Humble Executive. Literary Artist. Altruistic Libertarian.
What it means to be an Altruistic Libertarian
Words can be defined to mean just about anything, and the same word uttered in a different context may express a radically different meaning. For our purposes ‘Libertarian’ refers to a political philosophy derived from the following principle that originated (in the modern world) with Ayn Rand:
Whatever may be open to disagreement, there is one act of evil that may not, the act that no man may commit against others and no man may sanction or forgive. So long as men desire to live together, no man may initiate—do you hear me? no man may start—the use of physical force against others. It is only as retaliation that force may be used and only against the man who starts its use.
Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged
For the Altruistic Libertarian, this principle applies to all ‘Human Action’, including private citizens, private institutions, government officials, police forces, and militaries...without exception.
The Altruistic Libertarian is not a member of the Libertarian Party, and the two should not be confused. At one time, the Libertarian Party, as part of the political system in the US, subscribed to Rand’s principle. But no longer: today they simply assert, ‘Minimum Government, Maximum Freedom’ which means…exactly nothing, as any clever social engineer could use this maxim to justify any amount of violent intrusion upon the nation’s citizens. The Libertarian Party no longer commits itself to a refined principle, one that can be used to guide political action, but has since adopted an ambiguous slogan that means little.
The concepts of ‘freedom’ and ‘politics’ are fundamental to any further discussion. For the purposes of this work, all political theory, political philosophy, and political action involves one group of people getting another group of people to do what they would otherwise be unwilling to do. To ensure people behave in specific ways, and not in others. For example, taxing the populace is a basic political action. As it stands, if citizens resist paying taxes, they are jailed, or worse.
Be wary of strong drink. It can make you shoot at tax collectors…and miss.
Robert Heinlein, Time Enough for Love
The funds gathered through taxation are then used to manipulate people in other ways, by rewarding some behavior and restricting others. Taxation, and the far ranging extent of it, causes subtle and unsubtle damage to every citizen. Concerning political action, passing laws that restrict behavior and deploy military units are more obvious examples of forcing one behavior or restricting another. Finally, all laws, courts and police action ranged against any form of crime is also purely political, in theory and in action.
The Altruistic Libertarian subscribes to a specific political philosophy, and believes that some form of government is necessary and good. The alternative is anarchy, where the rule of law is absent, and the strong rule over the weak.
If we consider a political scale with totalitarian communism at one extreme (a society where all individual thought, action and behavior is determined and controlled by the state) and anarchy at the other, I would assert that a genuinely free human society, one devoid of political coercion, resides at the golden center. The government in this hypothetical free state would own the monopoly in the use of violent force. That government would use its monopoly to ensure the safety of the citizen’s persons and property; run the courts to manage disputes; regulate industry externalities. That’s about it.
That brings us to the meaning of ‘freedom’. Whenever the Altruistic Libertarian uses the term ‘free society’ or ‘individual freedom’, or any other such combination, what is meant is ‘freedom from coercion’, as defined in Rand’s principle. Not ‘freedom from want,’ or ‘freedom from ignorance’, or ‘freedom from boredom’. Freedom means one thing: freedom from violence, or the threat of violence, by anyone, including representatives of the state (police, military) or private criminals. Marcuse provides a typical example that twists the language of freedom into something else:
The distinguishing feature of advanced industrial society is its effective suffocation of those needs which demand liberation—liberation also from that which is tolerable and rewarding and comfortable—while it sustains and absolves the destructive power and repressive function of the affluent society. Here, the social controls exact the overwhelming need for the production and consumption of waste; the need for stupefying work where it is no longer a real necessity; the need for modes of relaxation which soothe and prolong this stupefaction; the need for maintaining such deceptive liberties as free competition at administered prices, a free press which censors itself, free choice between brands and gadgets.
Under the rule of a repressive whole, liberty can be made into a powerful instrument of domination [my italics]. The range of choice open to the individual is not the decisive factor in determining the degree of human freedom, but what can be chosen and what is chosen by the individual.
Herbert Marcuse, One-Dimensional Man
The desire for status and wealth has always existed in humans, and precedes by many millennia political economy. In point of fact, “The range of choice open to the individual,” is precisely the decisive factor when, “determining the degree of human freedom…” To criticize the existence of liberty by the choices individuals make points to only one alternative: someone else choosing for them. We characterize this option as tyranny, or coercion, or totalitarianism, depending on the magnitude of limitations placed on individuals.
Another key distinction to consider is between ‘government’ (generally considered good and necessary) and the Nation State, something that can generally be done without, as the greatest threat to any society (outside of natural disasters) is the Nation State (Canada, the United States, Russia, Uganda, Iraq, Israel, etc.). In fact, the only justification for the existence of Nation States is to protect its citizens from other Nation States. In other words, if we didn’t have Nation States, we wouldn't need any.
