I think people take it as a given that Ayn Rand supported a person’s right to self-defense. Certainly, if my social media feeds are any indication, most people who really like Ayn Rand tend to favor gun rights and for self-defense, although there are certainly exceptions. Or, others wish she had been more “clear” about her stance. But her stance was clear: Ayn Rand did not favor gun rights for use of self-defense.
When it comes to guns themselves, she agrees you might own one, but only because you might use it to hunt. When it comes to self-defense, she agrees this is the only rightful use of force. But here’s the kicker: she does not grant that you personally can defend yourself. You have a right to self-defense, but it is up to the government to carry it out. Anything else, according to Rand, would result in total anarchy.
Rand famously writes that a government has a “legal monopoly on the use of physical force.” This phrase “legal monopoly” plain never sat well with me. What does that mean? Certainly it seems to mean that only those in government are allowed the use of force.
In explaining her view on the use of force, in typical Randian style, she first validates the reader’s concerns. In “Man’s Rights” she writes, “Potentially government is the most dangerous threat to man’s rights: it holds a legal monopoly on the use of physical force against legally disarmed citizens” (115).
Yup, I couldn’t agree more. But what is her stance on self-defense? And why did she just describe me as someone who should be “legally disarmed”?
In “The Nature of Government” she again validates the reader’s concern about an obtrusive government. But then she writes,
“…the use of physical force—even its retaliatory use—cannot be left at the discretion of individual citizens” (127).
The use of force. Even its retaliatory use. Cannot be left at the discretion of individual citizens.
Before I go on, let me ask you this: what would you do if you were missing your wallet? Go on a psychopathic rampage? This is Rand’s explanation for why an individual citizen cannot be trusted with “the retaliatory use” of physical force, i.e., self-defense. She asks us to visualize:
“…what would happen if a man missed his wallet, concluded that he had been robbed, broke into every house in the neighborhood to search it, and shot the first man who gave him a dirty look, taking the look to be a proof of guilt.”
This is what you would do if you were missing your wallet right?
Rand does what she does here: she directs your mind where she wants. In Towards Liberalism, my book challenging Objectivism, the challenge I give to the reader constantly is to see the unseen. Rand is an expert at taking your mind and leading it where she wants. Don’t let her do this. She confuses the entire issue by immediately jumping to a person who will go on a rampage, becoming judge and jury, i.e., enacts their version of justice, over a missing wallet. But what if a person’s life is immediately under threat? This is the issue and she skims right over it. That she directs your mind elsewhere and doesn’t address immediate life threats makes this Objectivist Blindspot #4.
Some point out that in Galt’s speech she says if you met a highway robber, you would kill them. But her point in this is much more abstract. She’s explaining why Galt is on strike against society, not following the rules. I take her explicit non-fiction as the authoritative source on her political views. And she makes her stance explicitly clear here in “The Nature of Government”:
“There is only one basic principle to which an individual must consent if he wishes to live in a free, civilized society: the principle of renouncing the use of physical force and delegating to the government his right of physical self-defense, for the purpose of an orderly, objective, legally defined enforcement. Or, to put it another way, he must accept the separation of force and whim (any whim, including his own) (129). “
She doesn’t say you have to delegate justice to the government. She says you have to delegate out physical self-defense. To be clear, her position isn’t that you don’t have a right to self-defense. It’s that you have to delegate this right to the government to carry it out. Yes, she intends the populace to be legally disarmed.
