Atlas Shrugged: Men With Guns

Atlas Shrugged, part II, chapter III

Entering Rearden’s office, Dr. Floyd Ferris wore the expression of a man so certain of the success of his quest that he could afford a benevolent smile.

Rearden asks why he requested an appointment, and Ferris says it’s in regard to the five thousand tons of Rearden Metal that the State Science Institute ordered several months ago. Rearden reminds Ferris that he already turned them down and has no intention of reconsidering.

“But that was five months ago, Mr. Rearden. A certain event has taken place since, which makes me quite sure that you have changed your mind and that you will make no trouble for us at all, just as we will make no trouble for you.”

“What event?”

…”Oh, come, Mr. Rearden, don’t be childish! The four thousand tons of Rearden Metal which you delivered to Ken Danagger, of course,” said Dr. Ferris lightly.

Ferris goes on to explain that they had an informer: the owner of a copper mine told them that Rearden had purchased more ore than his quota permitted, in exchange for which information the mine owner got relief from some of the regulations that were strangling his business. Ferris adds that putting Rearden on trial for refusing to sell to the government would have drawn unwelcome attention to the secret Project X, which is what they want it for. But since he’s broken a different law, they can imprison him at no cost to themselves unless he gives in to their demands.

Rearden said calmly, “In my youth, this was called blackmail.”

Dr. Ferris grinned. “That’s what it is, Mr. Rearden. We’ve entered a much more realistic age.”

…”You seem to be pleased about it.”

“Don’t I have good reason to be?”

“But, after all, I did break one of your laws.”

“Well, what do you think they’re for?”

Ferris expects this revelation to cow Rearden into obedience. Instead, it seems to be a lightbulb moment that gives him the inspiration he needs to resist:

“There’s a flaw in your system, Dr. Ferris,” Rearden said quietly, almost lightly, “a practical flaw which you will discover when you put me on trial for selling four thousand tons of Rearden Metal to Ken Danagger.”

Ferris snaps, “Do you think we’re bluffing?”, to which Rearden replies that he doesn’t care. Then he has Ferris thrown out of his office.

So, we’ve seen the looters’ idea of justice. But now it’s only fair to turn the question around and ask how Rand thinks the justice system should work – since this, like many other commonplace issues, is one of those things that are never touched on in this book.

Even in a Objectivist utopia, we can assume there would still be police and criminal courts, since prosecuting force and fraud is the one function that Rand is willing to grant to the government. But what would happen to the people who were found guilty?

The obvious libertarian answer is private prisons: corporations that contract with the government to incarcerate felons in exchange for a per-head fee. Supposedly, according to their lobbyists, private prisons are cheaper and more efficient. But there are some important reasons why market solutions shouldn’t work in this case.

Since they win business by submitting a low bid, private prisons have every incentive to cut corners, skimp on safety and understaff their facilities. The usual free-market response to a company that offers a shoddy product is to take one’s business elsewhere – but the “customers” of a private prison have virtually no recourse, even if they’re being kept in dangerous or inhumane conditions. The conditions that allow a market to function simply don’t exist here.

This grim story has played out repeatedly at private prisons across the country. Institutions like Mississippi’s notorious Walnut Grove have an reputation for horrific violence and gang rule, caused by chronic understaffing and high turnover among the low-paid guards (which also makes them susceptible to inmate offers of bribery). In a lawsuit over prison conditions at Walnut Grove, a U.S. judge said that what happened there “paints a picture of such horror as should be unrealized anywhere in the civilized world”. Another huge private prison in Idaho, currently the subject of an FBI investigation, was so violent that inmates dubbed it “gladiator school“. Allegedly, the understaffed prison allowed inmate gangs to handle security. Assaults and violence also skyrocketed in Ohio when that state turned one of its prisons over to a private company, while in Michigan, Indiana and other states, private prisons have been accused of giving their inmates insufficient food.

And if we’re meant to find it unjust that looters pass laws which are made to be broken, how should we view the private prison companies’ lobbying for stricter laws, including more “three strikes” laws, and longer sentences, thus increasing their own profitability? (That’s not even to mention the judge who took kickbacks for sending children to jail.)

