Ayn Rand and Objectivism, Lecture 6 with David Gordon - Mises Academy
Ayn Rand Lecture 6
Intellectual Property, Foreign
Policy, and the Morality of War
●Last time, we were discussing the Objectivist
view that it is always in your interest to
respect the rights of others, except for
●We raised the objection that sometimes it
seems that you could benefit by violating the
rights of others, as in John Hospers’ bank
embezzler case. Someone mentioned the
Objectivist response that the embezzler is
living a lie, or faking reality.
Faking Reality Continued
●It’s clearly in your own interest to have a
correct perception of reality, at least usually.
●Nozick gives some cases where this may not
be true, e.g., someone who does better than
otherwise because he overrates his own
●But let’s assume that the bank embezzler is
not one of these exceptions.
Still More Fakery
●It’s in the interest of the embezzler to be
aware that he has stolen money. It’s also in
the interest of others that they be aware of his
crime---the owners of the bank would
certainly like to know about it.
●But why is in the interest of the embezzler to
assist others to a better perception of reality,
when this would have bad consequences for
him? That is just the question of the harmony
of interests, which is what is up for
discussion. The Objectivist response begs the
●Rand strongly supported patents and
●Property rights arise from your freedom of
action. Each person creates values, i.e.,
things he acts to gain or keep.
●In the case of ideas, she thinks that because
an inventor has come up with a new idea, he
has created it. This give him a property right
Reply to an Objection
●You might immediately object that only
physical objects can be owned, not ideas.
●Rand did not deny this. She thought that an
patent must apply to a physical device.
Similarly, a copyright applies to a physical
object, a book or article.
●If you hold a patent, you couldn’t forbid others
from talking about what you had invented----
the prohibition applies only to making copies
of the physical device.
An Ambiguity in “Value”
●Note that she uses “value” in a different
way from that customary in Austrian
●A value, for her is an object—something
you act to gain or keep. It isn’t a
subjective judgment of where
something ranks in your preference
Invention versus Discovery
●Rand made a sharp distinction between
inventions and discoveries. You can’t patent a
law of nature or something that is “out there”
to be found out. For Rand, new concepts are
abstractions from perception. You don’t
create a physical law; you discover it.Once
more, her theory of concepts has primary
●On the other hand, an inventor does bring
into existence a physical object that wouldn’t
have existed without his action.
Problems with this Distinction
●I’m not sure that this distinction is a good one.
What you have a right to if you own a patent
is not just a physical object, but the power to
prevent others from building an object that
embodies your idea. But isn’t your idea also
based on abstraction from perception?
●If you can prevent others from copying your
idea, why can’t discoverers of new ideas
prevent others from using “their” discoveries?
Is There a Right to Intellectual
●It isn’t clear how Rand’s argument for
patents and copyrights is supposed to
●Suppose that an inventor does create
his new idea, in the way she suggests.
Why does it follow that other people
should be prohibited from using his
idea, without his permission?
Problems with Rand’s
●It might be in the inventor’s interest that
others not be allowed to use his idea without
his permission; but why do other people have
a moral obligation to do what is in the
inventor’s interest? This is an instance of a
general problem for the Objectivist theory of
●Is patent protection in the inventor’s interest?
Rothbard,(MES) Boldrin and Levine, (Against
Intellectual Monopoly) have challenged this.
●Rand thinks that patent protection should
extend only for a certain number of years, not
forever. This limit takes account of the fact
that often, many people are working on a new
invention at the same time. Also, people need
to do productive work and perpetual patents
would encourage parasitism. But even if this
is true, why should it limit the inventor’s rights,
if he has a genuine right? Rand seems
asking, what would be good for the inventor,
rather than what he has a right to, in a way
●Rand did not write a great deal on foreign
policy. Before Pearl Harbor, she was a non-
interventionist, like most of those on the Old
●After WWII, Rand supported the Cold War
and was pro-Israel on the Mideast; but foreign
policy wasn’t her specialty.
●Some of her followers, e.g., Leonard Peikoff
and Yaron Brook, have had more to say on
A Rational Egoist Foreign
●One of the most important statements
of Objectivist foreign policy is in C.
Bradley Thompson with Yaron Brook,
Neoconservatism: An Obituary for An
●The thesis defended in that book is just
as an individual should live by the
morality of rational egoism, a nation
Details of a Rational Egoist FP
●Does this prescription for foreign policy
commit a collectivist fallacy? It makes sense
for an individual to defend himself against
attempts by others to violate his rights, but
can we talk about a nation’s defending itself
in the same way?
●The Objectivists could respond that they are
just talking about the rights of a group of
individuals. They aren’t assuming that nations
exist in some further, collectivist sense.
Against the Neocons
●The Objectivists have a well-deserved
reputation for supporting an aggressive
foreign policy, but they have some important
criticisms of the neoconservatives.
●The neocons think that we should support
democratic revolutions all over the world.
Objectivists condemn this as altruism. We
have no moral obligation to promote
democracy or human rights in other countries.
Criticism of Democratic Peace
●Neocons might respond that their policy isn’t
altruistic. Democratic nations don’t go to war
with each other, so it is in America’s interest
to promote democratic regimes.
●It isn’t the case that democracies don’t go to
war with each other, E.g., the elected Hamas
government is certainly at war with Israel.
Also, democracy just means majority rule:
democracy isn’t desirable unless the
government is properly limited.
Threats and Objectivist
●If Objectivists reject neocon foreign policy, in
what way is their own foreign policy
aggressive? Isn’t defending yourself against
threats defensive, not aggressive?
●The problem here is that once a nation thinks
that it is under threat, then it can do anything
it thinks needed to repel the threat. E.g., if the
US thought that Iran’s program to acquire
atomic weapons might lead to an attack on
us, we would be justified in launching a
preventive nuclear attack on them.
●What is wrong with the Objectivist view?
Aren’t you justified in resisting threats?
●The Objectivist view has the consequence
that once something is perceived as a threat,
the rights of anyone in the aggressor country
●Is this plausible? Suppose that I am giving a
lecture, and I have good reason to think that
someone in the room is going to kill me.
Would I be justified in killing everyone in the
room? Ethical egoism seems to imply that it
Traditional Just War Theory
●In traditional just war theory, wars can
be undertaken only under very strict
conditions. War must be a last resort, it
must be carried out with the proper
intention, and the force used must be
proportional to the threat. The
Objectivist view rejects all these
Justice in War
●Besides the requirements on starting a
war, the traditional view imposes
restrictions on how a just war can be
carried out. Direct attacks on
noncombatants are not allowed.
●Objectivists don’t recognize these limits.
Civilians are at least partially
responsible for their government. In any
●How aggressive this sort of policy would turn
out to be depends on how Objectivists assess
●Even if you accept egoism, there is a problem
for this position. Threats by one country to
another very often are not existential; the
lives of those in the threatened country aren’t
at stake. One country may simply want to
take over territory from another. Egoism might
not support Objectivist foreign policy, in these