JLS  Symposium on Atlas Shrugged  Finally Available

Ayn Rand

Ayn Rand

The last issue of Journal of Libertarian Studies – last as in most recent (it remains to be seen whether it’s the last absolutely, as there might be at least one more issue) – was devoted inter alia to a symposium on the 50th anniversary of Atlas Shrugged, with new contributions by Barbara Branden, Geoff Plauché, and Jennifer Baker, and two previously unpublished pieces by Murray Rothbard – one an amazingly revealing fan letter to Rand, and one a defense of Rand’s aesthetic theory. (The rest of the issue is interesting too, including a dandy piece by Bob Higgs on anarchism. For further details, see the summaries here and here.)

I’m particularly proud of that issue – but until recently, it wasn’t available online yet. Now it is. Gaudete igitur.

It looks to me as though hard copies of that issue (21.4) are available for sale also, but I haven’t tested whether that’s true.

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16 Responses to JLS  Symposium on Atlas Shrugged  Finally Available

  1. Anon73 November 27, 2009 at 2:03 am #

    Considering his later attitude it’s hard to believe he would write a gushing fan letter to Rand.

  2. Aster November 27, 2009 at 8:07 am #

    Ooh! Pretties! Must read everything. Thank you!


    I’ve always wondered whether the early Rothbard or the later Rothbard more genuinely represented his opinions, or whether these shifted over time. ‘Left and Right: the Prospects of Liberty” shows an ability to empathise with glowing idealism that is hard to affect. But the later Rothbard revels in a barbarous racism which is almost anti-intellectual; Rothbard had to have known that his expulsion of the the ‘modal libertarians’ betrayed precisely the segment his previous activism had worked to invite.

    The more I’ve read of Rothbard, the more I’m come to pessimistically see him as a conservative who briefly feigned fiery radicalism for a 1960s audience. His ‘Students for Strom Thurmond” high school stunt and some words on the drinking classes in _For a New Liberty_ support this thesis. Now if Rothbard always was a conservative at heart, it heavily suggests that the libertarian movement was a historical misfire from the start. But there *was* a great deal of genuine idealism in the early libertarian movement for which Rothbard was so greatly responsible, and I’ve known far too many bright spirits who were genuinely touched by the man- Chris Sciabarra for instance, to believe that Rothbard didn’t have something in him that spoke to the best within us. And then there’ the above.

    What did Rothbard want? One thing that seems fairly constant in him is a fierce anti-establishmentarianism, with the specific establishment in question being the statist-liberal intelligentsia. The Port Huron New Left was consciously reacting against this subclass, while the redneck Christian right which the late Rothbard supported represents its nemesis of self-reference. This is all a little odd for a Bronx-born red diaper baby.

    Given where Rothbard’s trajectory has led, I’m tempted to agree with the Objectivist interpretation of Rothbardian libertarianism as a heresy which tries to cut the individualistic and rational soul out of liberty, creating a spiritual relativism which superficially deviates Left only to find its true home when it remerges with the right. The basic reason is that operational relativism naturalises culture and convention and hence removes the crucial distinction of the examined and self-directed life which must undergird any concept on individual liberty capable of defending itself against the pull to submerge back into society. But the Objectivists have never built anything but prisons from their philosophical blueprints, and the few quality independent Randians, while often individually impressive, are too scattered to sustain an intellectual culture capable of preserving a space of freedom through stress or scarcity.

    Rothbard chose to leave paleolibertarianism as his legacy, and the left-libertarian attempt to revive the original libertarian movement shows all the early signs of a similarly destined trajectory. And while Carson’s a brilliant guy with his heart in the right place, there are some creaky Catholic planks in the structure of his economic theories which would in other hands be pulled out and used as stakes to burn witches).

    I won’t even discuss that thing which goes by the name of “Libertarian Party”.