Even beyond these horror stories, there’s a question of economics. The U.S. government spends over $70 billion each year to keep people imprisoned, a staggering sum. Although devotees of Rand reject most kinds of government spending as illegitimate, presumably they’d accept the cost of incarceration on the grounds of self-defense.

And yet, crime doesn’t arise from an intangible affliction of the soul. The conditions that make a person a criminal, or a law-abiding citizen for that matter, have a lot to do with their upbringing and surroundings. And that raises a dilemma for the Randian: What if preventing the disease is cheaper than treating it? We have strong evidence that solid public education reduces crime more than spending that same money on police and prisons (not to mention the fact that educated people contribute to the overall wealth of society, whereas prisoners merely drain it). So even if I’m a staunch libertarian, shouldn’t I be in favor of public schools, on the purely self-interested grounds that they produce a safer society for me and cost me less in the bargain?

Yet Rand’s logic would require society to be completely passive and reactive, to sit on our collective hands until a crime is committed and then punish the perpetrators – even if that results in more crime than a preemptive, interventionist approach. That’s like designing a shoddy product that explodes and then paying liability fees to the survivors, rather than spending the money to design it safely in the first place.

Other posts in this series:

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, City of Light, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • Alex SL

    Ah, but in the last two paragraphs you are arguing from consequentialism whereas objectivism is based on deontological ethics: to those people, some things are just good or evil per se. So even if in reality a greater evil results from doing thing A, that doesn’t matter because pure reason has told Rand that A is good.

    That’s like designing a shoddy product that explodes and then paying
    liability fees to the survivors, rather than spending the money to
    design it safely in the first place.

    Funny how that perfectly describes the libertarian approach to product safety: regulation is not necessary because no company would want to pay liability fees or lose business. Yeah, right…

  • Russell Wain Glasser

    In some past discussions with hardcore libertarians, I’ve come away with the unsettling impression that there is not much against a straight up “Silence of the Lambs” scenario. If a maniac kidnaps victims and keeps them locked up in his basement, the victim might be advised to hire private security in the future. But if they didn’t have the foresight to do that, there is no general provision for “men with guns” to come stop the maniac from acting within his free market rights to do stuff on his private property.

    Although they claim their system maximizes “freedom,” I really have gone around and around with some people on the idea that the only true limitations on freedom come from what a government does, not private individuals. I realize there’s a spectrum of how strongly people believe this, but when you encounter a really serious “no place for public projects” type, it’s kind of creepy.

  • arensb

    but the “customers” of a private prison have virtually no recourse

    You do well to put “customers” in scare-quotes, because really, the customers of a private prison, the ones who give it money, are state governments. They’re the ones that prisons have to please, not the inmates.
    I’m not sure what you’d call the inmates, besides “prisoners”, though I’m reminded of Rachel’s line in Blade Runner: “I’m not in the business. I am the business.”

  • eyelessgame

    I have found that argument with libertarians (not just Objectivists) tends to involve shifting rationales whenever the argument doesn’t go their way: they will argue from (theoretical) consequentialism (“less regulations/lower taxes makes everyone richer! Econ 101, and that’s all I understand!”) until the point where macro and real-world demonstrations make that untenable; then they move to a philosophical argument (“property rights are basic human rights because our arbitrary customs governing property are laws of nature”), and when I challenge the underlying positions and discuss other philosophies of ownership and responsibility, and suggest those aren’t self-evident values, they tend to shift back onto consequentialism of a different sort (“if you don’t completely respect property rights uber alles then stalin hitler mao shut up that’s why”) and when I point out, again, all the counterexamples from the real world, present and past, they go back to philosophy (“state culture of dependency man was meant to be free”) and philosophical rebuttals to that tend to wind up with them arguing Econ 101 consequentialism again.

    It’s a closed loop. They really believe that the philosophy and the consequences support each other (a pleasant thing to believe, to be sure!), but the logic becomes circular pretty quickly: because to support challenges to their philosophical claims they make economic arguments, and to distract from someone pointing out their misunderstandings of economics they fall back on philosophy.

