Lay Down Your Whims and Weapons
I’ve said in several places on social media now that Rand does not grant you permission to defend yourself. Of all issues, I get rebuked by Objectivists, “That is blatantly false!” No, dudes. Rand does not let you defend yourself. Here’s the quote:
There is only one basic principle to which an individual must consent if he wishes to live in a free, civilized society: the principle of renouncing the use of physical force and delegating to the government his right of physical self-defense, for the purpose of an orderly, objective, legally defined enforcement. (129, emphasis mine)
Rand says you do indeed have a right to self-defense. But you must delegate it to the government to enact. So, in actuality, you have no right to self-defense at all.
Even when I bring up this quote, I still get told Rand absolutely supported the right to self-defense. One Objectivist gave me this quote as proof,
The necessary consequence of man’s right to life is his right to self-defense. In a civilized society, force may be used only in retaliation and only against those who initiate its use. All the reasons which make the initiation of physical force an evil, make the retaliatory use of physical force a moral imperative.
This doesn’t deny my argument. I’m not arguing that Rand says you have no right to self-defense, per se. I’m arguing that she says you have to delegate that right to the government. Let’s wade through Rand’s word salad to see how she torturously comes to this conclusion.
I personally always had an uneasy feeling about Rand’s view on self-defense and gun rights, even when an Objectivist. This was even before my intense, critical study of Rand to write this book (which then proved that she does indeed intend to disarm citizens). I always ask other Objectivists if they had that same uneasy feeling. Or I hint at it, with a rhetorical question. For instance, why does Rand say government has a “legal monopoly on the use of force”? Doesn’t this mean that citizens should be disarmed? Doesn’t that strike you as a bit suspicious? The impression I get from other Objectivists is: no. They never had any uneasy feeling about anything Rand ever said. This alarms me; it does. In fact, they consistently deride me as a “mystic” because I had those sneaking suspicions about Rand all along. And yet my sneaking suspicions caused me to look harder and better at the issue; while they take everything Rand wrote at seeming face value. And they do. They seem entirely entranced by Rand and her characters—and I think men are more entranced because she has more male characters. But, yet, they decide I’m the irrational one—because I had a hunch or two when I read through things.
Ok. Let’s look at Rand’s explicit statements on this—and at her tap dancing explaining the issue of self-defense.
In “Man’s Rights” she writes,
Potentially government is the most dangerous threat to man’s rights: it holds a legal monopoly on the use of physical force against legally disarmed citizens. (115)
The reader’s emotions are validated big time here: the government is the most dangerous threat to man’s rights. Indeed, as I read this, I think, “I wholeheartedly agree.” But, as an Objectivist, did you indeed ever wonder what this idea of government having a “legal monopoly on the use of force” means? And what are we to make of the idea that citizens are legally disarmed—Rand’s words?
As was the case when I was entranced by Rand when younger, I gave her the benefit of the doubt. Surely, she didn’t mean a full “monopoly,” which if you took word for word means citizens would not have the right to firearms. But, yes, that’s exactly what she means.
In “The Nature of Government” she writes,
…the precondition of a civilized society is the barring of physical force from social relationships. (126)
She writes that if a society provided no organized protection against force it would cause people to …
…go about armed, to turn his home into a fortress, to shoot any strangers approaching his door… (127)
She thus concludes,
…the use of physical force—even its retaliatory use—cannot be left at the discretion of individual citizens.
The use of force. Even its retaliatory use. Cannot be left. At the discretion of individual citizens.
To prove her conclusion that you must “renounce” the use of physical force and “delegate” to government your right to self-defense, she asks us to visualize…
…what would happen if a man missed his wallet, concluded that he had been robbed, broke into every house in the neighborhood to search it, and shot the first man who gave him a dirty look, taking the look to be a proof of guilt.
I mean. That’s what you would do if your wallet went missing, right? You would go shoot the first person who gave you a dirty look?
