The New Libertarianism: Anarcho-Capitalism. By J. Michael Oliver, CreateSpace, 2013. 188 pp.
J. Michael Oliver tells us that this remarkable book began as an academic thesis written in 1972 and submitted the next year for a graduate degree at the University of South Carolina. The book is much more than an academic thesis, though; it is a distinguished addition to libertarian thought.
Olivers principal contribution arises from his reaction to two intellectual movements. Like many in the 1960s and 70s, he was attracted to the Objectivist philosophy of Ayn Rand. Together with several others in the Objectivist movement, though, Oliver disagreed with the political conclusions that Rand and her inner circle drew from her philosophy. Some students of the philosophy concluded that Rand and the orthodox Objectivists had failed to develop a political theory that followed from the more basic principles of Objectivism. It was at that time that Rands advocacy of limited government began to come under attack from a growing number of deviant objectivists. The libertarian-objectivists … declared that government, limited or otherwise, is without justification, and that the only social system consistent with mans nature is a non-state, market society, or anarcho-capitalism.
To claim that Rand misconceived the implications of her own philosophy is a daring thesis, but Oliver makes a good case for it. After a succinct account of Objectivist metaphysics, epistemology, and theory of volition, Oliver turns to ethics. Here one feature stands to the fore. Objectivist ethics, as the name suggests, holds that the requirements for human flourishing are objective matters of fact: Objectivists deny that there is any justification for the belief that ethics and values are beyond the realm of fact and reason. Man is, after all, a living being with a particular identity and particular requirements for his life. It is not the case that any actions will sustain his life; only those actions which are consonant with mans well-being will sustain him. Man cannot choose his values at random without reference to himself and still hope to live. This concept applies to an individual man as well as a human society (composed of individuals). Objective values follow from mans identity.
If there are objective requirements for your survival, that is going to be a matter of considerable interest to you; but is that the sum and substance of ethics? This is not the place to examine this question, but, at any rate, one of the arguments Rand used to support her egoist ethics does not succeed. Rand stated the argument in this way: Try to imagine an immortal, indestructible robot, an entity which moves and acts, but cannot be affected by anything, which cannot be damaged, injured, or destroyed. Such an entity would not be able to have any values; it would have nothing to gain or lose; it could not regard anything as for it or against it, as serving or threatening its value, as fulfilling or frustrating its interests. It could have no interests and no goals.
Why is the indestructible robot unable to have values? The answer, according to Rand, is that because the robot cannot be destroyed or damaged, nothing can matter to it. But why does the robots invulnerability imply that nothing matters to it? The answer is that because the purpose of values is to promote ones own survival, indestructibility removes the point of values. If nothing can kill or injure it, it doesnt need to do anything to prevent being killed or injured.
But this isnt an argument at all for ethical egoism: Rands conclusion follows only if one already accepts that the purpose of values is to secure ones own survival. Suppose the robot is altruistic: why would its own invulnerability prevent it from valuing the welfare of others? After all, even Rand doesnt claim that altruism is impossible: she just thinks it is mistaken.
But this is by the way. Much more important for our purposes are the political conclusions Oliver draws from Objectivist ethics. He begins with something Rand herself accepted. Man is a being of choice. Those essential actions, both physical and cognitive, which he must undertake to maintain his being are subject to his volition. Since his life depends upon his capacity to choose, it follows that his life requires the freedom to choose. … Given that life is the standard of value, it is right that man be free to exercise his choice. The principle of rights as understood by the new libertarians is merely a statement of the fact that if man is to maintain life on the level which his nature permits, then men (in human society) must refrain from violating one anothers freedom.
To protect these rights, Rand thought it necessary to have a limited government, and here is where Oliver diverges from his philosophical mentor. A regime of rights, along the lines Rand sets out, does not at all require an agency, however limited, holding a monopoly on the permissible use of force. Such an agency of necessity violates the very rights Rand advocated. Government, being a coercive monopoly, must prohibit its citizens through the threat of force, from engaging the services of any alternative institution …
Government then necessarily violates rights; and furthermore, a limited government cannot for long remain limited. The new libertarian concludes that the internal checks and balances on governmental power and the alleged mechanisms for the defense of minorities are … flimsy constructs. … Genuine competition, whether from another coercive agency of from a non-coercive business, can serve as the only real limit on State power, and it does so precisely by depriving government of its status as a government. Logically, then, if government exists, it is unlimited and self-determining.
Originally posted here:
Anarcho-Capitalists Against Ayn Rand