  • Huckster Sam

    Heard these arguments too many times to bother counting them. A strong victim blaming mentality tied in with a just world philosophy and an ego large enough to cause danger to low-flying aircraft.

    The “lack of foresight” arguers always seem to be people well supported by current societal structures, despite being the first to decry them. A pack of white guys who take occasional self-defense courses and think that if everything went Mad Max that they’d be Lord Humongous instead of being strapped to the front of his car.

  • Beardedbeard

    What always kills me in this discussion is, the same people who argue to privatize everything through government contract turn around and complain that public sector unions can take the money from their employee contracts and use it to lobby for more money. But it’s ok if private companies do the same thing because…?

  • Sneezeguard

    Hank: ‘But this is Blackmail! And Dannager and I already discussed this and agreed that while Blackmail from a private individual was fine if handled reasonably that it could never be tolerated by the Government!’
    Dr. Ferris: ‘Well you don’t have any options, Mr. Rearden.’
    Hank: ‘Indeed, and as I practically signed a blood oath with my friend Dannager whereby we agreed to both go to prison should our crime be discovered as a sign of opposition to these unjust laws I will certainly do that… wait… hang on, I just remembered that I actually constantly break my word to friends and loved ones despite being ostensibly heroic. Actually instead I have a brilliant plan to get out of this mess!’
    Dr. Ferris: ‘It’s not reciting a big speech is it?’
    Hank: ‘I’m an Ayn Rand protoganist Dr. Ferris, obviously my plan is to give a big speech!’
    Dr. Ferris: ‘Curses! Everyone knows that big speeches are our one weakness!’

  • Doug Langley


  • Doug Langley

    This passage is so paranoid. It expresses the view that not only regulations hurt the producer, they’re explicitly intended to hurt the producer.

    Intent is basic to Rand’s thinking. She couldn’t believe in mistakes or accidents. There’s never anything to the effect of “Sorry about those regulations, I didn’t realize they would cause so much harm”. Always it’s “Of course I mean to hurt you because you’re moral and I choose to oppose the moral!” Or to give a direct quote from Rand, “hatred of the good for being the good”.

    The only mistakes she ascribes to anyone is being too nice. Hank is too nice to his shrewish wife, Cheryl is too trusting of James, etc.

  • Michael

    Really? I’m certainly no friend of libertarianism, but I’ve never heard of any who oppose using force to rescue someone from captivity after being kidnapped. True, I don’t find the “private police” solution comforting, but it does seem to cover that.

  • Nik Pfirsig

    Supply siders such as Randians, Libertarians and free market fundies always seem to miss something important. They fail to recognize the difference between a free market and a captive market.
    A free market in a common venue where all sellers and all buyers have equal access. IN a captive market, a small group of resellers control access to the venue, They can also control supply, and through advertising, demand as well.
    Captive markets are anything but free, and arise as a result of deregulation. and the reduction of oversight. Markets are captured through contracts that put smaller competitors at a disadvantage,
    Traditionally, national governments have seen fit to socialize natural monopolies and operate these for the benefit of the nation with the citizens as shareholders. These natural monopolies include transportation infrastructures, communication infrastructures, large financial institutions and utilities.

    The military, civilian police and correctional institutions are also natural monopolies are too important for the safety of the citizens, As such these functions should never be privatized.

  • Russell Wain Glasser

    …Except that if you’re poor, you don’t have private police. That is my point. You have access to protection from abuse and imprisonment if and only if you’re rich. Not to mention, the private police hired by other people might BE the ones who have kidnapped, wrongfully imprisoned, and tortured you.

  • Michael

    Private prisons have certainly been advocated by libertarians. Some go further, however. In the old South, there was “convict lease”-prisoners were rented to private farms or factories as forced labor. There’s no reason it wouldn’t be profitable for any private prisons to do that (or have prison factories, as China does). Moreover, those who support these measures usually also seem find with selling prisoners outright for the length of their sentence. Many libertarians have attacked bankruptcy laws that let people get out of paying their debts, so debt bondage or debtors’ prisons (in which the prisoners pay off debts by forced labor) could make a comeback in Libertopia. Indentured servitude is perfectly according to most libertarian lights, while some even allow selling yourself into slavery. There is no real reason states couldn’t exist in Libertopia, just so long as it’s done through “proper” means-say, buying a large island and kicking people off who don’t do as you say (some also allow people to sign away their rights, so that would allow even harsher measures). Isn’t “liberty” grand?

