Ayn Rand and the State

10 minute read

About 2 weeks ago I finished Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. Given its sheer length in pages, a whopping 1701(kindle edition), to make just a single post dedicated would never work.
I'll be making a few posts in the coming days dedicated to the ideas central to Atlas Shrugged and Ayn Rand, as well as some of my own observations. Please read, enjoy, and feel open to respond with any criticism or comments:
ayn rand
A younger Ayn Rand

"Force and mind are opposites; morality ends where a gun begins." - Atlas Shrugged, pg 1488

Intro: Galt's Gulch and Anti-Statism

Ayn Rand is an extremely 'interesting' person. She was born in pre-revolutionary Russia, lived through the revolutions as a child, and managed to finally escape during her later college years. It's no wonder then that her philosophy revolves around individuality and freedom. In her novel Atlas Shrugged, she goes as far as to create a world where the most industrious and free thinking escape to a hidden valley known as Galt's Gulch, to hide from the never-ending theft and control of the majority. There, in contrast to the outside world, was no government extorting these individuals for their money and or labor. Everyone cooperated out of voluntary agreements and associations, money was based on decentralized specie(a banker was chosen), and legal disputes were handled by a 3rd party(albeit, a previously serving judge).

If you're at all familiar with liberty based philosophy, then you would know that all of these features of this society are indicators of a stateless society. Whatever you identify it as - be it anarcho-capitalism, voluntaryism, market anarchism, libertarianism, anti-statism, the list goes on - all of them share several, if not all, of the characteristics that defined Galt's Gulch. In essence, laws were created and observed, but no central force on authority was present to enforce them, along with dictating how everyone should live according to others' beliefs. The quote used above is a line from the character John Galt when he was explaining Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism. This quote, along with the features of Galt's gulch, underlines the very essence of any anti-state society.

So Ayn Rand doesn't believe in the state, right? Atlas Shrugged is Rand's magnum opus, her greatest work and attempt at embodying Objectivism within a fictional story. From that fact, we should be able to agree on this.

Of course nothing with any philosopher can be that easy.

Ayn Rand believed Anarchy to be impractical

"Anarchy, as a political concept, is a naive floating abstraction: . . . a society without an organized government would be at the mercy of the first criminal who came along and who would precipitate it into the chaos of gang warfare. But the possibility of human immorality is not the only objection to anarchy: even a society whose every member were fully rational and faultlessly moral, could not function in a state of anarchy; it is the need of objective laws and of an arbiter for honest disagreements among men that necessitates the establishment of a government." -The Virtue of Selfishness, 112

According to Rand's statement, we need government for 1) Defending men from one-another and 2) a codified law system that allows exchange and settlements. Her argument at prima facie seems reasonable enough, you need the government for just these two basic functions that men can't be held accountable to do alone. Except, once you realize she constructed a stateless society in her life's greatest literary work, you begin to ask questionsBut maybe that was just a misunderstanding?

"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." - The Objectivist, Vol. 10, Sep. 1971

That made things fairly clear.


Ayn Rand not only disagreed with Anarchism, but she despised it. It also wouldn't be the first time she hated a similar, and some would think ally, ideology. Libertarianism and its followers were another group that Ayn Rand hated, as alluded to in the previous quote(the whole line about the "hippies of the right" is what she considered all libertarains to be in summation). Ayn Rand was known for being straightforward with her thoughts and beliefs, and with Anarchism she definitely didn't cut any corners. She did not believe in Anarchy or Anti-Statism.

Self Contradiction or Sound Argument?


"The fundamental concept of method, the one on which all the others depend, is logic." - Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, 36

Ayn Rand was extremely fond of reason and logic. Through our consciousness, humanity had the ultimate ability to differentiate, identify, and act with his mind. Our consciousness according to Rand was our ultimate faculty, and what was made man so great. Ayn Rand held truth as the ultimate value and logic as the ultimate criterion.

This leads to a question:

If "Force and Mind are opposites; morality ends where a gun begins" is true, then how can a state be justified?

To clarify my question, let's come to an understanding of what the government/state is. Let's use Max Weber's definition from his book Politics as a Vocation - the state is that which "upholds the claim to the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force in the enforcement of its order." In other words, the State is that entity which is capable of legally using violence as a means to enforce its laws and any disagreements. How does a state get its legitimacy? Most would answer with John Locke's interpretation of the Social Contract theory, which is exactly what the United States' government, and many others, are based on. Everyone agrees on a certain set of rules, and embodies their will to enforce them through the entity known as the state.

Here's the caveat: How can any state get full consent from its citizenry on every law, on every tax, and for every action? This isn't talking about laws against murder, rape, and other obviously immoral actions, which the vast majority of people don't need laws to tell them are wrong. What is being called to mind are instances of war, intellectual property rights, eminent domain, security(police and military), legal systems, and the countless other areas government has its nose in. Some of them, Intellectual Property Rights and Eminent Domain, are only possible with the State. As it turns out, Rand was a huge fan of the former, while Anarchist/Anti-Statists are against both.

