With the recent release of the first part of the film adaptation of Atlas Shrugged (see Matthew Alexander’s review on Prometheus Unbound), the Institute for Humane Studies (IHS) — via LearnLiberty.org – brings us this interview with Professor Jennifer Burns, author of Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right, on how Ayn Rand fits into the classical liberal tradition.
In this video, Prof. Burns explains three classical liberal themes in Ayn Rand’s masterpiece Atlas Shrugged: individualism, suspicion of centralized power, and free markets. These themes come to life through the novel’s plot and characters and give the reader an opportunity to imagine a world where entrepreneurship has been stifled by regulations and where liberty has been traded for security. Burns ends by reviving Rand’s critical question: do you want to live in this kind of world?
There are some seriously mistaken individuals who seem to think so. Take a quote like this:
The recognition of the insuperable limits to his knowledge ought indeed to teach the student of society a lesson in humility which should guard against him becoming an accomplice in men’s fatal striving to control society [and destroying] a civilization which no brain designed but which has grown from the free efforts of millions of individuals.
– F.A. Hayek
They say that Hayek’s insight also applies to libertarians and, for example, our attempts to “force” free trade and unregulated labor markets on “society.”
Guilds, poor laws, and limits on trade also grew from the free efforts of millions of individuals, did they not? Well, no, actually they didn’t — at least not insofar as they attempted to use the state to impose the preferences of some on others by force!
Libertarians, of course, have no quarrel with voluntary associations and such voluntary actions as charity and boycotting. But… guilds and labor unions have tended to employ the state to impose their preferences on others; poor laws were historically and are by definition instruments of state policy; and limits on trade have historically been imposed on us by the state. There is nothing free or voluntary about them.