  • Michael

    Oh, I understand many people would be left out to dry, for sure. I just thought that you were saying if you’re on the kidnappers’ property that libertarians consider it wrong to come on there without permission, even to save you. And yes, “private police” would most likely be goon squads in service of the large corporations and other powers. One imagines troublesome people such as labor organizers might tend to “disappear” at their hands, like in Latin America. I can imagine a protection racket occurring frequently too.

  • Russell Wain Glasser

    What I mean is that the way the rules are set up, the kidnapping and torture are not “wrong” within the context of the system. Not being rich is what’s wrong. You have the right to not be kidnapped and tortured IF you are a rich. But if you are a rich, you have the right to kidnap and torture poors. The system is ultimately value-neutral towards the actual behavior that your money buys.

  • Indigo

    I find it striking how many libertarians seem to have partially imbibed Hobbes’s ideas (contracts and tit-for-tat are at the root of society and ethics) but pull up short of his ultimate conclusion (we need a powerful government to enforce the shit out of contracts).

  • busterggi

    Shouldn’t it be the villain caught monologing?

  • busterggi

    True, the inmates are commodities which would end up being traded by speculators in the market.

  • Michael

    I have never encountered libertarians who say that would be all right (although what you describe could become true in practice under their system).

  • Tige Gibson

    Help me out. Does Hank Rearden have a goatee? I think the answer to that question will explain everything.

  • Doug Langley

    “That’s like designing a shoddy product that explodes and then paying
    liability fees to the survivors, rather than spending the money to
    design it safely in the first place.”

    Can you say “Ford Pinto”, children? I knew you could . . .

  • Alex SL

    I assume people will use everything to rationalise that they are right, but reading through these discussions at least Rand herself gives off the vibe of being a deontologist, and indeed of not caring about empirical tests and observations at all. Would you agree?
    (edited to correct wrong word choice)

  • eyelessgame

    That fits my understanding of Rand, yes. (As with those disciples of hers who, hilariously but in dead earnest, asserted that, were an asteroid headed toward Earth and capable of annihilating all of humanity, the government would have no right to deflect it – but the government would be justified in keeping it secret, to prevent panic. Because to do otherwise would be Wrong.) if you don’t believe me.

  • J-D

    The looters’ villains are the Objectivists’ heroes (and contrariwise).

  • J-D

    There are four kinds of argument that are used to justify criminal penalties.

    A. It is argued that inflicting suffering on those who have done wrong is part of the definition of justice. This argument can be deployed in favour of just about any kind of criminal penalty, not just imprisonment. People who adopt this kind of argument _might_ be bothered by abuses in private prisons if they think that _too much_ suffering is being inflicted, but they might also be neutral on the subject, or even see it as a bonus, depending on how much infliction of suffering they see justice as demanding.

    B. It is argued that criminal penalties reduce or eliminate the capacity of those penalised to do further wrong. This argument may not work for some forms of criminal penalty, but it is deployed in favour of imprisonment and also in favour of capital punishment. People who adopt this kind of argument mainly want one thing from prisons — that they prevent escapes. Logically they should also favour reducing violence inside the walls, to the extent possible consistent with the primary goal, so they may be concerned as a secondary issue with abuses in private prisons.

    C. It is argued that criminal penalties can improve the moral character of the people who are penalised. This argument can’t be deployed in favour of capital punishment, and may not work for some other forms of criminal penalty, but it’s definitely available for advocates of community service orders and probation as well as advocates of imprisonment. People who adopt this kind of argument would obviously object strongly to abuses in private prisons.

    D. It is argued that criminal penalties can reduce the rate of crime by inducing fear of future penalties for future crimes — in the individuals who are penalised and/or in people generally. This argument is probably available for every kind of criminal penalty — in the case of capital punishment, you can’t argue that a person who has been executed will feel fear afterwards of being put to death again, but you can argue that _other_ people will feel fear. People who adopt this kind of argument might not be bothered at all by abuses in private prisons. They might argue that the worse conditions are in prison, the more effective imprisonment will be as a way of discouraging potential future criminals.

