Objectivism and the State
An Open Letter to Ayn Rand
Roy A. Childs, Jr.
published in 1969 by ISIL.
Mr. Childs (19491992) was a libertarian writer and activist.
Nineteen of his essays are collected in Liberty
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. That is my intention
here. I attempted this task once before, in my essay "The Contradiction
in Objectivism," in the March 1968 issue of the Rampart Journal,
but I now think that my argument was ineffective and weak, not emphasizing
the essentials of the matter. I will remedy that here.
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.
is a battle shaping up in the world a battle between the forces
of archy of statism, of political rule and authority and its
only alternative anarchy, the absence of political rule. This
battle is the necessary and logical consequence of the battle between
individualism and collectivism, between liberty and the state, between
freedom and slavery. As in ethics there are only two sides to any
question the good and the evil so too are there only two logical
sides to the political question of the state: either you are for
it, or you are against it. Any attempt at a middle ground is doomed
to failure, and the adherents of any middle course are doomed likewise
to failure and frustration or the blackness of psychological destruction,
should they blank out and refuse to identify the causes of such
failure, or the nature of reality as it is.
are, by your framework, three alternatives in political organization:
statism, which is a governmental system wherein the government initiates
force to attain its ends; limited government, which holds a monopoly
on retaliation but does not initiate the use or threat of
physical force; and anarchy, a society wherein there is no government,
government being defined by you as "an institution that holds the
exclusive power to enforce certain rules of social conduct
in a given geographical area." You support a limited government,
one which does not initiate the use or threat of physical force
is my contention that limited government is a floating abstraction
which has never been concretized by anyone; that a limited government
must either initiate force or cease being a government; that the
very concept of limited government is an unsuccessful attempt to
integrate two mutually contradictory elements: statism and voluntarism.
Hence, if this can be shown, epistemological clarity and moral consistency
demands the rejection of the institution of government totally,
resulting in free market anarchism, or a purely voluntary society.
is a limited government a floating abstraction? Because it must
either initiate force or stop being a government. Let me present
a brief proof of this.
I do not agree with your definition of government and think that
it is epistemologically mistaken (i.e., you are not identifying
its fundamental, and hence essential, characteristics), I shall
accept it for the purpose of this critique. One of the major characteristics
of your conception of government is that it holds a monopoly on
the use of retaliatory force in a given geographical area. Now,
there are only two possible kinds of monopolies: a coercive monopoly,
which initiates force to keep its monopoly, or a non-coercive monopoly,
which is always open to competition. In an Objectivist society,
the government is not open to competition, and hence is a coercive
quickest way of showing why it must either initiate force or cease
being a government is the following: Suppose that I were distraught
with the service of a government in an Objectivist society. Suppose
that I judged, being as rational as I possibly could, that I could
secure the protection of my contracts and the retrieval of stolen
goods at a cheaper price and with more efficiency. Suppose I either
decide to set up an institution to attain these ends, or patronize
one which a friend or a business colleague has established. Now,
if he succeeds in setting up the agency, which provides all the
services of the Objectivist government, and restricts his more
efficient activities to the use of retaliation against aggressors,
there are only two alternatives as far as the "government" is concerned:
(a) It can use force or the threat of it against the new institution,
in order to keep its monopoly status in the given territory, thus
initiating the use of threat of physical force against one who has
not himself initiated force. Obviously, then, if it should choose
this alternative, it would have initiated force. Q.E.D. Or: (b)
It can refrain from initiating force, and allow the new institution
to carry on its activities without interference. If it did this,
then the Objectivist "government" would become a truly marketplace
institution, and not a "government" at all. There would be competing
agencies of protection, defense and retaliation in short, free
the former should occur, the result would be statism. It is important
to remember in this context that statism exists whenever there is
a government which initiates force. The degree of statism,
once the government has done so, is all that is in question. Once
the principle of the initiation of force has been accepted,
we have granted the premise of statists of all breeds, and the rest,
as you have said so eloquently, is just a matter of time.
the latter case should occur, we would no longer have a government,
properly speaking. This is, again, called free market anarchism.
