The Circular Logic of Objectivism

Objectivists are interesting individuals. They like to stand on their soapboxes and talk about logic and reason. What they don’t talk about is the fact that they use both circularly. And if you disagree with the teachings of Objectivist Jesus John Galt, a wholly fictional character, they will put you on their enemies list and bring the entirety of their impotent rage against you.

Since time immemorial, that is to say since around the middle of the 20th, Objectivists have been engaged in a holy war with anarcho-capitalists. Taking pot shots at one another has become the traditional pass time of both Randians and Rothbardians. The only difference is that the Randians constantly use circular logic and quote fictional characters while the Rothbardians derived their ideas from praxeology.

Although I now consider myself an anarchist without adjectives (except when I don’t) I came to anarchism through anarcho-capitalism. Because of that I inherited the love of making fun of Objectivist circular reasoning. And boy did I come across a goldmine of hilarity. Meet Harry Binswanger, an Objectivist contributor to Forbes. He recently decided to pen an article explaining why capitalism needs government. Keeping with Objectivist tradition the article goes all Ouroboros with its reasoning (after, of course, quoting poorly written fiction to setup his case):

Force properly employed is used only in retaliation, but even when retaliatory, force merely eliminates a negative, it cannot create value. The threat of force is used to make someone obey, to thwart his will. The only moral use of force is in self-defense, to protect one’s rights.

It is only as retaliation that force may be used and only against the man who starts its use. No, I do not share his evil or sink to his concept of morality: I merely grant him his choice, destruction, the only destruction he had the right to choose: his own. He uses force to seize a value; I use it only to destroy destruction. A holdup man seeks to gain wealth by killing me; I do not grow richer by killing a holdup man. (Atlas Shrugged)

You know that you’re in for a good time when Atlas Shrugged is being quoted as gospel. Now here Objectivists, anarcho-capitalists, and basically any philosophy that falls under libertarianism agree. Using force is only legitimate in self-defense. Anarcho-capitalists refer to this as the non-aggression principles. Objectivists, I believe, refer to this as the Gospel of Galt. But this is where any agreement between the two breaks down because Mr. Binswanger must now explain why government is necessary:

The wielding of force is not a business function. In fact, force is outside the realm of economics. Economics concerns production and trade, not destruction and seizure.

Economics is merely a subset of human action that deals with exchange. Recognizing that some people prefer the use of force over cooperation a lot of business have sprung up around defense. Body guards, private security specialists, developers of access control systems, self-defense instructors, system administrators, criminal psychologists, and a whole slew of other individuals make their living by trading with people who perceive a need for defense. As exchanges are occurring, most likely in the form of money being exchange for defenses, these careers absolutely fall under the realm of economic activity.

But exchanges don’t have to be voluntary to fall under the realm of economics. Take The Invisible Hook for example. It is a book that discusses the economics of piracy. Even though piracy is not a form of voluntary exchange it is a form of exchange and if you take the time to study it you realize a log of economic principles are involved. Pirates, like anybody else, concerned themselves with obtaining the most bang for their buck. Believe it or not the whole dog and pony show with flags and reputations for brutalizing resisters was to convince targets to peacefully surrender. Violence is expensive so pirates used psychology in an attempt to avoid it. Risk aversion is basic economics.

Ask yourself what it means to have a “competition” in governmental services. It’s a “competition” in wielding force, a “competition” in subjugating others, a “competition” in making people obey commands. That’s not “competition,” it’s violent conflict. On a large scale, it’s war.

This is where Objectivists always amuse me. They recognize the violence inherent in the system but still believe the system is just and proper.

Governments are necessary–because we need to be secure from force initiated by criminals, terrorists, and foreign invaders.

Welcome to Objectivist circular reasoning. What is a government other than a violent gang that steals, murders, terrorizes, and enslaves? In other words governments are perpetrators of everything Objectivists claim governments are necessary to protect us from. A better way of saying what Mr. Binswanger wrote is that governments are necessary because we need to be secure from force initiated by governments.

The genius of the American system is that it limited government, reining it in by a Constitution, with checks and balances and the provision that no law can be passed unless it is “necessary and proper” to the government’s sole purpose: to protect individual rights–to protect them against their violation by physical force.

Tragically, the original American theory of government was breached, shelved, trashed long ago. But that’s another story.

The genius of the American system is that it is limited government reigned in by a Constitution. But the American system failed and government is now out of control.

How can you say those two statements with a straight face? He just claimed that the American system was genius and a total failure in two sentences. Pick one or the other.

The anarchists do not object to retaliatory force, only to it being wielded by a government. Why? Because, they say, it excludes “competitors.” It sure does: it excludes vigilantes, lynch mobs, terrorists, and anyone else wanting to use force subjectively.

That’s not at all what anarcho-capitalists argue. Government force isn’t illegitimate because it doesn’t have competition, it’s illegitimate because it is an initiation for force. Everything government does it does at the barrel of a gun. Fail to pay your taxes? Get kidnapped by men with liability shields. Don’t go quietly with your kidnappers? Get shot dead in the street or choked to death.

While Objectivists recognize the violence inherent in the system they believe it is necessary to protect against the violence inherent in the system. Meanwhile anarcho-capitalists recognize the violence inherent in the system and oppose it full stop.

There can be only one supreme law of the land and only one government to enforce it. (State and local governments are necessarily subordinate to the federal government.)

In other words there must be masters and there must be slaves. Whatever the government decides is the law of the land and if the serfs don’t like it that’s just too damn bad.