    Where do you go from here? There’s the Reason/Cato crowd, but everyone I like despises them for reasons I completely fail to comprehend. *My* only trouble with them is that their publications put me to sleep (oh, and they look the other way on class). Perhaps the problem all along in simply that the drama of radical politics provides excitement in excess of truth, while politics in something really does do better with a solid grounding in bourgeois material interest? If the problem is only that people haven’t done it right yet, then is there really any time left in which a politics of liberty might catch fire? How many trials does one attempt without results before writing off the hypothesis?

    Kerry Howley’s work is intriguing.

    • Brandon November 27, 2009 at 10:39 am #


      • Aster November 27, 2009 at 5:49 pm #


        “Until literally mid-October 1994, it was shameful and taboo for anyone to talk publicly or write about, home truths which everyone, and I mean everyone, knew in their hearts and in private: that is, almost self-evident truths about race, intelligence, and heritability. What used to be widespread shared public knowledge about race and ethnicity among writers, publicists, and scholars, was suddenly driven out of the public square by Communist anthropologist Franz Boas and his associates in the 1930s, and it has been taboo ever since. Essentially, I mean the almost self-evident fact that individuals, ethnic groups, and races differ among themselves in intelligence and in many other traits, and that intelligence, as well as less controversial traits of temperament, are in large part hereditary.”

        “If and when we as populists and libertarians abolish the welfare state in all of its aspects, and property rights and the free market shall be triumphant once more, many individuals and groups will predictably not like the end result. In that case, those ethnic and other groups who might be concentrated in lower-income or less prestigious occupations, guided by their socialistic mentors, will predictably raise the cry that free-market capitalism is evil and “discriminatory” and that therefore collectivism is needed to redress the balance. In that case, the intelligence argument will become useful to defend the market economy and the free society from ignorant or self-serving attacks. In short; racialist science is properly not an act of aggression or a cover for oppression of one group over another, but, on the contrary, an operation in defense of private property against assaults by aggressors.”

        – Murray Rothbard, 1994.

        I found the piece while doing research on national anarchism, via a link from vdare.com.

        Here is Rothbard, writing on feminism, in 1970.


        Rothbard’s racialism was paralelled by similar views on sex. The first article is not an isolated incident, and it is not merely an errant product of his final paleolibertarian turn.

        What is this if not exteremly suggestive evidence that the reactionary cultural politics of much of the contemporary libertarian movement are genuinely continuous with the mentality of “Mr. Libertarian” himself? I don’t think that Bob Barr, Lew Rockwell, Ron Paul, etc. are aberrations. They’re merely following what Rothbard actually believed, not what idealists looking for a radically consistent individualist politics might have wished he believed. And Murray Rothbard was, if nothing else: clever, strategic, and devoted to ideological consistency. How much of what we think of as core libertarianism was always meant to be tacitly continuous with these kind of cultural attitudes? The Left has being saying for decades that libertarianism is ideological cover for the desire to apologise for established social injustices. Does not the evidence show that they are right, and were right- for decades?

        Discovering these articles (and they’re not the only such passages from Rothbard) was not a pleasure for me. I’ve called myself an anarcho-capitalist. I first tasted wine over debating Rand vs. Rothbard with the father of my best friend at university. Murray Rothbard was second only to Rand in inspiring my original involvement with libertarianism, and I noted him as a primary influence when I was 19 and applying for a seminar with the Institute for Humane Studies. The first writer to give me much-needed intellectual guidance was Chris Sciabarra. I believe he shared an anecdotes about Rothbard’s involvement with his master’s thesis in one of our first exchanges.

        I’ve felt uncomfortable with the conservatism of the greater libertarian movement since my first social experiences with libertarians. But I always dreamed that what was wrong with libertarianism was an inessential corruption, and that an individualism free of conservatism existed. A world in which Rothbard is a servant of darkness changes my political landscape into something like the world of Warhammer 40K: a world where there’s nothing but one soul-crushing injustice warring with another, where there are no white hats, no sunlight and no salvation. Libertarianism was meant from its first founding father to walk arm in arm with social systems which destroy everything I’ve ever loved and which want me dead. Its radical promise, like the contemporary American’s Left’s electoral hopes for Obama, has been a delusion of projected hope. Lewrockwell. com is the legitimate heir to the intentions of the founder of the libertarian project.