Note that what is in question is not whether or not, in fact,
any free market agency of protection, defense or retaliation is
more efficient than the former "government." The point is that whether
it is more efficient or not can only be decided by individuals acting
according to their rational self-interest and on the basis of their
rational judgment. And if they do not initiate force in this pursuit,
then they are within their rights. If the Objectivist government,
for whatever reason, moves to threaten or physically prevent
these individuals from pursuing their rational self-interest, it
is, whether you like it or not, initiating the use of physical
force against another peaceful, nonaggressive human being. To
advocate such a thing is, as you have said, "to evict oneself automatically
from the realm of rights, of morality, and of the intellect." Surely,
then, you cannot be guilty of such a thing.
if the new agency should in fact initiate the use of force, then
the former "government"-turned-marketplace-agency would of course
have the right to retaliate against those individuals who
performed the act. But, likewise, so would the new institution be
able to use retaliation against the former "government" if that
should initiate force.
shall cover some of your major "justifications" for government,
pointing out your logical flaws, but first let us get one thing
very clear: as far as I can determine, I have absolutely and irrefutably
shown that government cannot exist without initiating force, or
at least threatening to do so, against dissenters. If this is true,
and if sanctioning any institution which initiates force is a moral
evil, then you should morally withdraw all sanction from the U.S.
government, in fact, from the very concept of government itself.
One does not have an obligation to oppose all evils in the world,
since life rationally consists of a pursuit of positives, not merely
a negation of negatives. But one does, I submit, have a moral obligation
to oppose a moral evil such as government, especially when one had
previously come out in favor of such an evil.
also that the question of how free market anarchism would work is
secondary to establishing the evil of government. If a limited government,
i.e., a non-statist government, is a contradiction in terms, then
it cannot be advocated period. But since there is no conflict
between the moral and the practical, I am obliged to briefly sketch
how your objections to free market anarchism are in error.
do not intend to undertake a full "model" of a free market anarchist
society, since I, like yourself, truly cannot discuss things that
way. I am not a social planner and again, like yourself, do not
spend my time inventing Utopias. I am talking about principles whose
practical applications should be clear. In any case, a much fuller
discussion of the technical aspects of the operation of a fully
voluntary, nonstatist society is forthcoming, in the opening chapter
of Murray N. Rothbard's follow-up volume to his masterly two-volume
economic treatise, Man,
Economy, and State, to be entitled Power
and Market, and in Morris and Linda Tannehill's book, which
will hopefully be published soon, to be entitled The
Market for Liberty. The latter takes up the problem where
Murray Rothbard leaves off, and discusses the problems in detail.
A chapter from this book, incidentally, entitled "Warring Defense
Agencies and Organized Crime," will appear in the Libertarian
Connection #5, and a short statement of the authors' position
is presented in their pamphlet "Liberty Via the Market."
make consideration of your errors easier, I shall number them and
present the outline of possible replies to your major, and hence
essential, points, as presented in your essay, "The Nature of Government."
"If a society provided no organized protection against force, it
would compel every citizen to go about armed, to turn his home into
a fortress, to shoot any strangers approaching his door," etc.
is a bad argument. One could just as easily assert that if "society"
(subsuming whom?) provided no organized way of raising food,
it would compel every citizen to go out and raise vegetables in
his own backyard, or to starve. This is illogical. The alternative
is most emphatically not either we have a single, monopolistic
governmental food-growing program or we have each man growing
his own food, or starving. There is such a thing as the division
of labor, the free market and that can provide all the food man
needs. So too with protection against aggression.
"The use of physical force even its retaliatory use cannot be
left at the discretion of individual citizens."
contradicts your epistemological and ethical position. Man's mind which
means: the mind of the individual human being is capable of knowing
reality, and man is capable of coming to conclusions on the basis
of his rational judgment and acting on the basis of his rational
self-interest. You imply, without stating it, that if an individual
decides to use retaliation, that that decision is somehow subjective
and arbitrary. Rather, supposedly the individual should leave such
a decision up to government which is what? Collective and
therefore objective? This is illogical. If man is not capable
of making these decisions, then he isn't capable of making them,
and no government made up of men is capable of making them, either.
By what epistemological criterion is an individual's action classified
as "arbitrary," while that of a group of individuals is somehow
I assert that an individual must judge, and evaluate the
facts of reality in accordance with logic and by the standard of
his own rational self-interest. Are you here claiming that man's
mind is not capable of knowing reality? That men must not judge,
or act on the basis of their rational self-interest and perception
of the facts of reality? To claim this is to smash the root of the
Objectivist philosophy: the validity of reason, and the ability
and right of man to think and judge for himself.
am not, of course, claiming that a man must always personally
use retaliation against those who initiate such against him he
has the right, though not the obligation, to delegate
that right to any legitimate agency. I am merely criticizing your
"The retaliatory use of force requires objective rules of
evidence to establish that a crime has been committed and to prove
who committed it, as well as objective rules to define punishments
and enforcement procedures."
is indeed a need for such objective rules. But look at the problem
this way: there is also a need for objective rules in order
to produce a ton of steel, an automobile, an acre of wheat. Must
these activities, too, therefore be made into a coercive monopoly?
