The ‘Great Authors in 10 Quotes’ is an ongoing series meant to expose libertarian-leaning readership with some of the most noteworthy thinkers in the classical liberal, libertarian, and anarchist traditions. The challenge is finding material deep enough to reflect an author’s thought, while still being accessible for a brand new reader. We encourage readers to leave comments linking to other written works and videos by the author.
Ayn Rand (1905-1982) is probably the most publicly recognizable libertarian philosopher of the 20th century. Rand holds an interesting position in the classical liberal/libertarian/anarchist pantheon: Rand rejected libertarianism as a perversion of her ideas and viewed anarchism as a “naive floating abstraction”. Rand similarly avoided the term ‘liberalism’, since the term had lost its original meaning during the Roosevelt administration.
Rand originated Objectivism, an integrated political philosophy built upon a framework of neo-Aristotelian logic and classical liberal political thought. Rand’s philosophical contributions are controversial; much of her work was presented in a manner that is both intellectual and anti-academic. Rand devoted much of her work to the quote “new intellectual”, an idealistic goal of creative individualists who combine the cultivation of an intellectual mind and a lifetime of productive action. Rand was an ardent defender of the contribution of businessmen to the prospering of a free society, a position that put her at odds with much of her contemporary popular culture. Whether one loves, hates, or is indifferent to Rand, she deserves recognition for her contribution to the libertarian tradition.
1. Neither am I the means to any end others may wish to accomplish. I am not a tool for their use. I am not a servant of their needs. I am not a bandage for their wounds, I am not a sacrifice on their altars. (Anthem, 1937).
Anthem is Rand’s only fiction work in the public domain. It explores the complexities of individualism within the context of impersonal institutions.
2. There are only two means by which men can deal with one another: guns or logic. Force or persuasion. Those who know that they cannot win by means of logic, have always resorted to guns. (Philosophy: Who needs it, 1982).
Rand viewed violence as the opposite of logic. Rand was born to bourgeoisie Russian Jews and suffered through the Russian revolution. Her criticism of radical politics was greatly influenced by the experience.
3. The conservatives see man as a body freely roaming the earth, building sand piles or factories—with an electronic computer inside his skull, controlled from Washington. The liberals see man as a soul freewheeling to the farthest reaches of the universe—but wearing chains from nose to toes when he crosses the street to buy a loaf of bread. (Philosophy: Who needs it, 1982).
Rand rejected most political labels, referring to herself as a “radical for capitalism”.
4. In a capitalist society, all human relationships are voluntary. Men are free to cooperate or not, to deal with one another or not, as their own individual judgments, convictions and interests dictate. (Capitalism: The unknown idea, 1966).
Rand presented a society of voluntary relationships as an ultimate goal. While Rand rejected the terms ‘libertarian’ and ‘anarchist’, she greatly influenced the contemporary libertarian movement.
5. An attempt to achieve the good by force is like an attempt to provide a man with a picture gallery at the price of cutting out his eyes. (Capitalism, 1966).
6. Since only an individual man can possess rights, the expression “individual rights” is a redundancy (which one has to use for purposes of clarification in today’s intellectual chaos). But the expression “collective rights” is a contradiction in terms. (Virtue of selfishness, 1964).
Rand was a methodological individualist. Collectives such as society, economy, nation, are processes resulting from the interaction of individual actors. Collectives do not exist in and of themselves.
7. An Asian peasant who labors through all of his waking hours, with tools created in Biblical times—a South American aborigine who is devoured by piranha in a jungle stream—an African who is bitten by the tsetse fly—an Arab whose teeth are green with decay in his mouth—these do live with their ‘natural environment,’ but are scarcely able to appreciate its beauty. Try to tell a Chinese mother, whose child is dying of cholera: ‘Should one do everything one can? Of course not.’ Try to tell a Russian housewife, who trudges miles on foot in sub-zero weather in order to spend hours standing in line at a state store dispensing food rations, that America is defiled by shopping centers, expressways and family cars. (Return of the primitive: Anti-industrial revolution, 1999).
8. A crime is the violation of the right(s) of other men by force (or fraud). It is only the initiation of physical force against others- i.e., the recourse to violence- that can be classified as a crime in a free society (as distinguished from a civil wrong). Ideas, in a free society, are not a crime- and neither can they serve as the justification of a crime. (Return of the primitive, 1999).
9. Contrary to the ecologists, nature does not stand still and does not maintain the kind of equilibrium that guarantees the survival of any particular species - least of all the survival of her greatest and most fragile product: man. (Return of the primitive, 1999).
10. When I say “capitalism,” I mean a full, pure, uncontrolled, unregulated laissez-faire capitalism—with a separation of state and economics, in the same way and for the same reasons as the separation of state and church. (Virtue of selfishness, 1964).
Sources and Further Reading
Rand, A. (1937). Anthem. (Digital Edition ed.). New York, NY: Gutenberg Press.
Retrieved from http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/1250.
Rand, A. (1964). Virtue of selfishness, the. New York, NY: Signet Books.
Rand, A. (1982). Philosophy: Who needs it. New York, NY: Signet Books.
Rand, A. (1999). Return of the primitive: Anti-industrial revolution, the. New York, NY:
Rand, A., Branden, N., Greenspan, A., & Hessen, R. (1966). Capitalism: The unknown
ideal. New York, NY: Signet Books.