Could conflict among “competing governments” be taken care of by treaties? Treaties?–enforced by whom? I once asked Ayn Rand about the feasibility of such treaties between sovereign “competing governments.” She looked at me grimly and said, “You mean like at the U.N.?”

You see we need governments to protect us from governments. And to protect governments from governments we need governments. It’s basically governments all the way down.

A proper government functions according to objective, philosophically validated procedures, as embodied in its entire legal framework, from its constitution down to its narrowest rules and ordinances. Once such a government, or anything approaching it, has been established, there is no such thing as a “right” to “compete” with the government–i.e., to act as judge, jury, and executioner. Nor does one gain such a “right” by joining with others to go into the “business” of wielding force.

To carry out its function of protecting individual rights, the government must forcibly bar others from using force in ways that threaten the citizens’ rights. Private force is force not authorized by the government, not validated by its procedural safeguards, and not subject to its supervision.

The government has to regard such private force as a threat–i.e., as a potential violation of individual rights. The threat of force is force. In barring such private force, the government is retaliating against that threat.

Here he just admitted that a government can only function if it enjoys privileges above those enjoyed by its subjects (or serfs, or citizens, or whatever derogatory term you want to call us outside of the state). And this is why anarchists, at least most of them, oppose the very concept of government.

Anarchists recognize that coercive hierarchy is undesirable. While different branches of anarchism disagree about what coercive hierarchy is most of them agree that one individual given the privilege to wield violence against other individuals qualifies.

No system that grants the privilege to wield violence to a select group of individuals can control those individuals. The Constitution is often cited as the ideal control over the privilege group we refer to as government. But almost every proponent of the Constitution admits that the government that exists now exists outside of the confines of the Constitution. That demonstrates that the Constitution, like every mechanism created to control governments before it, is incapable of restraining the government.

Once a group of individuals has the privilege of wielding violence there is no way to control them, at least not without using violence. Where anarchism differs from statism is that anarchism advocates that everybody should play by the same set of rules. If that isn’t the case then any hope of a peaceful society is nothing more than a fairytale.

imilarly, the government does not ban private guards;

Wait… I thought force wasn’t within the realm of economics.

The attempt to invoke individual rights to justify “competing” with the government collapses at the first attempt to concretize what it would mean in reality. Picture a band of strangers marching down Main Street, submachine guns at the ready.

Police. Gotcha.

When confronted by the police,…

So a turf war between two violent gangs.

the leader of the band announces: “Me and the boys are only here to see that justice is done, so you have no right to interfere with us.” According to the anarchists, in such a confrontation the police are morally bound to withdraw, on pain of betraying the rights of self-defense and free trade.

Interestingly enough Mr. Binswanger doesn’t elaborate on the situation at all. Is this merely an incident of two violent gangs walking around harassing people? Is the first gang moving against somebody who is considered an outlaw by most of the people living in the area? Is the first gang merely enjoying a stroll down the street with no violent intent in mind?

Anarchists concern themselves with such questions. Just because you’re issued a magical costume and a liability shield doesn’t mean you have the right to thump people’s skulls.

Bear in mind that, in fact, those who would be granted the right to enforce their own notions of justice include Leftists…

There it is, the ultimate neocon straw man. Anything can be justified so long as the “left” supports the opposite. Do you need to justify torture? Just claim that the “left” opposes it! Do you need to justify murder? Just claim that the “left” opposes it! It’s the ultimate argument ender for any neocon lacking an argument! Consider it the Godwin’s Law of neoconservative.

The anarchists object to the very idea of a monopoly on force.

That may be the only accurate thing he has said about anarchism in this entire article.

That only shows that they cannot grasp what force is. Force is monopoly. To use force is to attempt to monopolize. The cop or the gunman says: “We’ll do it my way, not your way–or else.” There is no such thing as force that allows dissenters to go their own way.

And that is precisely why anarchists oppose the initiation of force in all forms.

If a man wants to have sex with a woman who doesn’t want it, only one of them can have their way. It’s either “Back off” or rape. Either way, it’s a monopoly.

Rape is, without any doubt, an initiation of violence. That means retaliatory violence against a rapist is justified, right, and proper under anarchism. Where anarchism and statism differ in this scenario is that rape, even if it was declared a legal action by the state, would still be illegitimate. Many states had or have laws on the books that legalized rape in some form or another. Usually the laws granted men the right to rape women. Under these legal systems there was little recourse for victims of rape other than killing their rapist and fleeing before the police arrived.

Economic competition presupposes a free market. A free market cannot exist until after force has been barred.

Except for state force apparently.

That means objective law, backed up by a government.

That means decrees issued by people in marble buildings backed up by force!

The anarchist idea of putting law on “the market” cannot be applied even to a baseball game. It would mean that the rules of the game will be defined by whoever wins it.

Or by the group of individuals playing the game as it is now. This probably surprises Mr. Binswanger but armed thugs are seldom employed to enforce the rules of a baseball game.

This has not prevented the anarchists from speaking of “the market for liberty” (i.e., the market for the market).

There’s not a whole lot you can do to shut us up. We’re a pretty unruly bunch.

In terms of current events, anarchism means Lebanon, Somalia, and the Taliban. Nothing could discredit capitalism more than to link “freedom” with such horrors.

There it is! Reductio ad Somalium! Thanks for playing, Mr. Binswanger. It’s been fun by you just Godwin’d yourself for the second time in one article. While that is impressive no points can be given. I’m sorry but those are the rules issued by some men in a marble building. Armed officers will be by shortly to kidnap you, rough you up, and lock you in a cage until one of their courts is free to hear you beg for your freedom.