Rand, Rothbard, and the real America

In the documentary Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life, one of Ayn Rand’s surviving acolytes reads from a letter of hers: “I’m in love with New York. Frank says that what I love is not the real city, but the New York I built myself. That’s true.” The film does not make clear when the letter was written, but it is introduced as the narrator discusses Rand’s move from Los Angeles back to New York City in 1951.

In large part this is the problem with Ayn Rand’s view of the United States in general, and probably why she was so hostile to Murray Rothbard’s libertarianism. It’s one thing to focus on the nobility of many (but not all) of the founding ideals, an assessment I often share. But the sad history of the development of statism, of the regrowth of the Ancien Régime in the United States began even before the ink was dry on the Declaration of Independence. In practice, the reality was never even close to the ideal.* However, as a person whose view of America was essentially shaped without ever really experiencing it, she could never shake her view of America’s necessary correctness even as its government was laying waste to Vietnam and building up a legal and regulatory apparatus designed to choke off business and social entrepreneurship. On this issue, Rothbard was more correct than Rand. The revolutionary spirit of early American culture animated his thinking far more than Rand’s. She was unable to grasp this fully, and the partial, creeping realization she did have probably contributed to her wrath at Rothbard’s system.

*This does not mean the ideal is not worth struggling for anyway, but that’s a separate point.


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