What is your beef with libertarians and objectivists (objectivist weirdo aside), and with the pilosophy of objectivism?
Well, I hope I don't offend Scotty with my answer to this, since he has laid claim to adhering to both Libertarianism and Objectivism and since he's a good egg. But the question deserves an honest answer.
To start with libertarianism: I think that a libertarian impulse is a very useful one, and it well behooves us to always ask if legislation is really the best way to deal with a certain problem. Many times, the answer will be no, if only because of unintended consequences that can result from passing legislation too hastily that impinges on one freedom or another. But as the bedrock foundation of a person's entire political outlook, libertarianism bothers me. A lot. And thinking about why it bothers me, I keep coming back to one answer: freedom is a wonderful thing and an admirable goal, but it's not the only goal. It seems axiomatic to me that sometimes attaining equality and justice involve curtailing someone's freedom, and really, so be it. We should always strive to minimize the curtailing of freedoms, but when I see a libertarian pontificating in full voice, I am always left with a series of questions: Why are they almost fetishizing the concept of liberty? And is their concept of liberty really one that I share? Libertarianism, at first glance, always seems like a genial, "live and let live" kind of outlook. But when one makes Libertarianism a central principle of a political philosophy, watch out.
I also don't share the libertarian fascination with "the market", or "the free market", or "unrestricted capitalism", or "universal privatization", or whatever else they want to call it. The idea that there should be no public property at all is completely alien to me, and whenever I try to envision how it would work, I find myself at a total loss. I hear libertarians talk about how taxation is theft, and I wonder, Who is going to build the roads in your society? Who is going to put out the fires? Who is going to defend your borders? Who is going to prosecute murderers?
Libertarianism, to me, always seems to profess a belief in The Free Market that I don't think is well-founded. Either it is asserted that The Free Market can solve all problems better than governments, or it is more perniciously asserted any problem that can't be solved by the functioning of The Free Market actually isn't a problem at all, because if it were, the Free Market would solve it. But when I look at what I know of human nature, and when I conclude that in a system of unrestricted capitalism you'd see a lot more Enron's and a lot fewer [insert good corporate citizen here], I have to wonder why on Earth I should think that the response to more Enron's would be to shrug and say, "Hey, that's not a bug, that's a feature!"
The libertarian disdain for government and adulation of The Free Market doesn't really add up, in my mind. Would the Free Market have put men on the moon? Would the free market have created the infrastructure to launch the satellites that make our nearly-instantaneous global communication possible? Would the Free Market have built the Panama Canal? Would the Free Market have spearheaded the first development of digital computers? Would the Free Market have then gone on to investigate the feasibility of a large-scale and uncentralized computer network? Would the Free Market have stopped Hitler? I don't think so. I really don't.
Ultimately, what I don't like about Libertarianism is that it seems to be an ultimate endorsement of the idea that each of us is only looking out for number one. I like to feel that I am part of something beyond just myself and my own little concerns and my own little freedoms, and whenever I hear a really ardent libertarian speaking, I don't get any feeling for that at all. Instead I hear, "I want everybody to live behind a fence and never bother anyone else except to exchange money."
(Here's an earlier post of mine that I wrote in response to a Libertarian I heard on the radio.)
Now, on to Objectivism. I know that full-bore Objectivists tend to insist that they're not really Libertarians, but frankly, after interacting with a number of 'em over the years, I basically find that Objectivists are Libertarians with some special cultism thrown in. I always hear the exact same refrains that I hear from garden-variety Libertarians (taxation equals theft, the only property should be public property, there is no social contract, et cetera) with some stuff from Ayn Rand thrown in for good measure (references to John Galt or Howard Roark, irrelevant citations of the "Law of Non-contradictory Indentification", accusations of "Subjectivism" directed at interlocutors, et cetera). I already find Libertarianism in itself to be entirely unconvincing; I find Objectivism to be downright annoying.
I think it was Steven Den Beste who put it best when he noted that when people ask him "Have you read anything by Ayn Rand?" they tend to ask it in the reverent tone of other people who ask, "Have you spoken to Jesus lately?". I read Rand over a decade ago, in the year after I graduated college. At that time, I had only a vague notion that there was this highly-regarded author named Ayn Rand who'd written a few philosophical novels. What struck me about her writing (I read The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged) wasn't the startling originality of her ideas, or their compelling truth, or the way they sprung from a font of Reason so pure that their logical divinity could never be questioned. What struck me, frankly, was her crappy prose. Reading Rand, I found myself often invoking one of my favorite lines from the Steve Martin movie The Jerk: "Somebody open a window!" She doesn't create characters, so much as embodiments of whatever point she is trying to make; she doesn't give them dialogue, but speeches of varying dullness; she doesn't write vivid descriptions, but great piles of adjectives.
Philosophically, I'm on less certain ground, since it's been over a decade since I either read Rand or practiced anything resembling serious philosophy, but my sense is that Rand wasn't particularly original in her thinking (a lot of it just springs from Aristotle), and her reduction of every single possible philosophical issue to a binary state struck me as absurd. This behavior, though, I see often enough from Objectivists to this day: their righteous conviction of their own rationality makes them almost utterly impossible to converse with. Just try to get an Objectivist to admit a logical error, no matter how glaringly obvious, and you'll get vicious denial (since how can they, absolutely committed to Reason as they are, possibly make a logical error?), shifting of the goalposts, and a simple changing of the subject.
The more one encounters Objectivists and looks at their philosophy, the more creepily cult-like it appears, and that's not even taking into account Objectivist shibboleths that I find highly questionable in the first place (that morality is objective, that Reason by itself can tell us things about the world, that capitalism is the only just social system, that altruism is not a virtue).
Here's a whole lot of anti-Objectivist linkage, and here's a recent AskMeFi thread about Rand. Toward the end of the thread, someone notes that Atlas Shrugged is worth reading for non-Objectivists in the same way that the Bible is worth reading for atheists (I'd broaden that to "non-Christians"). I don't agree: the Bible is worth reading for everyone simply for its language and poetry. I shudder for anyone who reads Ayn Rand just for her prose alone. Here's Whittaker Chambers on the subject:
The news about this book seems to me to be that any ordinarily sensible head could not possibly take it seriously, and that, apparently, a good many do. Somebody has called it: "Excruciatingly awful." I find it a remarkably silly book. It is certainly a bumptious one. Its story is preposterous.
That's about right, I think.
UPDATE: Here are a couple of links I found by Googling the phrase "Why I am not a libertarian": this person provides some bullet points, and for those who would argue "No, that's not real Libertarianism you're talking about" (much like the extreme Leftists who always say that we've never really given Communism a chance on this planet), this person responds to actual planks from the platform of the Libertarian Party.