Monday, 28 June 2010

A debate about Libertarianism

The great Prof. Massimo Pigliucci (whose new book "Nonsense on stilts" I recommend you buy!) had the following status on Facebook today:

From my friend Rob Boston: "Atlas Shrugged is a poorly written, pendantic piece of neo-fascist propaganda that doesn't deserve a spot on any high school's summer reading list - unless the purpose is to help teens learn the difference between turgid junk and real literature."

This sparked a debate between me, and several others, mostly people who oppose Rand's ideas. The following conversation took place (keep reading, it does get heated towards the end):


I just bought "Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology" published in 1966, by Ayn Rand. Have not read it yet, but I'll look out for the turgid junk...


Argumetum ad amicus?


You do have to wonder how a hack novelist with delusions of grandeur can still manage to have followers so long after her death.


See: Scientology.


What a solid and valid argument! I mean i know that you're a philosophy teacher, but I've never seen such an amazing use of logic and reason before! You legitimately and flawlessly provided counter arguments to the book's philosophy, without any fallacies whatsoever. I'm so glad that someone like you is suggesting what should or shouldn't be read.

Darius Amir Aryan (Me)
Well, Mr Boston, brilliant as he may be in his own field, fails to provide any actual arguments against the philosophy of the book, although I am sure he would do if challenged. But why Prof. Pigliucci puts this comment on as his status is beyond me, frankly. How about this: "Charles Darwin's book 'On the origin of species' is a nonsensical, pathetic raid against spirituality and should be burned!". So, what? What does a meaningless and empty opinion matter?


In her essay for College English, Mimi R. Gladstein called the book "philosophically feminist" and praised the character of Dagny Taggart: "She is the head of a railroad. She has sexual relationships with three men and retains their love and respect. She is not demeaned or punished for her emancipation, sexual or professional. She is a rarity in American fiction — a heroine who not only survives, but prevails.


Because it's funny. Lighten up.


We are just using the words of book critiques to debunk objectivism right? Here's another...

Ronald E. Merrill praised Atlas Shrugged for its manifold literary construction and compelling character portrayal: "A complete, radically new philosophy is expounded, and with astonishing clarity. The practical implications of philosophical ideas are ... See moreillustrated on every level, from metaphysics to epistemology to ethics to politics to economics to esthetics. The novel's plot is a miracle of organization. And with all this, the book is a thrilling page-turner."


That was my point, to spark a challenge. I want to hear his justification for his accusation.


once again, nothing like posting anything about objectivism or libertarianism to spike the number of hits on my web pages.

no, I'm not going to provide a detailed analysis, I've done that in many other places (check my blog). as for Taggart's and Gladstein's comments, sometimes laughter is the best response.

Darius Amir Aryan:

Prof. Pigliucci, I have read most, if not all, your blogs on the subject, and I have to say (with all due respect) that I personally find them somewhat... short of substance. You spend a lot of time speaking about Ayn Rand herself, or her views on Libertarianism, as if any of it counts as relevant criticism of Objectivism. What if Rand herself ... See moreturned in to a cult leader, or began an affair with one of her much younger disciples? What does that say of the philosophy? I couldn't care if she bathed in whipped cream and invited stray cats over, her philosophy is still extremely poignant.

I think there is something to be said in favour of "Atlas Shrugged" when people like Peter Schiff, Stefan Molyneux and John Allison consider the book if not the most, then certainly one of the most influential literary work they have come across.


The most influential literary work is the Bible, which suggests that maybe being popular and influential is not a criteria for establishing whether a work has merit.

Darius Amir Aryan:

A blind man can find a $10 note, does that suggest that sight is not a criteria for discovery? False premise, I'm afraid. The people I mentioned deal with economics and are extremely successful in their fields because they apply their acquired knowledge from Rand's book in to their daily practices. Still says a lot.