I think not. By what twist of logic are you suggesting that a free
market would not be able to provide such objective rules, while
a coercive government would? It seems obvious that man needs objective
rules in every activity of his life, not merely in relation to
the use of retaliation. But, strange as it may seem, the free
market is capable of providing such rules. You are, it seems to
me, blithely assuming that free market agencies would not
have objective rules, etc., and this without proof. If you believe
this to be the case, yet have no rational grounds for believing
such, what epistemological practice have you smuggled into your
"All laws must be objective (and objectively justifiable): Men must
know clearly, and in advance of taking an action, what the law forbids
them to do (and why), what constitutes a crime and what penalty
they will incur if they commit it."
is not, properly speaking, an objection to anarchism. The answer
to this problem of "objective laws" is quite easy: all that would
be forbidden in any voluntary society would be the initiation of
physical force, or the gaining of a value by any substitute thereof,
such as fraud. If a person chooses to initiate force in order to
gain a value, then by his act of aggression, he creates a debt which
he must repay to the victim, plus damages. There is nothing
particularly difficult about this, and no reason why the free market
could not evolve institutions around this concept of justice.
We come to the main thrust of your attack on free market anarchism
on pages 112113 of the paperback edition of The
Virtue of Selfishness,
and I will not quote the relevant paragraph here.
it to say that you have not proven that anarchy is a naïve floating
abstraction, that a society without government would be at the mercy
of the first criminal to appear (which is false, since market
protection agencies could perform more efficiently the same service
as is supposedly provided by "government"), and that objective rules
could not be observed by such agencies. You would not argue that
since there are needs for objective laws in the production of steel,
therefore the government should take over that activity.
Why do you argue it in the case of protection, defense and retaliation?
And if it is the need for objective laws which necessitates government,
and that alone, we can conclude that if a marketplace agency can
observe objective laws, as can, say, marketplace steel producers,
then there is, in fact, really no need for government at all.
"younger advocates of freedom," incidentally, are not "befuddled"
by our anarchist theory. The theory which we advocate is not
called "competing governments," of course, since a government is
a coercive monopoly. We advocate competing agencies of protection,
defense, and retaliation; in short, we claim that the free market
can supply all of man's needs including the protection and defense
of his values. We most emphatically do not accept the basic
premise of modern statists, and do not confuse force and production.
We merely recognize protection, defense and retaliation for what
they are: namely, scarce services which, because they are scarce,
can be offered on a market at a price. We see it as immoral to initiate
force against another to prevent him from patronizing his own court
system, etc. The remainder of your remarks in this area are unworthy
of you. You misrepresent the arguments of Murray Rothbard and others,
without even identifying them by name so that those who are interested
can judge the arguments by going to their source. Since we understand
the nature of government, we advocate no such thing as competing
governments; rather, we advocate the destruction or abolition
of the state, which, since it regularly initiates force, is
a criminal organization. And, incidentally, the case for competing
courts and police has been concretized by the individualist
anarchist Benjamin R. Tucker, over 80 years ago, by Murray Rothbard,
and by a host of other less prominent theorists.
us take up your example of why competing courts and police supposedly
Mr. Smith, a customer of Government A, suspects that his next-door
neighbor, Mr. Jones, a customer of Government B, has robbed him;
a squad of Police A proceeds to Mr. Jones' house and is met at
the door by a squad of Police B, who declare that they do not
accept the validity of Mr. Smith's complaint and do not recognize
the authority of Government A. What happens then? You take it
though this poses as a convincing argument, it is a straw man, and
is about as accurate a picture of the institutions pictured by free
market anarchists as would be my setting up Nazi Germany as an historical
example of an Objectivist society.
main question to ask at this point is this: do you think that it
would be in the rational self-interest of either agency to
allow this to happen, this fighting out conflicts in the streets,
which is what you imply? No? Then what view of human nature does
it presuppose to assume that such would happen anyway?
legitimate answer to your allegations is this: since you are, in
effect, asking "what happens when the agencies decide to act irrationally?"
allow me to ask the far more potent question: "What happens when
your government acts irrationally?" which is at least possible.
And which is more likely, in addition, to occur: the violation of
rights by a bureaucrat or politician who got his job by fooling
people in elections, which are nothing but community-wide opinion-mongering
contests (which are, presumably, a rational and objective manner
of selecting the best people for a job), or the violation of rights
by a hard-nosed businessman, who has had to earn his position?
So your objection against competing agencies is even more effective
against your own "limited government."
there are a number of ways in which such ferocious confrontations
can be avoided by rational businessmen: there could be contracts
or "treaties" between the competing agencies providing for the peaceful
ironing out of disputes, etc., just to mention one simplistic way.