        The revival of classical liberalism was indeed a social step backwards from modern liberalism, a trick of the mind, a recycling of the hope of the last revolution to conceal and justify the present ruling class. Reason and freedom and human progress belong to the mainstream Left. Murray Rothbard is a labyrinth which one can explore for a lifetime in ignorance that it was always meant to be a dead end. Or a dead god.

        Not that in institutional, compromising, hypocritical liberalism there’s anything much to love. Or that its situation is any philosophically less unsound than it appears. Where is there to be hope for a society which unreservedly nurtures individualism?


        There is still Ayn Rand. But the world she made is not an inspiration for anything, and my own experience has been that while her way of life can be lived, its practice transcribes onto reality more harshly than she ever told us.

        Rand’s historical romantic synthesis of a American exceptioanlism and a pre-Revolutionary European aristocracy captures her mythical subject in ideal poses, and with the structurally necessary servants kept discretely off-camera. Rand believed that industrial society made her romantic possibility universal, at least for the genuinely best and brightest, and she believed in the bourgeoisie with the fervor of a late XVIII or early IX century poet. The real bourgeoisie, as Carson (and for that matter the early Rothbard) shows, were never that clean, or so very different from her predecessors. Rand’s concept of reason, her undarkened romanticism, her celebratory lassiez faire are spiritually cohistorical with Paine, Shelley, Goethe, de Sade, Jefferson. Her version of philosophical history is one where everything went wrong with Kant (not Rousseau, the usual scapegoat), where romantic hope for an individualistic ideal died in in the process of the first world war. That is a class narrative.

        Rand’s social formation derived from a pre-Revolutionary ruling class Russia newly opened to a century of philosophy by unprecedented relaxations of censorship; her adult life was spent in a New York and Los Angeles far removed from the reality of much of the America she idealised; her portrait of the United States omitted the heritage of slavery and the Great Awakenings. The result is something bolder and more beautiful than life- an American entrepeneur, with a European aristocrat’s soul- but it is ahistorical and unsustainable.

        George H. Smith aptly called Rand a consistent philosophical optimist; I see a privileged romantic who saw and wanted to see the best and who therefore overlooked ugliness whose relation to that best is necessary. Her Hollywood vision of American capitalism is stage magic. It remains a beautiful ideal which is more that worth straining the limnits of reality to actualise, but it is *essentially* romantic, and the context of real world contraints change the material possibilities in kind. One very relevant material reality is that attempts at her utopia presume an unfairly good material situation; her high expectations of the world parallel a sense of entitlement. And so we’re left with Orlando Patterson’s tragedy, where the noble hope of the ‘Western’ dream is inextricably linked to aggression and exploitation. In which case, Rand truly followed in Pericles’ and Voltaire’s footsteps (and Aristotle and Nietzsche’s), for good and for evil.

        The fully industrialised future free of scarcity which we would need in order to make Rand’s vision work is probably (given the ecological crisis) no longer even a historical possibility, and its approximation in mass prosperity and social liberalisation peaked with American imperial wealth in the early 1970s. The silver mines are running out; a system unable to persuade or purchase allegiance leans unstably on lies and force to survive; the radiance of industrial society’s sun begins to visibly falter. The next age will see not only an imperial collapse but, far worse, a holocaust of dreams and aspirations.

        Rand’s vision of an exuberant capitalism is an ideal whose time is running out. What with they say to those who carry Wyatt’s torch, and set hills aflame, when they are starving for oil? What will they think of living life’s for oneself when the pressures of tribal survival forbid the indulgence of liberty to the majority? Who will praise Prometheus when they live amidst the ruins devastated by his voracious fire? Yes, there is still Ayn Rand- until the day after tomorrow.