Darius, you might want to re-read my blog entries on libertarianism, they are substantive, with only occasional comments on Rand's (despicable) character. Of course, it's a blog, not a scholarly journal. And I think that Michael's comment about the Bible is exactly right.


People who get too carried away with a book need to take a deep breath. I enjoyed Atlas. I agree with the underlying principles. Terry Goodkind exaggerates in a similar way in "Faith of the Fallen". Exaggeration is little more than a way to create an evil. Writers like to have something evil to point at. Villains are great foils. They keep us ... See morereading. If the reader doesn't keep reading, the book doesn't keep getting read.

Finding truth in a book is a personal thing. It is up to each individual to make the truth relevant. Does the "truth" allow you to make better decisions? Then wonderful. Does it make you make bad decisions? Then rethink the truth.

Barry F:


Darius Amir Aryan

So, "On the origin of species" is nonsense, because you were influenced by it? I mean, come on! It's a ridiculous argument.
I'll re-read your blog entries again, and come back to you, if you wish. But I want to know how it is that a book that actually promotes individual liberty above everything else can possibly be so misconstrued to be "neo-facsist" propaganda? That's just pathetic and dishonest...

Barry F:

Whats pathetic and dishonest is that Rands book was bout liberty when it was really about Rugged Individualism of the Pathological sort.

Darius Amir Aryan:

Rugged individualism....That's a new one. All the arguments I've ever heard against Individualism have been empty semantics, without any substance. Thanks for proving that once again


Darius, be careful accusing peep of intellectual dishonesty, they can honestly disagree with you. And the parallel with Darwin is a non sequitur.

Barry F:

"Individuality is not to be confused with the various ideas and concepts of Individualism; much less with “rugged individualism... See more” which is only a masked attempt to repress and defeat the individual and his individuality. So-called Individualism is the social and economic laissez faire: the exploitation of the masses by the classes by means of legal trickery, spiritual debasement and systematic indoctrination of the servile spirit, which process is known as “education.” That corrupt and perverse “individualism” is the strait-jacket of individuality. It has converted life into a degrading race for externals, for possession, for social prestige and supremacy. Its highest wisdom is “the devil take the hindmost.”

"This “rugged individualism” has inevitably resulted in the greatest modern slavery, the crassest class distinctions, driving millions to the breadline. “Rugged individualism” has meant all the “individualism” for the masters, while the people are regimented into a slave caste to serve a handful of self-seeking “supermen.” America is perhaps the best representative of this kind of individualism, in whose name political tyranny and social oppression are defended and held up as virtues; while every aspiration and attempt of man to gain freedom and social opportunity to live is denounced as “unAmerican” and evil in the name of that same individualism." - Emma Goldman

Nuff Said.

Darius Amir Aryan:

@ Prof Pigliucci
So is the Bible-argument!!! Exactly my point! As for accusations, I call it as I see it. No matter your objections against Objectivism, it can't by any honest, intelligent measures be considered fascism, when it is exactly the opposite of it. So yes, it is pathetic and dishonest.

@ Barry F,
... See more
Why didn't you just use an excerpt from "Das Kapital" or "The Communist Manifesto"? Now at least I know where you are coming from. So, which category does Prof. Pigliucci belong to, the slaves or the self-seeking supermen? And why is that America has the highest portion of immigrants seeking citizenship in the world? I mean, what Goldman is proposing is that America is the worst place on earth, and the opposite of America would be Cuba. So why is that Cubans risk their lives fleeing to America, but you never heat about Americans doing the reverse?

Nuff said. ;)


The accusation of fascism comes from the fact that fascism also has emphasized individualism. The analogy is only partial, but you are making too much of a casual comment. Not that I think I can ever convince you, I have now come to the conclusion that objectivism is a faith, and as thus entirely immune to any rational argument. Rather ironic, given the whole point of objectivism (but, again, presciently reflected in Rand's own life).