Do you see people as being so blind that this would not occur to
interesting argument against your position is this: there is now
anarchy between citizens of different countries, i.e., between,
say, a Canadian citizen on one side of the Canadian-American border
and an American citizen on the other. There is, to be more precise,
no single government which presides over both of them. If there
is a need for government to settle disputes among individuals, as
you state, then you should look at the logical implications of your
argument: is there not then a need for a super-government to resolve
disputes among governments? Of course the implications of this are
obvious: theoretically, the ultimate end of this process of piling
government on top of government is a government for the entire universe.
And the practical end, for the moment, is at the very least world
you should be aware of the fact that just as conflicts could conceivably
arise between such market agencies, so could they arise between
governments which is called war, and is a thousand times
more terrible. Making a defense agency a monopoly in a certain area
doesn't do anything to eliminate such conflicts, of course.
It merely makes them more awesome, more destructive, and increases
the number of innocent bystanders who are harmed immensely. Is this
it to say that all of your arguments against free market anarchism
are invalid; and hence, you are under the moral obligation, since
it has been shown that government cannot exist without initiating
force, to adopt it. Questions of how competing courts could function
are technical questions, not specifically moral ones. Hence, I refer
you to Murray Rothbard and Morris G. Tannehill, who have both solved
the future, if you are interested, I will take up several other
issues surrounding your political philosophy, such as a discussion
of the epistemological problems of definition and concept formation
in issues concerning the state, a discussion of the nature of the
U.S. Constitution, both ethically and historically, and a discussion
of the nature of the Cold War. I believe that your historical misunderstanding
of these last two is responsible for many errors in judgment, and
is increasingly expressed in your commentaries on contemporary events.
I want to take up a major question: why should you adopt free market
anarchism after having endorsed the political state for so many
years? Fundamentally, for the same reason you gave for withdrawing
your sanction from Nathaniel Branden in an issue of The Objectivist:
namely, you do not fake reality and never have. If your reputation
should suffer with you becoming a total voluntarist, a free market
anarchist, what is that compared with the pride of being consistent of
knowing that you have correctly identified the facts of reality,
and are acting accordingly? A path of expedience taken by a person
of self-esteem is psychologically destructive, and such a person
will find himself either losing his pride or committing that act
of philosophical treason and psychological suicide which is blanking
out, the willful refusal to consider an issue, or to integrate one's
knowledge. Objectivism is a completely consistent philosophical
system you say and I agree that it is potentially such. But it
will be an Objectivism without the state.
there is the major issue of the destructiveness of the state itself.
No one can evade the fact that, historically, the state is a blood-thirsty
monster, which has been responsible for more violence, bloodshed
and hatred than any other institution known to man. Your approach
to the matter is not yet radical, not yet fundamental: it is the
existence of the state itself which must be challenged by the
new radicals. It must be understood that the state is an unnecessary
evil, that it regularly initiates force, and in fact attempts
to gain what must rationally be called a monopoly of crime in a
given territory. Hence, government is little more, and has never
been more, than a gang of professional criminals. If, then, government
has been the most tangible cause of most of man's inhumanity to
man, let us, as Morris Tannehill has said, "identify it for what
it is instead of attempting to clean it up, thus helping
the statists to keep it by preventing the idea that government
is inherently evil from becoming known.... The 'sacred cow' regard
for government (which most people have) must be broken! That
instrument of sophisticated savagery has no redeeming qualities.
The free market does; let's redeem it by identifying
its greatest enemy the idea of government (and its ramifications)."
is the only alternative to continuing centuries of statism, with
all quibbling only over the degree of the evil we will tolerate.
I believe that evils should not be tolerated period. There
are only two alternatives, in reality: political rule, or archy,
which means: the condition of social existence wherein some men
use aggression to dominate or rule another, and anarchy, which is
the absence of the initiation of force, the absence of political
rule, the absence of the state. We shall replace the state with
the free market, and men shall for the fist time in their history
be able to walk and live without fear of destruction being unleashed
upon them at any moment especially the obscenity of such
destruction being unleashed by a looter armed with nuclear weapons
and nerve gases. We shall replace statism with voluntarism:
a society wherein all man's relationships with others are voluntary
and uncoerced. Where men are free to act according to their rational
self-interest, even if it means the establishment of competing agencies
me then halt this letter by repeating to you those glorious words
with which you had John Galt address his collapsing world: "Such
is the future you are capable of winning. It requires a struggle;
so does any human value. All life is a purposeful struggle, and
your only choice is the choice of a goal. Do you wish to continue
the battle of your present, or do you wish to fight for my world?...
Such is the choice before you. Let your mind and your love of existence
us walk forward into the sunlight, Miss Rand. You belong with us.
Murray N. Rothbard
I would like to thank Murray Morris and Joe Hoffman for their advice
and suggestions. ~ R.A.C., Jr.
© 1969 by the International Society
for Individual Liberty. All rights reserved. Reprinted with