        And thus: Ayn Rand, the known ideal, the only way it could ever have been possible. It is unjust. It is immoral, by any standard of morality less bloody than Nietzsche’s, including Rand’s own. And yet, speaking personally, I’ve wanted nothing my whole life but to find the kind of existence Rand told us was possible. And it it. I’m in love with it. But its sense of bottomless possibility is devouring our environment- literally, it is destroying the world. And, having tasted it, I can never let it go.

        There are narratives- horribly pessimistic, authoritarian, painful narratives- which tell a civilisation what must be done to individuals that society might collectively survive this kind of emergency, and they begin with the stigmatisation of selfishness. But these stories want to guillotine everything and everyone I love, and I will oppose them as long as I draw breath. For in egoism there can never be a reason to give up excellence, intensity, and passion, even if to keep them one must be at war with the human species.

        Don’t let it go.

        • Billy November 28, 2009 at 10:42 am #

          It’s racist to say that intelligence, etc. may be hereditary? Maybe it’s bad science and maybe it makes us uncomfortable, but I don’t think it’s racism. Nowhere is it said that people of one race have less moral worth than another.

          Note: I disagree with ROthbard’s conclusions but it seems to me that he’s only attempting to bash the taboo of saying that we are not all equal and this inequality comes from genes. He’s not promoting hate towards other races, etc.

        • Brandon November 28, 2009 at 12:19 pm #

          It is one thing to be a biological determinist, and to say ” that individuals, ethnic groups, and races differ among themselves in intelligence and in many other traits, and that intelligence, as well as less controversial traits of temperament, are in large part hereditary.”

          It is another to say “whites are inherently superior to blacks.” — the latter being a truly racist statement. Rothbard’s view in the first piece you linked to is merely controversial biological determinism. Such a belief should not be held against him. Whether he’s right or wrong is above the pay grades of everyone except God.

        • Roderick November 28, 2009 at 1:01 pm #

          Billy: It’s racist to say that intelligence, etc. may be hereditary? Maybe it’s bad science and maybe it makes us uncomfortable, but I don’t think it’s racism. Nowhere is it said that people of one race have less moral worth than another.

          I think the charge of racism applies not solely to the content of such theories but also to the reasons for accepting them. I say more about this here.

        • Aster November 28, 2009 at 1:36 pm #

          I’m having dinner with the Mom tonight. Every time I help her prepare things I come away with a grasp of a new dish or a new spice. I haven’t decided between Dead Poets Society and Dangerous Beauty for a movie (she recently introduced me to Girl with a Pearl Earring, which I highly recommend). Hopefully I can upload a bit of Deutsch to the brain before noon today. Oh, and I owe the stepdad chocolate for a kindness. Good chocolate… I found some kind of Hare Krishnaish exotic food store within five minutes’ skip of my front door, and he’s as hopelessly attached to sweets as I am. Hope it’s open on a Sunday. I must find something utterly decadent, crusted and sugared over with a glaze.


          You make it easy, my friends. Some day I shall care more about how I hold a phone than how I say what I believe. Time begins to slow, details of everything grow softer and larger. There is nothing else.

          And their world cares.

        • smally November 28, 2009 at 11:55 pm #

          “I mean the almost self-evident fact that individuals, ethnic groups, and races differ among themselves in intelligence and in many other traits, and that intelligence, as well as less controversial traits of temperament, are in large part hereditary.”

          I think it’s the fact that he believes this is self-evident that suggests racism, not just the belief itself.

          He just brushes aside the obvious possibility that apparent differences in intelligence might be due to environmental variation, and finds it self-evident that these differences are genetic.

          I wonder what might have inclined Rothbard to jump to a conclusion, with the false justification of its supposed self-evidence, that lines up so well with traditional racist thought on the inferiority of blacks?