I will provide a detailed analysis, albeit one I wrote some years ago under a pseudonym. My main argument is that the book is poor literature and propaganda. There is much better material out there for high schoolers:


Tyranny by the corporation is still tyranny, and every bit as controlling as governmental tyranny. An age of robber barons didn't work in the past and it won't work in the future. Shifting power from governmental powers onto commercial ones doesn't further the cause of liberty as nothing has fundamentally changed. It's just a cheap magic trick ... See morewhere you've given the impression that you've transferred the ball from one hand to the other and then made it vanish when in actually, the ball never moved.

The only difference is that under a representative democracy, the interests of individuals ideally are actually represented whereas under corporate control, it's only the shareholders whose interests are represented. Real liberty comes from a system where strong checks and balances exist within and between government and commercial powers to optimize our means of catching and stamping out corruption.

Barry F:

I did not use an excerpt from Marx/Engels because they tended to be more interested in talking about the problems of capitalism per say and advocated for a less than libertarian version of socialism to bring the planet to communism (which never happened, as we all know). I instead used a quote from Anarchist Emma Goldman who not only saw the ... See moreproblems with capitalism, but also with dominance hierarchies and, therefore, the religiously advocated notions of self over community. As a libertarian socialist, she makes more sense to me than Marx did in this instance.

Massimo seems to be a social democrat which I see as an ideology not willing to see capitalism for all its problems.. not enough to agree to dismantle it, at leas.. and yet wants some of the egalitarianism anarchism or left-wing Marxism can bring to society.. but falsely believes with the Liberals that the State can somehow accomplish this.. which is silly, of course. So I guess he is part of each :)

Why immigrants? Because it is easier to live in the nation which exploits almost all others than to be in the nations which get exploited. I don't see many running from Scandinavia or France here, most coming are from nations which are victims of US foreign policy or neoliberal globalization.. especially from Latin America.

Cuba is not the opposite of America. Its state socialist more than state capitalist, and even though it's people are overall better treated by their economy, it's not a democracy. The opposite of America does not exist in Nation-State form.

Darius Amir Aryan:

Well, luckily for us, you don't get to decide whether or not it is a faith. Objectivism is as much of a faith as any other philosophical branch. I mean, who spoke more about individual freedom, Ayn Rand or Aristotle and his proto-liberalism?
As for fascism emphasizing individualism, nothing could be more empirically incorrect. Immune to rational ... See moreargument? Please present one and put your theory to the test! So far it's been empty semantics and ad hominems. If you wish, I can start. As long as I don't hurt anyone else, or intrude in their privacy or liberty, am I not free to do whatever I wish?

Barry F:

You are right on Michael. The problem with Right-Wing Libertarians is that in their haste to rid America of the State, they suggest a de-facto state (privatized power) whether in the form of the Corporation or even in more decentralized, non-monopoly business'. What they fail to understand is that once those with the resources at their fingertips... See more (put there by either luck of geography for via force) begin to amass wealth, they will need to protect that wealth from those without and from those they exploit. THAT will require some sort of POLICE, either a State or Private Entity with the same sort of power.

And you are right, at least with Liberal or Social democracy, the rest of us sometimes have some say (but very little today as we head toward fascism because of the marriage between Washington and MultiNationals), with Private "States", it would be worse than even fascism.

Darius Amir Aryan:

WOW! You are even more radical than I thought... Not many people from France and Scandinavia moving to America??? Check the facts mate! I can assure you it's about twelve times more than the opposite from Sweden, that haven of Social Democracy.

As for exploitation of nations... So, Cuba is being exploited by America? Is that it? And Venezuela? And Zimbabwe?
... See more
How about Ghana, that transformed itself from a developing nation in to a rising economy because they adopted capitalism? Or Taiwan, that went from being as poor as Nigeria to being as rich as Spain in 30 years thanks to Capitalism? How about Sweden, that thanks to those *exact* principles Libertarians argue for, went from being one of the poorest countries in Europe at the end of last century to being the second richest by 1950's? People like you, who just look at current situation of Sweden without knowing anything of its past just assume it is because of Social Democracy, not knowing that all the wealth we still live on in Sweden came from the laissez faire system we had from 1900-1950's.

