Objectivists and War

Dear Scott,

Thanks you for your recent article on LewRockwell.com calling for Objectivists to admit they were wrong and now should take a stand against the war in Iraq.

I admire you for what you are saying and trying to do, but I believe that your effort is a futile one. For years, I believed that Objectivists were part of a united front with classical liberals and others against statism, which we needed to wage in order to build a movement for liberty. I still believe in working with any and all people to combat statism and collectivism, but I also now understand that Objectivism is not just rooted in a fallacy, but that this fallacy repeatedly leads Objectivists to embrace statism as well as a “group think” conformity which in effect inhibits their ability to make sense of reality.

In a nutshell, the problem with Objectivism is that it borrows from the modernist error of naturalism as a worldview. Rand was brought up in a world in which naturalism was accepted without question in virtually all intellectual circles. To her credit, she realized that this orthodoxy also embraced collectivism, and from her own experience, she knew that collectivist ideas were profoundly wrong and dangerous. As a result, she accepted the naturalist view as being “scientific” (i.e., “rational”), but tried to combine the doctrines of Nietzschean egoism with classical natural rights for ethics, and Austrian economics for catallactics. The problem is that natural rights and law and “ethical egoism” do not mesh.

1. If ethics is based on a subjective, utilitarian concept of self-interest, then such “morality” produces a view that “the end justifies the means," which of course is exactly what every Objectivist claims is the reason for his/her support for the war in Iraq, the Cold war, the use of nuclear weapons, etc., etc. Most recently, John Hospers attacked our Senior Fellow Robert Higgs for opposing the income tax during the “war on terror”!

2. But even more important is the error of naturalism itself. Naturalism of course is simply materialism which posits a physicalist calculus for all events, including the human mind. Virtually all philosophical naturalists believe that free will and reason are myths and consider libertarianism to be “a total joke.” The problem here of course is that for anyone to make an argument, including the theory of naturalism itself is to assume that the world is not simply a materialist one in which the bio-chemical processes in one’s brain determine each an every thought and choice. If naturalism is true, no thought can be independent and reason can have no meaning. Truth cannot exist or have any meaning, because each and every thought “simply is," with there being no objective standard to compare it to.

Of course, there are naturalists (such as Objectivists) who will recognize the objective reality of individual cognition, free choice, and reason, for any other perspective is nonsensical. The problem though is that such understanding cannot be rooted in a naturalist view. You simply end up with an inherent contradiction.

To his credit, Rothbard realized this problem early on and discovered that natural rights and natural law were the only true bases for liberty. And that such insights were developed by Thomas Aquinas and the Scholastics. The Thomists refuted naturalism and developed most major aspects of ethics and economics and the founder of the Austrian School was an Aristotelian/Thomist, Carl Menger. Thomas Reid understood this point in his critique of Hume’s ethical nihilism, and thinkers such as Bastiat, Acton, Tocqueville, and others also understood this key point.

In the modern epoch, this insight was brilliantly addressed by C.S. Lewis, as well as Jacques Maritain, Alvin Plantinga, William Lane Craig, William Alston, and others. Here are a number of articles in this regard:

My point again here is that Objectivism is a contrived attempt to square a circle. This is why no real scholar takes it seriously. Virtually all naturalists are collectivists (e.g., historically Hobbes, Hume, Marx, Freud, Nietzsche; today, Patricia and Paul Churchland, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, E.O. Wilson, etc.). It is a house of cards that when threatened almost always defaults to statism. And if war is the major engine of statism (as Robert Higgs and others have shown), then Objectivists are one of the many, major enemies of liberty for they will always embrace warfare statism (for their own “ethical egoist” self-interest) regardless of anyone else’s rights one way or the other.

A very important, new book that traces the development of the ideas of liberty, reason, and science is the following:

You state that you have not found a better philosophical system. I suggest you rediscover the actual system upon which the ideas of liberty sprang in the first place — a system that remains un-refuted and immensely powerful.

Thanks again for your piece.

Best regards, David

June 28, 2006