        • Brandon November 29, 2009 at 12:15 am #

          The first part of the quote is “…differ among themselves in intelligence and in many other traits…”

          He may mean that it is in the nature of certain ethnic groups or races to value intelligence more than in others, and so that’s the result. All he said in the first part was “differ amongst themselves”.

          The second part says “…intelligence, as well as less controversial traits of temperament, are in large part hereditary.”

          Aren’t Spaniards and Italians known for being passionate and emotional? and are not Scandinavians known for being just the opposite?

          Now, I am personally sure that environment is responsible for a lot of that, perhaps all of it, but perhaps Rothbard wasn’t so sure. He did not say “blacks are inherently inferior”.

          He did mention the Charles Murray book “The Bell Curve”, which had come out recently, and that book does contain the inflammatory conclusion that blacks are a hell of a lot dumber than everyone else. But Murray’s book also contains IQ tests from black youths who grew up in white middle-class households and so should have been as smart as the white middle-class youths, and were not — according to Murray’s tests anyway. So perhaps Rothbard was merely provoked by that data.

        • smally November 29, 2009 at 12:54 am #

          In the piece quoted he clearly said it is “almost self-evident” that there are differences in intelligence between races, and that these differences are highly heritable. I think that could only seem self-evident to someone with racist inclinations.

          If his belief was based on the arguments made by Herrnstein & Murray in The Bell Curve, then by definition it isn’t self-evident at all. Perhaps he started out with this self-evident belief and was pleased to find arguments supporting it.

          As for the IQs of black children raised in white families: this does not eliminate environmental variation at all. As Ned Block points out in his demolition of The Bell Curve, How Heritability Misleads About Race:

          if you place a pair of Black one-egg twins in different environments “at random,” you automatically fail to randomize environments. The Black twins will bring part of their environment with them; they are both Black and will be treated as Black.

        • Soviet Onion November 29, 2009 at 10:27 am #

          It’s racist to say that intelligence, etc. may be hereditary? Maybe it’s bad science and maybe it makes us uncomfortable, but I don’t think it’s racism. Nowhere is it said that people of one race have less moral worth than another.

          I’d be curious to know what kind of standard of “moral worth” considers a person’s mind to be beside the point.

        • Soviet Onion November 29, 2009 at 10:43 am #

          The second part says “…intelligence, as well as less controversial traits of temperament, are in large part hereditary.”

          Aren’t Spaniards and Italians known for being passionate and emotional? and are not Scandinavians known for being just the opposite?

          Do you really think that someone could arrive at the conclusion that these are genetic rather than environmental? Oh, those crazy Spaniards and their overactive limbic systems!!

          Now, I am personally sure that environment is responsible for a lot of that, perhaps all of it, but perhaps Rothbard wasn’t so sure. He did not say “blacks are inherently inferior”.

          Negro, please. He make this supposedly value neutral assessment of their intelligence in the process of characterizing them as a stupid and destructive underclass of welfare dependents acting in the capacity of barbarians at the gate.

        • Aster November 30, 2009 at 9:31 am #

          “I’d be curious to know what kind of standard of ‘moral worth’ considers a person’s mind to be beside the point.”

          Those of 9,999 in 10,000. But what do they matter?

          The sunrise plains are a tender haze
          And the sunset seas are gray,
          But I stand here, where the bright skies blaze
          Over me and the big today.
          What good to me is a vague “maybe”
          Or a mournful “might have been,”
          For the sun wheels swift from morn to morn
          And the world began when I was born
          And the world is mine to win.

          Thank you for having precisely the right words at the right moment.

  3. Grabrich November 27, 2009 at 8:34 pm #

    FWIW, that Higg’s article has been online for over 2 years: http://www.independent.org/newsroom/article.asp?id=1982

    Richard G.

    • Roderick November 27, 2009 at 10:25 pm #

      Yeah, but not in the snazzy JLS format.

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