As for globalisation: Aren't you using internet as we speak? Do you watch TV? Do you eat Chinese food? Do you listen to Beethoven? Do you enjoy Shakespeare? All of these are globalisation. So stop being a hypocrite.

As for Socialism:

Nuff Said. ;)

Ps. I wonder what Prof. Pigliucci thinks, now that you have *decided* that he is partly a slave, partly a self-seeking superman. Because it obviously is up to you to decide.

@ Michael, no one is saying an abolishment of State, as Seidman so dishonestly puts it. Every libertarian I know of wants a state to protect the individual rights and such. Nor are we advocating to transfer power from the government to the corporations, obviously that would be pointless, as you very correctly point out. But how about giving the ... See morepower back to the individual? Let us decide over our own lives?
If a person wishes to use drugs, for example, who has the *right* to say that he/she is not allowed to do so? Or if someone wants to sell their body? etc.
As for economics, I want the power in my hand, not the government. Like Milton Friedman put it, there are only two kinds of money, my money and your money. And I sure as hell am much better and more careful when I am dealing with my money than when I deal with your money. I mean, isn't the current recession the best evidence of that??? How much more governmental catastrophes do you need before you say "maybe the government isn't as good as taking care of my money as I would be myself!".


as I said, no argument will make a dent...


Because Locke & Jefferson's statements were incomplete. You say giving power "back" to the individual but back from when? For the whole of human history, individuals did not have unalienable rights, but were at the mercy of those other individuals who amassed greater power, enough to control the masses. It was only after new governments built on ... See moreenlightenment principles changed the fundamental nature of government into our present form of democracy that the individual was empowered to take ownership of their own lives in the first place.

And while you say you say you have no desire to rid the individual of the state's protection, that seems to clearly be the inevitable consequence of a libertarian system. Protecting the individual means ensuring the most people in the society have access to quality education, quality health care, food, employment, roads, bridges, etc. So then it seems to me that what we're talking about is knocking down civilization only to just rebuild a nearly identical one only with slightly different people making the big decisions. Cause ultimately, you're still going to need people to make these decisions about education and health care and road and bridges and who ensures people have access to clean water, etc. These are important issues and they can't just be waved away. This requires teamwork not individuals out for themselves. You need a clear, carefully laid out infrastructure to address these concerns and to ensure it's done right. Now you can call that whatever you want but its government by any other name.

Barry F:

Darius, I am beginning to think Massimo is correct... sounds like I am talking to a fundamentalist here. If folks move from France or Sweden, I am sure it's not because they feel exploited by social democracy! Not that social democracy is anything it used to be thanks to neoliberal global *USA* capitalism. Methinks you're just making things up... See more :)

Of course Cuba has been exploited and often abused by America... as has Venesuela. See the film End of Poverty? And I am not just talking about colonialism or imperialism, but US forced Global Capitalism via the World Bank and the IMF.

And no, the wealth Sweden had (and is loosing) came from post 1945, not pre-1950. Fundamentalist facts again, Darius?

And in the nations adding capitalism of late, I don't consider "wealth" when the few have it and the masses don't. You seem to miss the fact that in places like China and India capitalism is helping the few and not the many as the gap between rich and poor grows.

And I am talking about neoliberal capitalist globalization, you are not.

That video is from the right wing think tank AEI.. not an objective source whatsoever. Also, what they had in the USSR was NEVER communism. I thought I said that already?

I am not deciding anything, Darius.. just stating objective facts no matter HOW Massimo "feels."

As for your comments to Michael.. you confuse civil liberties with capitalist Libertarianism. And I don't know about Michael, but I DO want to get rid of the State.. public or private.. but we can't do that while we still have capitalism.