There is the true reality of the State - there is no such thing as universal agreement and consent.

Which leads to my argument againstRand: Just as Anarchism might be unrealistic by her terms, even more impossible is the objective law system she advocates everyone to adopt.

If anything, her book makes an argument for a world without the State, as seen in Galt's Gulch, rather than the world with States based on objective law. Very contradictory...

Not so fast, says Ayn Rand:

"Galt’s Gulch is not a society; it’s a private estate. It’s owned by one man who carefully selected the people admitted. Even then, they had a judge as an arbitrator, if anything came up; only nothing came up among them, because they shared the same philosophy. But if you had a society in which all shared in one philosophy, but without a government, that would be dreadful. Galt’s Gulch probably consisted of about, optimistically, a thousand people who represented the top geniuses of the world. They agreed on fundamentals, but they would never be in total agreement. They didn’t need a government because if they had disagreements, they could resolve them rationally.

But project a society of millions, in which there is every kind of viewpoint, every kind of brain, every kind of morality—and no government. That’s the Middle Ages, your no-government society. Man was left at the mercy of bandits, because without government, every criminally inclined individual resorts to force, and every morally inclined individual is helpless. Government is an absolute necessity if individual rights are to be protected, because you don’t leave force at the arbitrary whim of other individuals. Libertarian anarchism is pure whim worship, because what they refuse to recognize is the need of objectivity among men—particularly men of different views. And it’s good that people within a nation should have different views, provided we respect each other’s rights.

No one can guard rights, except a government under objective laws. What if McGovern had his gang of policemen, and Nixon had his, and instead of campaigning they fought in the streets? This has happened throughout history. Rational men are not afraid of government. In a proper society, a rational man doesn’t have to know the government exists, because the laws are clear and he never breaks them" -Ayn Rand Answers: The Best of Her Q&A

Wait, that still doesn't make much of an argument. It's just a circle. People are dangerous and stupid, therefore a government made of people is necessary to protect us from people. It may be cliché, but what else is to be derived?


Go back to her first argument, what was Galt's Gulch and what is the law? Galt's Gulch was a small community of like-minded people, and therefore was possible; however, once you make the transition to the rest of the world, you've got chaos. That's why we need government, or so Ayn Rand thinks. But what needs to be analyzed is how the State comes about to create laws and enforce them, which should make you think about the Lockean Theory of Social Contract and Government. Through the will of the people, the State comes into existence and enforces the collective social will. That sounds exactly like what Ayn Rand wouldn't want. In order to maintain a government of Objective law, we'd need a citizenry composed of all like-minded individuals who hold objective law as the value of the State. If you don't have that then you'll resort back to what we have now: A system where theft, killing, oppression, extortion, and imprisonment is endemic.

One more thing - Ayn Rand alluded to how the Middle Ages were a prime example of a society without government. That's simply not true, and she knew better than to say that. There was plenty of government(The middle ages was also the result of massive government failure on the part of the Romans), and people in adjacent geographical locations more often than less shared similar views on government and philosophy - Christianity was practically the rule of law for all of Europe for the majority of the period - but just like today's society, they were influenced and controlled by the ruling classes. Today, that's simply transitioned to more Lockean(America/Western Euro) and Utilitarian(Former USSR, China) models of government. We still see similar results, however, just in different scenarios.


60th Anniversary of People's Republic of China

Ukraine Famine Soviet

An Unsound Argument

In retrospect, Ayn Rand's argument against a Stateless society can be just as applicable to her society ruled by Objective law. When one side has 'the bigger gang', they win. Nothing would prevent her society from inevitably receding to something like ours, after all, it's made up of people.

The difference Anarchists and Anti-Statists draw is that in a world that transitions to a Stateless society, there are still 1) laws 2)institutions for enforcement and protection 3) all the while maintaining Rand's own "morality ends where a gun begins" mantra. For many of them, Galt's Gulch is truly an ideal example of a world of voluntary cooperation and association. Ayn Rand may disagree, but it's true. The purpose of this post was to focus on Rand and not Anarchism, so it will end at that(for now).

Something to Think About


Ironically, many of Atlas Shrugged's critics claimed that its characters were too idealistic, and thus unreal. Rand responded to this accordingly:

"I trust that no one will tell me that men such as I write about don’t exist. That this
book has been written— and published— is my proof that they do.” Atlas Shrugged pg 1701

In my opinion, 'super' individuals in Atlas Shrugged weren't the only thing Rand wrote about . Although she may have not known at the time, she was also writing about another world that is both real and possible: A world without the State.