    The argument that there are cheaper ways of reducing the crime rate may have some effect on people who take positions B, C, or D (depending on the details of their views), but it’s irrelevant to people who take position A. Which position is the Objectivist one I don’t know.

    (There are technical terms for A, B, C, and D, but I have avoided them because I have found that they can confuse people not familiar with them.)

  • Doug Langley

    Rand despised facial hair for some reason, and not one character in her books has a hint of it.

    On the other hand, I fully expect to see Ferris stroking a white cat . . .

  • Doug Langley

    I would expect Rand to argue that some private sector Galt would detect the asteroid before the drooling government scientists and destroy it himself.

    Rand never used the terms deontologism or consequentialism. She did claim that her philosophy was not only moral, but also produced the best results. But those results could only happen in her fiction stories and would only result in disaster in real life. She confabulated fantasy and reality. So I would say she was a deontologist without knowing it.

  • Alex SL

    Ye gods. That is where the desire for ideological purity can lead.

  • Nathaniel


  • X. Randroid

    “Which position is the Objectivist one I don’t know.”

    I can’t recall Rand writing much on the subject, but she did preach the virtue of “Justice,” by which she meant giving each person what he deserves, based on his moral character and actions. It follows that criminals—those who violate the rights of others—deserve to have their rights taken away. This would be, of course, theory A, and indeed, theory A is uniformly embraced as the correct answer in Objectivist circles.

    By way of example, if you poke around Objectivist publications and forums, you’ll find that the death penalty is controversial among Objectivists. But the debate is never about whether it’s morally okay to execute a murderer. (They all agree that it is.) The only debate is over how to deal with the possibility of error, i.e., executing someone who isn’t a murderer, with some arguing that we can reduce that to an acceptable risk (some believe it’s possible to eliminate the risk entirely!) and others arguing that, basically in the interest of administrative efficiency, it’s better to accept the modest injustice of letting murderers rot in prison (rather than killing them off) rather than to risk committing the greater injustice of killing someone who doesn’t deserve it.

    As for the remaining theories, most Objectivists view theories B (getting criminals off the street) and D (scaring would-be criminals straight) as beneficial side effects of a proper system of criminal punishment, but not justifications for punishment. Theory C, as you might imagine, is just laughed at.

    So when considering questions like what the living conditions for prison inmates should be, only theory A is of interest to Objectivists. And the general consensus I recall is “as horrible as possible.” I remember quite a few Objectivists being in favor of exile, rather than maintaining prisons at taxpayer expense. Some fantasized about building Heinlein’s Coventry.

  • X. Randroid

    What Russell is describing sounds more like anarchy than what most libertarians claim to want. And it’s definitely not what Objectivists have in mind. Their ideal world would have government police authorized to go onto anyone’s private property for purposes related to stopping violations of individual rights, in which category Objectivists definitely place kidnapping and torture.

    That said, their vision is still problematic. Notably, Objectivists are maddeningly vague about how this ideal government police force they imagine would be regulated or funded (since they think taxes are a crime). They assure themselves that everyone (or almost everyone) would voluntarily donate, because everyone would realize that having police is in their rational self-interest. These voluntary donations will be sufficient funding because donating insufficiently would not be rational. They don’t bother to ask whether a police force funded by “voluntary donation” would be inclined toward selective enforcement or other abuses of power … or inadequate enforcement if the donations don’t come in. Instead, they just assure themselves that crime would be extremely rare (because everyone would understand that violating someone else’s rights is never in one’s rational self-interest, of course), so the police force won’t need much money anyway.

  • X. Randroid

    I for one can’t talk about private prisons without giving a nod to Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, which is set in a libertarian dystopia. At one point, a character is arrested, and the private (of course) police ask her which private (of course) jail she wants them to take her to: the Hoosegow or The Clink. As I recall, she pays/bribes them to take her to the Hoosegow (which is nicer) but ends up in The Clink anyway … with no chance of getting her bribe money back, of course.