I would indeed agree that this would be a terrible scenario. Except the overwhelming majority of people wouldn’t do this, should their wallet go missing. Even if something much more terrible happened than losing your wallet, people with emotional regulation tools to handle life’s difficult situations—which is what I advocate replace Rand’s morality of rational self-interest—would be unlikely to turn into bloodthirsty vigilantes like this. (Or they’d have enough emotional spark to at least go find out who, say, murdered their young daughter—and the moments immediately after such a crime are the most crucial.) This view that people will just shoot whoever, this very view of the nature of man, is always at the ideological root of people who advocate gun control, if not total gun confiscation.
But either way, her view is an obfuscation of the issue of what “retaliatory” force means. How do you just totally ignore the issue of physical self-defense in the immediate moment? That if a thief or murderer broke into your house, you should have the right to immediately stop the threat, in order to save your life? How is this not even discussed? Why do we let our minds go where Rand wants it to go, to the idea that we are shooting people who give us dirty looks, if given the use of retaliatory force?
To make her point that we should “delegate” to the government our right to self-defense, Rand purposely exaggerates the possibilities of what happens if people are given gun rights, in order to make the idea seem ridiculous and absurd. She gives the worst case example, offers no further insight into the many possibilities of what could happen, and then makes her sweeping conclusion that you delegate to government your right to self-defense.
Let me repeat her most pointed statement on it, with it slightly expanded:
There is only one basic principle to which an individual must consent if he wishes to live in a free, civilized society: the principle of renouncing the use of physical force and delegating to the government his right of physical self-defense, for the purpose of an orderly, objective, legally defined enforcement. Or, to put it another way, he must accept the separation of force and whim (any whim, including his own). (129, emphasis original)
Read the quote again. She doesn’t say you delegate justice to the government—which is the argument she used to defend her conclusion. You’re not handing over to the government the issue of what happens if your wallet is stolen. She says you delegate physical self-defense. Yes, she intends that citizens are “legally disarmed”—again, her quote.
This is Ayn Rand on gun control:
Q: What’s your attitude toward gun control?
A: It is a complex, technical issue in the philosophy of law. Handguns are instruments for killing people — they are not carried for hunting animals — and you have no right to kill people. You do have the right to self-defense, however. I don’t know how the issue is going to be resolved to protect you without giving you the privilege to kill people at whim. (Ayn Rand, Ford Hall Forum, 1973)
Rand says you might have the right to own a gun, because you might use it to hunt. But she admonishes the person asking the question, “you have no right to kill people.” This is the kind of authoritative way Rand says things, meant to draw moral authority in a shaming way. She may as well have said, “You have no right to kill people, son.” You have no right to kill people. Emotions are not tools of cognition. She purposely says things like this to make the other look ridiculous. Be on the lookout for this. Because what you want in having a right to gun ownership is the “privilege to kill people at whim,” right? You know. Like William Hickman did—the man who murdered a 12-year-old girl that Rand exalted and almost based one of her fictional characters on. She just doesn’t know how to resolve this issue of self-defense versus murder at whim. Hmm, wonder why. (In general, psychopaths utterly hate the idea of their victims having gun rights.)
Rand’s views on gun rights are quite clear: she is suspicious. And, no, characters in her books having a gun are not indicative of her views on gun rights. It’s a fictional story meant to dramatize a point, always. Similarly, in Galt’s speech, Rand does write, through Galt, that he would meet a highway robber with force (937). However, Galt’s speech is more about fundamental principles of morality. It is a point about self-defense in general—and why he was currently resisting society’s laws. She does say you have a “right to self-defense.” The issue is whether or not you, a private citizen, are allowed to have the right to force for any reason at all, legitimate or not. Rand’s explicit answer is no.
If you buy into the idea that Rand would let you defend yourself, congratulations. You were given a lollipop, had your emotions validated about the issue, patted on the head, and sent on your merry way. No, Rand insidiously convinces you to disarm yourself.
