The Decline of the Randian Influence on American Libertarianism?
Mises.org, yesterday, had two interesting articles featured. One, by Stephan Kinsella, makes the case that the Randian position on IP is in it’s death throes within the libertarian movement. Another, by Wendy McElroy, is a republication of her account of how copyright/IP fitted into the Tuckerite 4 monopoly criticism of political economy, and the degree to which it was contentious within the first American libertarian movement.
Kinsella is one that from time to time likes to take pot shots at “left libertarianism, ” but left libertarianism is really just a revival of the ideas of the original libertarian movement, primarily articulated by one Benjamin Tucker. Up until recently, Tucker and the history of the first american libertarian movement was buried in obscure historical archives, largely unavailable to the general layman. It’s only been recently, with the modern internet underlying a publishing revolution, that these idea have become popularly accessible. So these ideas are gaining new momentum, particularly class theory, monopolies of the political economy, and, yes, even anti-capitalist sentiment(although by anti-capitalist sentiment, at least in terms of individualist anarchism, we are not talking about anti private property, but rather a debate over rent and interest in a free market).
In the wake of the Obama Administration, there has been a big upshot in the sales Rand’s fictional work. In a case of fortuitous timing, two academics, who had access to Rand’s archives, published separate biographical accounts that generated some big press. I haven’t read the books by either Heller or Burns, but by their numerous press and think tank appearances, I got a pretty good gist of what each was recounting. By far, from a libertarian perspective, Burns’ book was more interesting because she made it a thesis point that Rand’s influence kept a self-identified libertarian movement that emerged in the 60s from being a left-wing movement under the influence of a Rothbard or a Hess. It was Rand’s overwhelming influence that kept it as a right-wing movement. In fact, Burns maintains that Rothbard was only a marginal influence. I would quibble with that latter assertion, because although there is no denying the major influence Rand’s fictional work had on modern libertarianism(to bring up the cliche, “it all begins with Rand,” which in my case, is true. But then again, I can say when you read her nonfiction work, it ends pretty quickly and you move on), I would say that a self-identified movement that was in significant part anarchist had moved on beyond Rand. And, I don’t it’s defensible to claim that Rothbard was only a marginal influence. This before my time, and there might be those who can set me straight on the history here form a personal account, but it would seem problematic to explain Rand’s negative opinion of libertarianism, because she quite properly understood it to be anarchism. Or how Burns would explain the Dallas Accord in the Libertarian Party. This was the peace treaty between the anarchists and the Randian minarchists.
There is no doubt, that over time, particularly with the famous Rothbard-Koch split, and the emergence of Cato, that libertarianism moved away from anarchism and toward the right. Burns’ insinuation is that the continued book sales and influence of Rand will keep libertarianism on the right. I would disagree with that assessment, however. I don’t care how many books Rand sells. Intellectually, the libertarian movement is moving to the left. Rand will continue to have a significant cultural influence in terms of the ethic of individualism, but from an institutional standpoint(that is, from a point of view that examines liberty in terms of an institutional analysis ), her influence is waning.