what I meant. I will not be arguing for anarchism, but rather against the state. I will be arguing for precisely this proposition: Limited government is impracticable.
My arguments are directed, primarily, at Objectivists, though I am sure that Objectivists will not be the only thinkers who will benefit from them. My reasons for focusing my arguments on Objectivists are many, but the one essential reason is this: I believe that a free society must rest on intellectual foundations; I believe that Objectivists are the thinkers best equipped to provide these foundations, and I believe that Objectivists are squandering their efforts in this area.
There is no such thing as an anarchist Objectivist. Indeed, no serious Objectivist is sympathetic to anarchism in the least. Since I will be arguing for radical antistatism, which should be understood for now to be the view that limited government is impracticable, a view which seems to have anarchic implications, I expect to find Objectivists to be an unsympathetic audience. Fortunately, some of some Objectivists’ distaste for radical antistatism is based on basic misunderstandings that are easily cleared up.
Continue reading Anarchism, Capitalism, and Antistatism: An Introduction
I will never forget this. One morning, when I was about seven years old, I sat down with my younger brother and sister to a breakfast of scrambled eggs and toast. I dug in immediately, preferring my eggs as warm as possible.
“Look!”, came a cry from across the dining room table. It was my brother speaking.
I looked over and saw him mashing at his breakfast with the edge of his fork. My sister, seated next to him, was doing the same. Their faces were alight with glee. They looked up at me expectantly, then returned intently to making a mess on their plates, then looked at me expectantly again. My expression must have shown my incomprehension. What was I supposed to be looking at? Three-year-olds playing with their food? What else was new?
“I’m making More Eggs!”, my brother explained.
I tried to return my attention to eating my breakfast, but, before long, my resolve broke down. I just couldn’t let it be, for some reason. “You’re not making More Eggs, just smaller pieces,” I said, setting down my fork.
Continue reading More Eggs
One of the things I find most striking about Objectivism is its subtlety. I’m in the minority. The lucidity of Ayn Rand’s writing, I think, tends to fool her admirers nearly as often as it fools her critics. She reduces complex issues to essentials, casts fine lines of distinction in sharp relief, illuminates the obscure, and penetrates the impenetrable. She makes it look easy.
It’s not easy.
Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed. And an argument, to be refuted, must be comprehended, which means it must be surrounded with understanding. Ayn Rand made dispatching her opponents look easy because, far more often than not, she had them surrounded.
To my dismay, I’ve observed too many who call themselves Objectivists surround their interlocutors’ arguments, not with understanding, but with mere words. This isn’t comprehension; it’s circumlocution.
And in fact, it’s often worse than that. Continue reading Premature Identification
[T]he great majority of people lack an intellectual conscience.
—Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche
The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.
—Henry David Thoreau
I think not.
[Note: this post has been superseded. — Ed.]
While wandering the Web back in 1997, I came across Michael Huemer’s Why I Am Not an Objectivist (WIANO hereafter). I was impressed by what I then called “[T]he first reasoned (and reasonable) critique of Objectivism I [had] ever read.” At the time, I considered myself an Objectivist, and though I was impressed by Huemer’s critique, I was not persuaded. In an exchange of emails, I attempted to defend the Objectivist theory of concepts from the Fregean critique Huemer offers in Section 1. My defense was inadequate, to say the least. The very little ground I forced Huemer to give he considered insignificant, and rightly so.
Several months ago, I finally had the time and the inclination to make another attempt, and the initial results are below. It has been a long-standing goal of mine to critique WIANO in its entirety, but, given that it has taken me the better part of a decade to cover Section 1, no one should hold his breath.
Continue reading Why Michael Huemer Should Be More of an Objectivist: Introduction & Section 1