Any anarchist would agree with you on folks making their own choices about drugs, but today the state and industry and capitalism makes the rules.

I am also for the abolishment of money as a means to accumulate wealth.

Right again Michael.. my only comment would be that we need to find a way to dismantle hierarchal government and put into place a truly democratic, horizontal governance. Plus we need to find a way to share the world's resources (natural and human-made) in a fair, and egalitarian way.. for each individual in every community.. not based on accumulated capital.

Darius Amir Aryan:

@Michael, thank you for an intelligent response, been lacking so far in this debate, I feel. I think we need to distinguish *rights* from, say, *necessities*. There are, as I can see it, two kinds of rights: Positive rights and Negative rights. A Negative right is for example your right to life, as no one has the right to take it away from you, ... See morewhich requires a positive action. Therefore, these rights you mentioned, I believe, may, as you very correctly pointed out, not have been *acknowledged* by rulers of the past, but they certainly have been there! It is true, that thanks to the enlightenment and liberal ideas, predominantly from the founding fathers of USA, that these became more self evident, but I call such rights Objective Rights, because any intrusion in them need a positive action that need to be justified from an objective point of view, which is impossible.
Now, as for health care, roads and such. Why stop there? Why shouldn't the government be in charge of *everything*? This is, remember, the same governments that can't even count votes correctly. And name me one thing that the public sector does more efficiently than the private sector? Why? Because the private sector is run by people who have self interest at stake. This gives more incentive to do a better job. Example:
We have two persons. Jack and John. They both have 50 pairs of shoes to sell. Jack will receive $500 no matter how many shoes he sells. John, on the other hand, will not receive any wages, but for every pair of shoes he sells, he will get $50. Who do you think will sell more shoes? That's the difference between public sector and private sector. When there is an incentive, a profit to motivate, people are far more efficient. That's why we today can afford computers and flat screen TV's and mobile phones. Because the companies dealing in these compete, and the only way they can survive is to offer the best possible product to the lowest possible price. Unless, they make deals with the government and receive subsidies, which is the exact opposite of Capitalism.
I have never said anything against people co-operating, it is absolutely essential, but I would trust a person much more if they had something at stake rather than them just doing it "out of their own good will" or as a favour to me. Germany and England are two countries with centuries of wars and disputes between them. They still don't like each other very much, but the thought of a war between them is almost inconceivable. Why? Because they trade with each other. And as the old saying goes: where armies cross frontiers, goods won't. Where goods cross frontiers, armies won't. I hope I have at least managed to answer your issues, please forgive me if you feel I haven't and challenge me on it. I would've hated it if you felt as if I am dodging any question you have brought up.

Barry F:

Well Michael, seems Darius only likes "intelligent" posts when he thinks he can dismantle them and prove his point :) Too bad, his own arguments miss every point I made already. Sad.

Darius Amir Aryan:


The irony of *you* calling *me* a fundamentalist is one that, I'm sure, escapes no one but yourself, so I won't even dignify that with an answer.

1. I never said people from Sweden move to USA to stop being exploited from Social Democracy (although, entrepreneurs who feel that paying up to 80% taxes is just too much might have a point or ... See moretwo to make on that), what I said was that there are approximately 12 times more people from Sweden moving to America than Americans moving to Sweden. Try to follow my point, will you?

2. Look, let's completely throw capitalism out of the window for a second, shall we? Just for the sake of the argument. Here is what I believe: I believe that a human being is free. No one has the right to force anyone to do anything against their wishes, as long as that person has not committed a crime or such. Even if every other human being on the planet says that I must turn right, I still have the right to turn left. So, the rule of majority doesn't really apply. Do you agree with this premise of liberty? That human beings are free individuals? They can work, accumulate, travel, live and eat as they wish, without any other entity using force on them to do anything they do not wish to do?