This book is dedicated to applying this principle to various aspects of government and industry within the present-day world, primarily the United States. An effort will be made to describe the current and historical situation within a particular case, describe how this principle would be applied, and in some cases, recommendations for transitioning to a Genuinely Free Society.
Note the words ‘Genuinely Free Society’ and not ‘Capitalism’ or ‘Free Market’ or ‘Laissez-faire’ or ‘Free Enterprise’. Most of these terms are heavily tinged with notions of economic or materialistic considerations. The Altruistic Libertarian asserts that individuals pursue a host of unrelated values, some of them materialistic, most of them not: family, health, spiritual attainment, intellectual enlightenment, excitement, entertainment, and creative accomplishment. Within a Genuinely Free Society, individuals pursue whatever they want, material or otherwise. The value of individual freedom extends well beyond the economic, and the term Genuinely Free Society reflects the broader range of application.
The Altruistic Libertarian believes that establishing a Genuinely Free Society will benefit everyone, and therefore advocates such a society with the explicit intention of improving the lives of others. Or more accurately, create the legal and societal structure where people can strive to improve their own lives, in ways they decide, and a manner consistent with their material and spiritual needs.
What moves the philosopher to undertake his history-making labors? Why not just watch, just contemplate the amazing spectacle of human affairs on a transitory planet? Why take part and fight…Nietzsche’s fable argues that the genuine philosopher acts out of a philanthropy that is a love of the highest in humanity, a love of reason or the logos. As Nietzsche put it in his first book, the contemplative man stands deeply moved at the gates of present and future, a witness to tremendous struggles and transitions; charmed by those struggles he must take part and fight.
Laurence Lampert, Nietzsche and Modern Times
Holding to this altruistic notion ensures that every decision, policy recommendation, and transition plan maintains its proper focus on what really matters: individual lives.
There is no possibility of true culture without altruism.
Susan Sontag, Where the Stress Falls
Ayn Rand despised altruism, and those who promoted the practice of putting others before themselves. Those familiar with her work may find it odd to see the term 'altruistic' associated with ideas derived from her thought. She most famously expressed this aversion in the oath delivered by John Galt in Atlas Shrugged:
I swear—by my life and my love of it—that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.
The dictionary defines altruism as the principle or practice of unselfish concern for or devotion to the welfare of others. Given that Rand wrote a book titled The Virtue of Selfishness, and celebrated an individual’s right to consistently behave on their own behalf, any reference to altruism in regard to Rand might appear incongruous.
Yet consider this. After Rand wrote several novels extolling her philosophy, she continued to teach and lecture and publish non-fiction with the intention of spreading her thought in ever wider circles. She sincerely believed that her philosophy would benefit anyone who adopted it, as it would clarify an individual’s purpose, and provide emotional reward for their achievements, along with moral justification for their efforts. She believed that the widespread adoption of her political philosophy would improve the world, and the lives of the people in it. For example, Rand asserted that an individual genius gave far more to the world than he or she ever received in compensation. In general, the more intelligent or accomplished a person, the smaller percentage of benefit they received compared to what they contributed to society. Not only that, but in a Genuinely Free Society, the individuals who gained the most were the stupid, the lazy, the sick, the ignorant, the weak, as they might sweep a floor or flip a burger, but still gain the benefit of medical discoveries, engineering marvels, sky-scrappers and entertainment they would never, in a hundred million years, create for themselves.
All this applies to Rand as well, and she must have known it.
It doesn’t matter if Rand was actually correct about her philosophy benefiting anyone. She most certainly believed it to be so. That being the case, why did she do it? Why work so hard to educate others for their own benefit? Influence the society around her, attempt to see her ideas gain political support, guard her reputation so closely? What did she have to gain from any of this?
Far less, she would think, than those who became enlightened.
Once she published her last novel in 1957, the time and energy she spent advancing her philosophy was done for the explicit benefit of others: Ayn Rand, the altruist.
Blasphemy, you say.
Two other possibilities exist. For one thing, people don’t always act for material gain, or for anything that can be seen. They often seek admiration or approval from those around them, and this becomes payment enough. They wish to enhance their status by good works, or impress peers with special accomplishment. They get rewarded by invitations to speak at colleges, or appear on talk shows. That bitch, fame. Pride perhaps the ultimate prize.
Or perhaps Rand simply wanted to do what she did, utterly indifferent to what others said or thought. But no: thoughtless and negative reviews of Atlas Shrugged caused a two-year depression. She thought she delivered a masterpiece to the world, and the world collectively shit on it. The response understandably devastated her.
The world can be made a better place. Those that understand what needs to be done to make it so possess an opportunity to improve the lives of others, and their children and grandchildren.
That, in the end, needs to be enough.