    Come to think of it, Snow Crash is probably a much more accurate depiction of a world run by libertarians than anything Rand ever wrote.

  • Snoof

    It also demonstrates something else Adam has written about in the past: new states start emerging. People have citizenship in The Mews At Winsor or Mr Lee’s Greater Hong Kong or the Mafia, because it’s much, much easier to function as part of a society that (at least in theory) has your back. You don’t need to negotiate each and every interaction with people and organizations – you just say, “I’m from X” and all relevant treaties and negotiations apply to you. You can spend a stable currency like Kongbucks rather than having to renegotiate the value of your goods with every person.

  • Elizabeth

    Just ask them what should happen with the FDA. They claim we should get rid of it and different companies would use different testing labs and then have private certification. When you ask a libertarian what should happen if some company uses a BS certification and poisons people, they have no answer, or they will shrug and say that then people will know not to eat anything or take drugs certified by that lab. The dead people will have learned their lesson. Or something.

    I know this sounds like a straw man, but on Sam Seder’s Majority Report show, he challenges libertarians to call in and debate him all the time and I have heard this line of reasoning several times.

  • LBurris597

    I’m so sorry to say this but, Ayn Rand is a terrible writer. Her novels are long winded and insipid.

  • Snoof

    Why would you be sorry to say that? It’s true!

    (Especially the “long-winded” bit. Rand could never use ten words when a hundred would do.)

  • Maine_Skeptic

    The private prison situation is even worse when you take into account corrupt judges. If you haven’t heard about the “Kids for Cash” scandal, it will make you sick to read about kids receiving harsh punishments and sent to jail by judges who received kickbacks from the prison company. One kid made fun of his principal on myspace and went to jail for it.

  • Adam Lee

    I’ve heard it said (admittedly with regard to Facebook, not private prisons): “If you’re not paying to use the service, you’re not the customer, you’re the product.”

    The disconnect between the governments that write the checks to private prisons and the prisoners who are incarcerated there is what makes all the difference. The people who are paying for the service don’t experience it themselves, so they have little reason to care if it’s being run poorly. The only incentive to get it right is that prisoners can file lawsuits if the conditions are inhumane, although things have to get pretty awful before most courts would even consider such a petition.

  • Adam Lee

    I’d be curious to know Rand’s views on the idea of indentured servitude/debt slavery, if she ever addressed it (which I doubt). I’ve come across two inconclusive Objectivist Answers threads, but nothing definitive.

  • Adam Lee

    Thanks for this – it’s something I’d been wondering about.

    It seems like this is another issue where Objectivists have had to fill in the gaps in Rand’s philosophy. Although she paid lip service to the idea of a minimal government to protect property rights, I get the impression she believed that in a properly structured society, there wouldn’t be any crime and so the issue would never come up. For example, in Galt’s Gulch, there doesn’t seem to be anyone whose job is to be the policeman.

    I’ve found this to be something that libertarians in general are loath to address. I once got into a debate where I was arguing that we should have social safety-net programs so that broke, hungry people wouldn’t turn to crime in order to survive. An outraged libertarian asserted that this would be the equivalent of giving in to extortion, as though if we didn’t have those programs, people would be content to quietly sit in their houses and starve to death.

  • Michael

    From what I recall, investment was one of two proposals Rand made for this, the other being a lottery whose profits the government would use toward courts, military defense and police. However, even with such a small government these still seem dubious. The main reply she made seems to be “A rational society will figure it out.”

  • Michael

    They also say that you can sue, but this is reactive rather than preventative-the damage is already done. Further, some libertarians propose changes in tort law that would make far harder to sue successfully.

  • Michael

    Ah well, you see, that is because they’re government employees, and thus EVIL. The companies, on the other hand, are “private”, thus GOOD.

  • Michael

    I don’t know about Rand, but Robert Nozick explicitly says in Anarchy, State and Utopia that libertarianism would allow slave contracts. Most draw the line at that-indentured servitude and debt bondage, on the other hand, appear to be more widely supported. Of course, these are thin distinctions.

  • J-D

    And I regret to have to inform you that Queen Anne is dead.