For me, this issue is much deeper than any legal, technical argument about if Rand supported self-defense or gun rights. It is an issue of how your emotions play out in life. Rand directly says her position rests on the premise of “separation of force and whim.” But it’s those exact “whims” that are so important in the heated situation in which your life might be in peril, after someone, say, broke into your house to rape or murder you. Instead of responding swiftly and forcefully, we are now morally admonished that we might not even have the right to “kill someone.” Instead, we are admonished to ask: are we handling this in a right way? How are we going to deal with this in an “orderly, objective, legally defined” way? Do you know what this does to a person?
I leap to my feet when anyone discusses gun rights. My stance is “I have a right to defend myself. The end.” It is not up for debate. That’s my sense of life—my automatic emotional appraisal. That’s the sense of instinct of self-preservation that I so strongly have—of which Rand says, in Galt’s speech, that we do not have. I do not grant, not even a little bit, that giving government a legal monopoly of force while I am legally disarmed is in my interest, not even under the dubious circumstances that said government promises to uphold individual rights. And I believe my views are much more in alignment with individualism.
Virtually every psychologist says that the most important thing to your safety is being able to trust your gut instinct. Rand actively turns off this gut instinct, demoting it as a “whim.” And it’s exactly because of these unreliable whims that Rand actively denies you the use of a firearm in these moments. She leaves you defenseless. This is why it’s so important to put people in touch with their inner cores. This is the motor in humans that must be protected ethically and politically. It is not entirely the reasoning mind. It is much more visceral and intuitive than that. There is nothing more important to your survival than being in touch with your inner core. The issue of life beating in someone versus being in submission to a morality based on “rational self-interest,” the central point of this book, could not be clearer. Rand’s view is clear: lay down your whims and your weapons.
I am in total favor of gun rights and the right to self-defense. I have been around guns and gun owners my whole life. Some people simply geek out over guns. Some see it as necessary protection against too big of government. (And they are 100% correct.) Privately owned handguns have saved lives, such as stopping violent shooters in public places. There are thousands upon thousands of responsible gun owners in the United States. Rand’s views on guns are quite simply unforgivingly “vague” (they are not vague), not well thought out, not grounded in history, relies on asking us to imagine fictional scenarios, leaves people defenseless, and should be safely disregarded. She is not an authority on this topic.
You should note also that abuse experts say abuse is a mind game. If they bring everything to rational arguments, the abuser usually wins. Rebellious emotions must be turned off in the victim. The issue must be converted to the mind—and abusers are great at the mental gymnastics needed to win arguments. You, left defenseless, waiting for “objective law” to do what is right, is this. Some see Rand as a person who defends a person’s rights and seeks justice. In truth, you are left vulnerable and defenseless in her system. There’s the false sell of Objectivism. And then there’s actual Objectivism.
And anyone who thinks differently needs to go in and check Rand’s statements. Stop filling in what Rand said with what your own thoughts are. She’s very good at this—at leading you only so far, and letting your own thoughts fill in the rest, whatever they are—and you tend to like your own thoughts. At the very least if and when you speak in the name of “Objectivism,” recognize that Rand did not support gun rights. You can’t have your Rand and your gun rights too. That Rand leaves a person defenseless and does it with distracting, vague language more than makes this Objectivist Blind Spot #4.
I’ve been told my challenge to Rand’s view of human nature itself is nothing but a “nitty, gritty difference.” No, it’s not. It has very real practical implications—ones involving life or death. In this issue of self-defense, we see how Rand’s basic philosophical outlook on life, rooted in her view of man, as a blank entity who must submit to an objective morality and objective law, and how it manifests itself practically in a moral-political system. This is my point more than anything: this view of man as tabula rasa, who otherwise has chaotic whims without a mind to program them, has practical implications. Rand’s resultant conclusions based on these premises can be described as a sort of “wise authoritarianism.”
Amber is a total mystic who occasionally has hunches about things and should probably be tried for witchcraft. See her refutation to Rand at Ex Objectivist.