No, All Libertarians Are Neither Anti-War Pacifists nor Anarchist Libertines – In Fact, Most of Them Aren’t

Chef Mojo and Kyle voice objections to my choice of the LP and libertarianism as the best way forward for liberty today. I respond:

Chef and Kyle, neither the Libertarian movement, nor the membership of the LP, are ideologically monolithic. I am a libertarian by way of being a Randian Objectivist.  Rand would, like you, not have approved of my choice of a party to work with.  First off, she was not antiwar:

The Morality of War and Civilian Casualties – The Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights

The following are excerpts from Ayn Rand Answers: The Best of her Q & A, edited by Robert Mayhew. As Mayhew states at the end of his Introduction to the book, "I believe I have done a good job editing this material. Nevertheless, no one can guarantee that Ayn Rand would have approved of editing she herself did not see. For this reason, however fascinating and useful, these Q&A should not be considered part of Objectivism."

Ford Hall Forum 1972: "A Nation's Unity"

Q: What do you think about the killing of innocent people in war?

AR: This is a major reason people should be concerned about the nature of their government. The majority in any country at war is often innocent. But if by neglect, ignorance, or helplessness, they couldn't overthrow their bad government and establish a better one, then they must pay the price for the sins of their government, as we are all paying for the sins of ours. And if people put up with dictatorship—as some do in Soviet Russia, and some did in Nazi Germany—they deserve what their government deserves. Our only concern should be who started the war. Once that's established, there's no need to consider the "rights" of that country, because it has initiated the use of force and therefore stepped outside the principle of rights.

Ford Hall Forum 1976: "The Moral Factor"

Q: Assume the Soviet Union started a war of aggression; assume also that within the Soviet Union there are individuals opposed to communism. How do you handle this conflict?

AR: I'll pretend to take the question seriously, because it's blatantly wrong. The question assumes that an individual inside a country should be made secure from the social system under which he lives and that he accepts—willingly or unwillingly, because he hasn't left the country—and that others should respect his rights and succumb to aggression themselves. This is the position of the goddamned pacifists, who won't fight, even if attacked, because they might kill innocent people. If this were correct, nobody would have to be concerned about his country's political system. But we must care about the right social system, because our lives depend on it—because a political system, good or bad, is established in our name, and we bear the responsibility for it. If we go to war with Russia, I hope the "innocent" are destroyed along with the guilty. There aren't many innocent people there—those who do exist are not in the big cities, but mainly in concentration camps. Nobody has to put up with aggression, and surrender his right of self-defense, for fear of hurting somebody else, guilty or innocent. When someone comes at you with a gun, if you have an ounce of self-esteem, you answer with force, never mind who he is or who's standing behind him. If he's out to destroy you, you owe it to your own life to defend yourself.

Hall Forum 1977: "Global Balkanization"

Q: Can you defend one country attacking another?

AR: The source of this kind of statement is the idea that nations do not exist, only individuals, and if some poor, noncommunist blob in Soviet Russia doesn't want an invasion, we mustn't hurt him. But who permits governments to go to war? Only a government can put a country into war, and the citizens of that country keep their government in power. This is true in the worst dictatorships. Even the citizens of Soviet Russia—who did not elect the Communists—keep them in power through passivity. Nazi Germany did elect its dictatorship, and therefore, even those Germans who were against Hitler were responsible for that kind of government and had to suffer the consequences. Individual citizens in a country that goes to war are responsible for that war. This is why they should be interested in politics and careful about not having the wrong kind of government. If in this context one could make a distinction between the actions of a government and the actions of individual citizens, why would we need politics at all? All governments would be on one side, doing something among themselves, while we private citizens would go along in happy, idyllic tribalism. But that picture is false. We are responsible for the government we have, and that is why it is important to take the science of politics very seriously. If we become a dictatorship, and a freer country attacks us, it would be their right.

Secondly, as I have repeatedly noted, she despised the libertarians of her day (the ideological creators of today's LP) and rarely missed an opportunity to trash them:

What was Ayn Rand’s view of the libertarian movement?

Ayn Rand was opposed to the libertarian movement of her time. In 1971 she wrote:

For the record, I shall repeat what I have said many times before: I do not join or endorse any political group or movement. More specifically, I disapprove of, disagree with and have no connection with, the latest aberration of some conservatives, the so-called “hippies of the right,” who attempt to snare the younger or more careless ones of my readers by claiming simultaneously to be followers of my philosophy and advocates of anarchism. Anyone offering such a combination confesses his inability to understand either. Anarchism is the most irrational, anti-intellectual notion ever spun by the concrete-bound, context-dropping, whim-worshiping fringe of the collectivist movement, where it properly belongs. [“Brief Summary,” The Objectivist, Vol. 10, Sep. 1971] And in 1972 she wrote:

Above all, do not join the wrong ideological groups or movements, in order to “do something.” By “ideological” (in this context), I mean groups or movements proclaiming some vaguely generalized, undefined (and, usually, contradictory) political goals. (E.g., the Conservative Party, that subordinates reason to faith, and substitutes theocracy for capitalism; or the “libertarian” hippies, who subordinate reason to whims, and substitute anarchism for capitalism.) To join such groups means to reverse the philosophical hierarchy and to sell out fundamental principles for the sake of some superficial political action which is bound to fail. It means that you help the defeat of your ideas and the victory of your enemies. (For a discussion of the reasons, see “The Anatomy of Compromise” in my book Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal.) [“What Can One Do?” The Ayn Rand Letter, Vol. 1, No. 7]

Do read the entire piece, which includes a scorching interview with her about libertarians and the LP.