  • J-D

    If the Objectivist idea of a ‘properly structured’ society is one in which everybody accepts Objectivism, what do Objectivists envisage for those who can’t or won’t accept Objectivism? _Atlas Shrugged_ doesn’t seem to support the idea that everybody is capable of accepting Objectivism, but rather the reverse.

  • David Andrew Kearney

    Interesting, because from what I’ve heard, the libertarian answer (or at least Ron Paul’s flavor of it) to environmental concerns is that it should be easier to sue. Torts would replace environmental regulation.

  • David Andrew Kearney

    Seeing how “deontology” is closely associated with Kant, I’m sure she’s rather take poison than use the term.

  • X. Randroid

    Rand was always maddeningly vague about how to make a workable society based on Objectivist principles. She was emphatic that Galt’s Gulch wasn’t intended to be her blueprint for society; it was more like an invitation-only private club, thus unlike a nation that doesn’t get to pick and choose its members. And she artfully dodged most questions in the line of “how would that really work, given that we can’t expect everyone will be rational all the time?” Her favorite dodge was that as a philosopher, her only task was to lay out the general principles on which a “proper” society would be based; it was up to political scientists (not her) to work out the details.

    I can’t help wondering if part of the reason she insisted on this strict division of intellectual labor had to do with the fact that she couldn’t figure out how to make a workable society based on her principles. Rather than considering that this might indicate a problem with the principles, she just declared the workability issues to be Someone Else’s Problem.

    As for Rand’s followers, they’ve adopted the view that a philosophical revolution, leading to widespread (though presumably not universal) acceptance of Objectivism, has to precede any major political reform. For the most part, they’re happy to assume that once the philosophical revolution happens, all the pesky political details will sort themselves out. And the non-Objectivists who remain will be allowed to think whatever they want, as long as they don’t violate anyone’s rights (as defined by the Objectivists, of course).

  • X. Randroid

    I can’t remember where, but in my Randroid days I did read an essay explaining why, according to Objectivism, you can’t sell yourself into slavery. The argument goes that man’s rights are inalienable and therefore a court cannot properly enforce a contract under which one party agrees to having no rights at all … because there logically can be no such thing as a right to not have rights, or something like that.

    If this sound like verbal gymnastics, it’s because that’s what most of Objectivism is.

  • X. Randroid

    The proposals I remember were the lottery and a system of voluntary “contract insurance,” priced as a percentage of the monetary value of the contract. Rand claimed a miniscule percentage would be sufficient to fund all “legitimate” functions of government. The hook would be that if the parties didn’t buy the insurance when they made the contract, the government would not enforce it later.

  • Michael

    Well, the person who I read on the issue (Murray Rothbard) also said it would replace regulation, but nonetheless made it far harder. This is perhaps not surprising, given the desire to protect private property more than anything else. There are many disagreements among libertarians, you’ll find.

  • Doug Langley

    Yikes, I didn’t know that. Wouldn’t want to be in the room when someone says the evil word.

  • Doug Langley

    Adam, what was that bit you quoted from AS where Nat Taggart offered to sell his wife to the millionaire?

  • Doug Langley

    I can understand why so many people thought Rand was endorsing anarchy. Almost all the time she discussed government, it was to rant how horrible it was. You really had to hunt to find any grudging admission that government was useful, and she then quickly changed the subject.

    I get the impression that Rand just didn’t like talking about government. She seemed to feel that government was so basically irrational that she didn’t want to consider it. I was somewhat the same way growing up – politics, economics, history were just unfathomable. People yelling at each other, starting wars and depressions – why? Didn’t want to think about it. Today I can study it, but it’s not easy.

    It is remarkable, considering how much she loved talking philosophy and wrote a thousand page book to explain every last detail of her thinking, that she skipped over an important part. Maybe she associated all government with what the Bolsheviks did to her and her family and the reaction was so painful she couldn’t think about it.

  • Doug Langley

    Something else. As you pointed out, Galt’s Gulch consists of hand-picked members who agree with each other. Rand spends a huge amount of time creating and contemplating it. But she spends very little time discussing societies where people don’t agree. Look what happened with her private group of fans. She didn’t build a structure where they could disagree. She enforced a system where they all had to agree with her. I don’t think she could consider any system where people disagreed – which, of course, is necessary for any country.

