It usually ends with Ayn Rand

One of the most common ways to dismiss libertarian ideas is to make a quasi-strawman reference to Ayn Rand. One problem is that, in my experience, the speaker usually doesn’t understand Ayn Rand’s ideas to begin with, although that’s not really what I’m concerned about here. (Also, she misunderstood and hated us.) A second problem is that even if he does, the libertarian case for something never rests exclusively on anything Ayn Rand said. You can take Rand’s philosophical ideas or leave them, and this has little necessary bearing on whether you’re a libertarian or not.

For my money, the best argument for a given libertarian idea usually rests on economics rather than on moral theory. By “best” I mean the one it’s most worth one’s time to defend, because there’s a lot more certainty about fundamental economic laws than about fundamental moral laws. If somebody rigorously defends a particular moral approach, there are other experts who find fault with it and prefer their own. Anybody who’s taken an intro ethics course can attest to this. On the other hand, if somebody defends an idea the implication of which is that demand curves slope upward, for example, you know that he just plain doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

Many of the dismissive Ayn Rand references I’ve heard are funny, and may be worth making for that reason. But it also (frequently) shows a refusal to engage the actual libertarian ideas in question. Nobody owes us their discussion time, but we don’t owe anybody the benefit of the doubt that they actually have ideas that are better than ours. I’m certainly free to tell the world I’m a better boxer than Floyd Mayweather and then refuse to fight him when he offers to put my claim to the test, but the world would rightly interpret that as my not really being a better boxer. Our ideas are very much in the minority, so I understand that a lot of people don’t feel it’s worth their time to challenge them. Fair’s fair. But fair’s also fair when we take your quasi-strawman dismissal as evidence that you’re not rejecting well-understood libertarian ideas for better non-libertarian ideas.

Bill Maher, I’m looking at you.

I’m sure there are ways in which libertarians are guilty of similar kinds of tricks. Feel free to call us out on it if it comes up.


Here is a collection of a bunch of pieces making fun of Ayn Rand’s ideas.

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Author: rfmcelroyiii

Student and instructor of economics.

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