As very few believe me that she does not support your right to personal self-defense, i.e., YOUR right to ENACT self-defense, I made a meme with the relevant quote again. Please read it slowly:
I get it this doesn’t make sense to YOU, and not what YOU believe. But we’ve long been berated that Objectivism is the philosophy of Ayn Rand. You need to put aside what YOU think and look at what SHE wrote. I get it that she makes a fancy, long argument about you don’t have the right to kill anyone you feel like because your wallet went missing. This is Rand’s word salad. She is manipulating you. She takes your mind where she wants it to go. How does Rand just totally skim over the topic of what would happen if your life is immediate danger? Has Ayn Rand ever shied away from any topic or left her stance vague? No, she hasn’t. Read the quote above and read through her work. She says you must “delgat[e] to the government [your] right of physical self-defense.” Not retaliatory force. Physical self defense. It’s actually far more than just this. Her entire philosophy also turns off your “whims,” which is your instincts, which are so important in such a high stress situation when your life is in danger. And she legally disarms you–her words. Hear this: your guru is a predator. This is what predators do. They turn off the instinctual spidey senses in their victims, the stuff that makes your hair stand on its back when needed. She slanders your ability to act appropriately or responsibly with force itself. Narcissists are known to absolutely hate gun rights–they know such guns would be used against them in their darkest moments. See more about how this narcissistic pyschopath praised a child murderer. Read through her fiction. Read how Howard Roark smiled the slow smile of “executioner.” Read how Kira’s eyes in We the Living are “dark with ecstasy” as she watches a master whip his slaves. Ayn Rand is not who you think she is.
Here is Rand on gun rights themselves:
Q: What’s your attitude toward gun control?
A: It is a complex, technical issue in the philosophy of law. Handguns are instruments for killing people — they are not carried for hunting animals — and you have no right to kill people. You do have the right to self-defense, however. I don’t know how the issue is going to be resolved to protect you without giving you the privilege to kill people at whim. (Ayn Rand, Ford Hall Forum, 1973)
One way or the other, I contend: Ayn Rand did not support gun rights for the purpose of self defense. Did she support martial arts or picking up a bat to fight back at a robber? One way or the other she says, “you have no right to kill people.” So you have no right to kill the other person if your life is in danger. Which effectively neuters you. And one way or the other, I don’t see how you actually, in practical reality, have a right to immediate self-defense without the right to gun ownership. Let alone the means to fight government tyranny.
For decades, I’ve seen on blogs, forums, and now social media that Rand was not clear in her position on gun rights or self-defense. Yes she was. She was very clear. I wonder sometimes if people just don’t want to hear it. Or maybe she is so validating of their concerns about big government that they cannot possibly contemplate what her view actually was. People so strongly believe that Rand is a heroic voice standing up to dictatorship and oppression. In truth, in this instance, if your life was immediately threatened, you would be left exposed, helpless, and vulnerable.
I propose that her view on self-defense stems, like all bad ideologies stem, from an errant view of human nature. As quoted above, she comes to this conclusion about self-defense after asking us to visualize a psychopath going around murdering people over a missing wallet. This is exactly the issue: one’s views on human nature. And this was Rand’s view. Her view was that our inner world, by nature, at birth, is a bunch of chaotic whims prone to murder unless there is some civilizing ethics put on a person. This is what Objectivism does. It takes a man born “tabula rasa” and turns them into a rational producer, the Objectivist ideal. Rand has elaborate ideas on morality, emotions, the subconscious, etc., to go in and “program” (her word) a person to be this ideal. There is a molding process is Objectivism.
I propose that all bad ideas are based on the errant view of tabula rasa. All dictatorships had a very thwarted view on the nature of human nature itself. They all saw a person as essentially moldable. With enough conditioning and pressure, a person could live in the blissful harmony of a communist Utopia. I propose Objectivism is based on the same errant principle of tabula rasa, which also says that a person is programmable–Rand’s word. The best way I can explain tabula rasa is the idea that a person’s emotional mechanism is like a wild horse that, unless tamed, does terrible things. This idea of a wild inner world that needs tamed–controlled–is what I take to task so hard in Towards Liberalism: A Challenge to Objectivist Ethics. Our inner world is not a bunch of uncivilized chaotic whims. It is a fully alive, trustworthy world that simply needs tended to properly from birth on. If handled this way, it is our greatest ally towards our health and prosperity.
And, with this view, a person could be trusted with gun rights for the use of self-defense.
Please bookmark this post and use it when the issue inevitably comes up! And take to task anyone who thinks Rand supports gun rights for self-defense. She did not. As I ask the reader in Towards Liberalism: Please look at Objectivism for what it is.
Come join the discussion: Criticism of Objectivism.