3. Sweden's wealth. As oppose to you, I have at least provided some data to back up my notion. It is actually a generally accepted one, especially in Sweden, where I am from. You are the first person I have come across to claim anything else, so please do provide data. Sweden's GDP per capita went from $2500 in 1900 to $9400 between 1900-1950.... Here are some more sources:

I think an apology is in order for the accusation of me using "fundamentalist facts".

4. I'm sorry, did you say that in India and China, only the few are accumulating wealth??? Are you sure? I mean, China is somewhat a bad example, because of their Communist regime, but there is a lot to be said about what happened after Chairman Mao died and his successor, Deng Xiapong started to reform the agriculture in what is now regarded as the largest privatisation in history. It led to a country that had in the late 50's suffered the greatest mass starvation in recorded history to have a surplus of food, coming from crop yields. Between 1978 and 1984 crop yields rose by an incredible 7.7 per cent annually. That's privatisation for you! Poverty in Taiwan is almost eliminated! Ghana is moving towards the same phenomenon. Mauritius, after opened up their markets and adopted Capitalism, was the first African country that saw a peaceful, democratic transition of power. Estonia, where Prime Minister Mart Laar practically took Friedmans book "Free to chose" and said "Let's do this!", saw the greatest growth of any European country, a growth that helped everyone, the rich as well as the poor. Please do not compare these countries to our standard of living, because they haven't had Capitalism as long. What would be a fair way to calculate is to compare that same country to how it was
*before* they adopted capitalism, and *after*.

5. Neoliberal capitalist globalization? I am talking about people being free. You are not.

6. My video... That's an Ad Hominem. Your argument is nonsensical, because it makes the assumption that everything in my source is wrong because it comes from a source you personally disagree with. If you think the data is incorrect, prove it. Otherwise, accept it.

7. Oh I see, it is an "objective fact" that Massimo Pigliucci, one of the great minds of our time, is a slave and self/seeking superman... WOW!

8. I don't confuse things, Barry (I hope you forgive me referring to you by your first name!), I am advocating LIBERTY. And as I see it, which goes back to point 2, the inevitable economical system which would automatically be the outcome of human liberty is Capitalism. It is just a word we use to explain a free system in economics (btw, I am by no means an economist, I am an actor).

Your last post, where you advocated "sharing the world's resources (natural and human-made) in a fair, and egalitarian way.. for each individual in every community.. not based on accumulated capital." might sound good, but is a proven, empirical failure. The best example of this is the Kibbutz's at the early stages in contemporary Israel. The people, especially the young, revolted against this system, and wanted what we call capitalism. Through choice. But here is the kicker:
In my system, you are free to share everything you wish to share and I will fight with my life for you to have this right. In your system, am I allowed to keep my accumulated wealth, and expand it without you using force on me to take it away?

Thank you for a good debate so far.


hey, this isn't a blog, you know? it's a casual conversation, which I suggest to limit to a few lines per time. if someone would like to write a book, i'm sure there are better outlets...

Darius Amir Aryan:

I'm sorry, Prof Pigliucci, you are right. I just got carried away, as I am sure the others did as well. Always the problem with a interesting subject! If anyone wishes to continue this debate, please add me and we'll continue on my page.

Barry F:

Right Massimo.. he should write a book! I can refute each of his claims, but they've all been refuted by others already so why bother wasting my time on FB with this fundie (and he think I am a fundie.. ha ha).

Perhaps he just needs to read THIS "books" and learn something outside of his Austrian/Chicago School Bibles. ... See more

And what has been shown to be an empirical failure was State Socialism, not anarchism.


no need to apologize, Darius, but I am amused that this is always what happens any time I have a post about libertarianism. someone ought to do a sociological study on you guys... ;-)

Darius Amir Aryan:

I would pity that person! ;) @Barry, you have no idea what a fool you make of yourself with such comments.

Everyone: Do I have your permission to post this conversation on my blog? And those who wish are more than welcome to continue it there!

Please write to me, and not here on Prof. Pigliuccis wall if that's NOT ok! all the best!

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