Objectivism and the State

This was written in 1969 by Roy A. Childs in a letter to Ayn Rand. The letter is called, Objectivism and the State; An Open Letter to Ayn Rand.  This is an excerpt.  The complete letter can be found here.


There 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.

It 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.

It is important to remember that statism exists whenever there is a government which initiates force.

(SOME PEOPLE SAY…..) 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.

One could just as easily assert that if “society” 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.

(SOME PEOPLE SAY…..) The use of physical force – even its retaliatory use – cannot be left at the discretion of individual citizens.

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 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 “objective”?

Rather, 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?

I 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.

(SOME PEOPLE SAY…..) 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.

There 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.

(SOME PEOPLE SAY…..) 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.

This 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.

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.

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.