  • Cactus_Wren

    Why do you think she called her system “Objectivism”? Because to her mind it was inconceivable that anyone could disagree with her who examined things objectively. “Objective” and “agreeing with Rand” were synonymous. Intelligent people would, when things were properly and objectively explained, realize that of course Rand was right. That was the definition of “objective”. And of “intelligent”.

  • SmogMonster

    I’m sure you’ve all heard about the melamine baby formula disaster in China. If not: due to the laxity of regulations and almost total lack of enforcement, a Chinese baby formula company artificially boosted the protein content of their formula by adding melamine powder. Two people were executed and several more imprisoned, and the company, a giant partially state-owned conglomerate, was sold to another giant partially state-owned conglomerate and gone back to producing baby formula. Having no way to check it themselves, Chinese parents are thus left to chose the clearly-untrustworthy domestic brands, or Australian/New Zealand imports that cost 2-3 times as much but are guaranteed not to give your precious infant kidney failure.

    Under the One Child Policy, you are not permitted to have another child if your kid dies.

  • SmogMonster

    And yet, crime doesn’t arise from an intangible affliction of the soul.

    I’m pretty sure Rand and her followers do indeed believe crime arises from an affliction of the soul. They think people are born good, rational, producer-types, destined to be Captains Of Industry … or not, and that you can tell what kind of people are which by how much money they make. Only people who are financially successful matter; the rest are moochers and deserve to be punished. A person who turns to crime as a result of poor upbringing or lack of opportunity has conclusively proven that they are not good Objectivists.

  • David Andrew Kearney

    That sounds an awful lot like the Stamp Act. Sam Adams wouldn’t approve.

  • Doug Langley

    Very true. It’s a real irony. She preached reason, individuality, thinking for self, yet couldn’t tolerate dissent.

  • Adam Lee

    Her favorite dodge was that as a philosopher, her only task was to lay out the general principles on which a “proper” society would be based; it was up to political scientists (not her) to work out the details.

    Yep, that sounds about right. Rand decided the important things, like which music you should listen to or which artists you should enjoy if you’re a properly rational person, and left minor matters, like whether private individuals can own weapons of mass destruction or how you pay the police’s salaries, to future generations to figure out.

  • Cactus_Wren

    A few years ago there was a lengthy (2500+ postings) and most entertaining discussion thread on the JREF forums, under the heading “Why the Derision for AnCap and Liberterianism Here?” The OP argued, quite seriously, for eliminating a government monopoly on police and court systems: he advocated for competing private court systems and police forces.

    Someone asked him, “Who would show up for a trial at a private court? If my brother had a private court business right now, and I decided to sue you, and he and I called you tonight and said “be at the _____’s Courthouse on Friday!” would you show up?” The OP pointed out that if he didn’t show, “You would send out private police to arrest me” — never making clear the distinction between “private police” and “hired thugs” — and clarified, “If I contested this arrangement or my subpoena and there was some potential legitimacy to my claim, it would be in your and your brother’s best interest to take interest, because if not, your private firm would lose reputation, and your insurance rates would go up and you or credit would sink down.”

    My favorite of the several responses:

    I think I saw exactly that situation the other night when The Godfather was on — Sonny was saying he had to hit Barzini or else the Corleones would look weak. But, of course, the Barzini were saying exactly the same thing, because they had been insulted by the Corleone refusing to help them with a business proposition, and if they would lose face if they accepted the insult.

    You’ve just raised the second reel of The Godfather to the heights of judicial theory.

  • Doug Langley

    In one of Rand’s newsletter articles, she stated that private, competing security companies was a terrible idea. She argued that separate agencies would lead to endless conflict and chaos. I can’t recall the exact passage, but she raised a thought experiment: what if you get robbed, send your security force to your neighbor’s house, they are met by his security force, and they don’t recognize your claim? Take it from there.

    The problem, of course, is how does she expect a monopoly government force to remain rational and just, especially since she wrote a 1000+ page book where it doesn’t.