Still, even with her opinions of them,  I can tell you this much: I could go into any gathering of libertarians, either big L or small, and say, "Your antiwar stance is full of shit."

Outrage might ensue, but if challenged I could simply respond with the quotes above, and my position would have to receive automatic respect, if not agreement. Yes, appeal to authority, whatever, but appealing to Rand over issues of libertarianism is very much akin to appealing to the Framers over American constitutional issues.

So: as a Randian Libertarian (she'd hate that, by the way), I am neither antiwar, a pacifist, nor an anarchist. So why the LP? Well, as I say, while there would doubtless be friction between my muscular, Randian libertarianism and the anti-war, pacifist wing of the Party, I have as much right to make claims to the version of Libertarianism I support as they have to theirs.

Further, if you'd like to take over an existing political structure in order to effectively advance your views, would you rather try with the statist Big Two (an effort that has failed, and failed, and failed again, and will continue to do so), or with an already existent third party that upholds individual liberty and opposes statism, even if some of the membership disagrees with you on major issues?

It seems to me that the way you win that argument is to flood the LP with enough people who think the way you do, so that eventually that wing of the party becomes a raucous minority, or fades away entirely.

There is no Objectivist party. We have what we have: Dems, GOP, LP. Pick one, or admit that you have no intention of furthering the fight at all in the politcal arena. I'm picking the LP, because even as it stands, it far better represents my own views than the other two. And I'll be working to change the views I disagree with inside the party, just as I would have to do with Dems or Republicans. And one of the easiest ways to change those views is to recruit people who think as I do to the LP itself, in an effort to make the party larger and more effective as a political tool for liberty.

Finally, otherwise intelligent people make decisions like this based on very little factual knowledge:  "Libertarians are anarchists.  Libertarians are pacificsts."

Start with reading the Libertarian Party platform:

Platform | Libertarian Party

Libertarian Party 2012 Platform: Adopted in Convention, May 2012, Las Vegas, NV

In particular these two planks deal with the issues of anarchy and war:

3.1 National Defense We support the maintenance of a sufficient military to defend the United States against aggression. The United States should both avoid entangling alliances and abandon its attempts to act as policeman for the world. We oppose any form of compulsory national service.

3.2 Internal Security and Individual Rights The defense of the country requires that we have adequate intelligence to detect and to counter threats to domestic security. This requirement must not take priority over maintaining the civil liberties of our citizens. The Constitution and Bill of Rights shall not be suspended even during time of war. Intelligence agencies that legitimately seek to preserve the security of the nation must be subject to oversight and transparency. We oppose the government's use of secret classifications to keep from the public information that it should have, especially that which shows that the government has violated the law.

3.3 International Affairs American foreign policy should seek an America at peace with the world. Our foreign policy should emphasize defense against attack from abroad and enhance the likelihood of peace by avoiding foreign entanglements. We would end the current U.S. government policy of foreign intervention, including military and economic aid. We recognize the right of all people to resist tyranny and defend themselves and their rights. We condemn the use of force, and especially the use of terrorism, against the innocent, regardless of whether such acts are committed by governments or by political or revolutionary groups.


Governments throughout history have regularly operated on the opposite principle, that the State has the right to dispose of the lives of individuals and the fruits of their labor. Even within the United States, all political parties other than our own grant to government the right to regulate the lives of individuals and seize the fruits of their labor without their consent. We, on the contrary, deny the right of any government to do these things, and hold that where governments exist, they must not violate the rights of any individual: namely,

(1) the right to life — accordingly we support the prohibition of the initiation of physical force against others;

(2) the right to liberty of speech and action — accordingly we oppose all attempts by government to abridge the freedom of speech and press, as well as government censorship in any form; and

(3) the right to property — accordingly we oppose all government interference with private property, such as confiscation, nationalization, and eminent domain, and support the prohibition of robbery, trespass, fraud, and misrepresentation. Since governments, when instituted, must not violate individual rights, we oppose all interference by government in the areas of voluntary and contractual relations among individuals.

People should not be forced to sacrifice their lives and property for the benefit of others. They should be left free by government to deal with one another as free traders; and the resultant economic system, the only one compatible with the protection of individual rights, is the free market.

This is not anarchy the LP is supporting: It is precisely the limited form of government envisioned by the Founders and Framers, admired by Ayn Rand, and supported by nearly all people who claim to love liberty, especially individual liberty. In other words, take a harder look at libertarianism and the LP before summarily rejecting it, would you? And if you still feel you can't be a part of that effort, explain to me why the GOP or the Democrats would be a better choice?

About Bill Quick

I am a small-l libertarian. My primary concern is to increase individual liberty as much as possible in the face of statist efforts to restrict it from both the right and the left. If I had to sum up my beliefs as concisely as possible, I would say, "Stay out of my wallet and my bedroom," "your liberty stops at my nose," and "don't tread on me." I will believe that things are taking a turn for the better in America when married gays are able to, and do, maintain large arsenals of automatic weapons, and tax collectors are, and do, not.


No, All Libertarians Are Neither Anti-War Pacifists nor Anarchist Libertines – In Fact, Most of Them Aren’t — 6 Comments

  1. In a similar vein, I keep running into people who claim that, because the Tea Party advocates smaller (fiscally responsible) government, that what it really seeks is "Somalia-like anarchy."  (Those exact words used on at least one occassion.)  Really, I want to ask them what color the sky is in their world.

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