L. Neil Smith's
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 30, June 15, 1997
Philosophical Systems Part Three: Means and Ends
By John Cornell
Exclusive to The Libertarian Enterprise
A major issue manifested throughout the history of America,
though not often explicitly defined, has been whether freedom is an
end in itself or a means to an end. Federalists at the beginning of
this nation, and statists since, seem to view liberty as a means to
some end. Modern pragmatic conservatives usually view it as a means
to an end -- the end being prosperity or security. (Or in the case of
Lincoln, freedom was no issue -- only the "preservation" of what he
defined as the "union.") The problem with this approach is, following
the warnings of Benjamin Franklin, making security our highest value
eventually sacrifices the freedom that gets us there.
This is what gets modern conservatives -- who do preach a
laissez-faire approach to economics -- in the defensive position
vis-a-vis liberals. Liberals take a moral (though perversely
irrational) approach in their demand for "the greatest happiness of
the greatest number." Conservatives, instead of arguing the moral
basis of capitalism that Rand defended, argue that capitalism does
provide the greatest happiness of the greatest number. But as soon as
"victims" of the system are identified, the conservative defense
begins to crumble, and they begin compromising with the statist
demands of liberals. This is also why Rand makes no great accolades
to Adam Smith nor to most Founding Fathers -- many of their arguments
for freedom were based on pragmatism -- making freedom merely the
means to some end of "social good" or "political security."
Pragmatism basically asks itself, "What rights will I sacrifice
in order to keep others?" ("Let's give up half our wealth and half
our guns to keep the other half.") Or "Whose rights will we sacrifice
so that others may have theirs?" (See the drafts of most twentieth
century wars the US has jumped into.) This puts many modern
conservatives right into the hands of the statist leftists moving us
into collectivism. The collectivism of the religious right (in the
spiritual sense, not necessarily the economic) also distracts the
"realist" conservative politicians and ultimately leads to the
scenario we have nowadays of two forces of collectivism, left-winged
and right-winged, moving us to some mix of communism and fascism.
Understanding the process of systems of philosophy and how they
work can help us understand our own belief systems. You can ask
yourself if you know why you believe what you believe. Ask yourself
what your values are that you are trying to manifest through the
actions you advocate and institutions you support. Think through the
cause-and-effect relations of how you got to your conclusions, or
determine whether you use logic or some kind of emotional feeling
that may not be definable. During an argument for any particular
political or philosophical position, when Rand knew her opponent was
using faulty logic or working from fallacious assumptions, she would
admonish her foe to "Check [his] premises."
Can you be labeled -- or do you define yourself -- as a liberal,
a conservative or a libertarian? What are the assumptions you make
about existence that lead you to your beliefs? Dialectical
materialism, Christianity, Judaism or some other religion -- or a
form of pragmatism? Or a rational, Objectivist system of beliefs and
values? Or are you even able to have your thought processes analyzed
on such a basis, with the possibility that you borrow different
values, beliefs and institutions from two or more of the major
columns on the table, arranging them in some way that "seems right?"
The liberals and conservatives, as varied as they are, dominate
the political landscape, struggling for power over all of us. Will
one win, or something else -- something newer and fresher? Rand had a
theory that, when opposing sides argue an issue, the one with the
"moral" argument will usually win and the "practical" one will lose.
Liberals use "moral" arguments, though they are based on irrational
metaphysics having no application in reality. Conservatives generally
make pragmatic arguments, so no matter how right or rational their
desired outcome, they will be undermined by liberals taking a "moral
high-ground" (from somewhere in the clouds of Olympus). As a result,
liberalism can be said to do the wrong things for (some of) the right
reasons. And conservatism can be said to do (some of) the right
things for the wrong reasons.
But libertarianism, because of its rational, integrated,
Objectivist basis does the right things for the right reasons.
Freedom is desirable not only for moral purposes but for truly
practical ones, as the means and ends are rationally meshed and
Freedom is the means -- and the end.
