I had the interesting opportunity this past week of attending the first meeting of the newly-formed Objectivism club at New York University (this is surprising given the fact that not only is NYU the nation’s largest private university, not only is it a school with noted Austrian-economists situated in the heart of a city raised to greatness on the shoulders of capitalism, but it is also the school where such early Randians as Alan Greenspan and Nathaniel Branden, then students, first began expounding Rand’s dogma).
Though I disagree with a number of Rand’s basic tenets, I decided to go nevertheless, my hope being that the club (I thought) would doubtlessly attract some laissez-faire capitalists and individualists of conviction. As fate would have it, this was far from the case.
The meeting began with some simple formalities, but soon the founder passed around some copies of Leonard Peikoff’s article (now famous in some circles) about the appropriate response to the September 11 attacks. For those of you not in the know, he calls for war on a scale far-surpassing even the current state of events. He is of the opinion that the Afghani people, and the Libyan and Iraqi people to boot, need to pay with their lives for the actions of terrorists and governments. He is further convinced that the American people should pay out billions of dollars, or rather, have billions appropriated, so that the US Government might reign down not just “smart bombs” on the Middle East, but hydrogen bombs as well. Bare in mind that he is supposedly a laissez-faire capitalist and, what’s more, an individualist.
As I looked around the room, watching heads nod in agreement, I couldn’t help but feel a little distraught. Given that thousands read Rand every year, she could very well be considered, problematic as she is, the best hope for the spread of capitalist ideals. At that moment last week, I must say, I was quite sure that our current “best” hope is, in fact, hopeless. Regardless, when it came my turn to speak, I said that I think Peikoff is a hypocrite and an idiot, that if his paper is not blatantly collectivist, I’m not sure what is, and that I doubt war is the best or most efficient way to solve the terrorist problem. They were outraged that I could be so “liberal” as to suggest that war is not the answer. If one needs proof as to the sorry state of affairs known as the liberal/conservative division, one need look no further. Obviously to them (far less so to me), one is always for some government action, either touchy-feely liberalism or moralistic, self-righteous conservatism.
“What? Are you an anarchist?” Why, yes! Let them scoff. I’m fine to join such company as David Freedman in being an anarcho-capitalist “purged from an organization of which I was not a member.”
The mention of anarchism apparently brought to someone’s mind the Luddite/Anarchist/Communist protesters of recent WTO fame, because the discussion shifted to the environmentalist movement. The basic consensus in the room was that while the Green Party with all its minions and intellectual second-cousins where doubtlessly in the wrong, something (read: regulation) had to be done about keeping the environment safe. Again, I offered my anarcho-capitalist take that a free market system of civil suits, detailed property rights, and private watch-dog companies (to say nothing of heightened consumer awareness!) would be more economically efficient and fair. And again, I was met with further whining protests, which I dueled until the time ran out. I shall add that I offered to continue the discussion down the street at a café or the like. No one thought that was a very good idea. I suppose they did not like my company.
My point is not to bash Peikoff for his vile essay. No, it has already been written about by a number of others. Likewise, the focus here is not on Objectivists for being slightly-modified, simple-minded conservatives (still imbued with a penchant for moral gibberish and irrational faith in the [albeit small] State).
Rather, I wish to draw attention to just how pervasive the Statist virus is, even amongst the supposedly “converted”. It’s a bit like Justin Raimondo’s recent essay referring to Modal Libertarianism, in that while Libertarianism and Anarcho-Capitalism attract some of the best and brightest economists and thinkers, the laissez-faire movement also feeds off of those who simply don’t fit in liberal, conservative, or totalitarian circles. Bill Maher, though I admire him very much despite my strong disagreements, is an excellent example. On the one hand, Maher and Rand get the population thinking in a more favorable light. Conversely, when one hears someone call themselves a laissez-faire capitalist, not to mention a “libertarian,” one might end up getting a lot more Statist than bargained for…
December 18, 2001