The following table summarizes the philosophical systems of
liberalism, Objectivism and conservatism (though it should be kept in
mind that many people will not fit neatly into any of the three
columns -- some conservatives are atheists and many liberals are
religious, some libertarians are not religious or otherwise not
PHILOSOPHY LIBERALISM OBJECTIVISM CONSERVATISM
============= ============= ============= =============
METAPHYSICS DIALECTICAL OBJECTIVE JUDEO-CHRIST-
------------- MATERIALISM REALITY IAN RELIGION
No God No God Yes God
No Mind Yes Mind Yes Mind
"Just atoms" "Existence "God created
exists" it all"
EPISTEMOLOGY FEELINGS REASON "SPIRITUAL
Universe Universe Universe
irrational/ rational/ rational-
malevolent potentially irrational/
ETHICS ALTRUISM INDIVIDUALISM BIBLICAL/
Self- Self-interest Sacrifice
sacrifice Sacrifice others to God
Sacrifice man neither Sacrifice
to nature self nor others to self
------------- CLASS WARFARE CAPITALISM DEMOCRACY/
(Left Wing) *(Libertar- (Right Wing)
ECONOMICS SOCIALISM LAISSEZ-FAIRE/ MERCANTILISM
------------- FREE MARKET FEUDALISM
(only absolute Corporate
(mixed economy freedom welfare
OK as interim acceptable (mixed
measure) economy OK)
AESTHETICS MODERN ART ROMANTICISM RELIGIOUS ART/
Distorted Glorification God as imagined/
reality of the heroic/ or
Ugliness self-made man Life/nature
glorified "as it is"
Validation Intentions/ Cause-effect Piety/Pragmatism
------------- Pity Logic "It's God's Will"
"Greatest Integrity/ "End justifies
happiness of Consistency the means"
Mottos "All you need "Man's happi- "God is on
------------- is love" ness comes our side"
("All you love from himself" "All you need
is need") is God"
("All you need
Use of force Yes - No - Yes -
------------- Initiation Initiation Initiation
No - Yes - Yes -
Retaliation Retaliation Retaliation
View of Rights No - Indiv- Yes - Indiv- Yes - Indiv-
-------------- idual idual idual
Yes - Group No - Group Yes - Group
No - Fetus No - Fetus Yes - Fetus
Yes - Animals No - Animals No - Animals
* It should be noted that Rand, though the inspiration of much of
the libertarian movement, was no fan of the Libertarian Party. She
castigated them as "Hippies of the Right" in that they impressed her
as having many negative qualities of both the left and right.
Perhaps she viewed the party and the movement as a "collective" that
would have no practical consequences, and divorced from pure
Objectivist theory, which would result in, according to her
philosophy, either moral failure to produce a proper concrete or
pragmatism without a proper abstract, moral basis. Considering some
recent directions of the Party (the pragmatism and
philosophy-avoidance of candidates running for high offices in 1996),
this could be manifesting itself in reality.
Additionally, Rand described herself as an advocate of, or
rather, a "radical for capitalism." Emphasizing an output of her
system of philosophy oriented toward a "conservative" value of the
free market, she stressed the principle of the non-initiation of
force as the justification for "classical liberal" laissez-faire
economics. But, inherent in her argument she made for the right of
the individual to be constructive and productive with his own mind,
body and property, is the argument that the individual also has the
right to be "self-destructive" with his being and his possessions, as
long as he does so without interfering with the rights of others.
Thus the libertarian defense of "personal vices" and the
justification for ending all "wars" on "vices" and other personally
dangerous or "immoral" behavior. Perhaps Rand was abhorred by the
libertarians when the latter applied her logical principles to the
defense of destructive, or otherwise distasteful, behavior, and she
thus shunned and criticized them.
John Cornell is a finance professional whose personal goal is to
spread rational, Objectivist and libertarian ideas by writing and
publishing libertarian science fiction and literary novels, stories
and articles and occasional pieces of political satire and humor.
Previous to return to the previous article, or
Index to return to The Libertarian
Enterprise, Number 30, June 15, 1997.