Ayn Rand’s Views on War and Foreign Intervention

A Facebooker asked me the following question:

May I know what’s Ayn Rand’s view on United States’ intervention in the middle east and foreign policy? Since I think that Rand favored U.S. intervention in the Middle East, do you think this view is consistent with her philosophy?

I gave the following answer to this Facebooker who, I suspect, is a Libertarian or Libertarian-leaning.

Answer:

First, I think it is important to discuss, or clarify, what Ayn Rand actually said about America’s interventionism,  foreign policy and the Middle East crisis. Her actual views on these issues, including her suggestions or recommendations, if any, will tell us whether you’re correct in saying that she “favored U.S. intervention in the Middle East”.

Ayn Rand believed that war or imperialist intervention is caused by statism or dictatorship. I believe that it is impossible to discuss Rand’s view on the Middle East crisis and foreign intervention without understanding how she viewed war or intervention, including their root causes and other causative and sustaining factors. 

In her article titled “The Roots of War”, Rand explained how a “full dictatorship” or even a “mixed economy” could destroy people’s rights and lead to conflicts between states.

She wrote:

The degree of statism in a country’s political system, is the degree to which it breaks up the country into rival gangs and sets men against one another. When individual rights are abrogated, there is no way to determine who is entitled to what; there is no way to determine the justice of anyone’s claims, desires or inter­ests. The criterion, therefore, re­verts to the tribal concept of: one’s wishes are limited only by the power of one’s gang. In order to survive under such a system, men have no choice but to fear, hate and destroy one another; it is a system of underground plot­ting, of secret conspiracies, of deals, favors, betrayals and sud­den, bloody coups.

It is not a system conducive to brotherhood, security, cooperation and peace.

 Statism, according to her, needs war, while a free country does not. Here she mentioned 20th century dictatorships, namely, Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia, Fascist Italy, and Imperial Japan that all initiated the second world war.

She said:

Observe that the major wars of history were started by the more controlled economies of the time against the freer ones. For in­stance, World War I was started by monarchist Germany and Czar­ist Russia, who dragged in their freer allies. World War II was started by the alliance of Nazi Germany with Soviet Russia and their joint attack on Poland.

Observe that in World War II, both Germany and Russia seized and dismantled entire factories in conquered countries, to ship them home—while the freest of the mixed economies, the semi-capitalistic United States, sent billions worth of lend-lease equip­ment, including entire factories, to its allies. (For a detailed, doc­umented account of the full extent of Russia’s looting, see East Minus West = Zero by Werner Keller, New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1962.)

Germany and Russia needed war; the United States did not and gained nothing. (In fact, the United States lost, economically, even though it won the war: it was left with an enormous na­tional debt, augmented by the gro­tesquely futile policy of supporting former allies and enemies to this day.) Yet it is capitalism that to­day’s peace-lovers oppose and stat­ism that they advocate — in the name of peace.

What Rand is trying to say is very simple: War has its beginnings and ends, and every war was started by statist regimes or dictatorships. Rand’s view on war actually debunks– or clashes with– the Libertarians’ moral equivalent of war.

Every war is fought by war initiators against their victims or those defending themselves.

The rise of collectivism or dictatorship in the United States, according to Ayn Rand, coincided with the government’s interventionist or nationalistic foreign policies.

She said:

Observe the link between stat­ism and militarism in the intel­lectual history of the 19th and 20th centuries. Just as the de­struction of capitalism and the rise of the totalitarian state were not caused by business or labor or any economic interests, but by the dominant statist ideology of the intellectuals — so the resurgence of the doctrine of military con­quest and armed crusades for po­litical “ideals” were the product of the same intellectuals’ belief that “the good” is to be achieved by force.

 The rise of a spirit of national­istic imperialism in the United States did not come from the right, but from the left, not from big-business interests, but from the collectivist reformers who in­fluenced the policies of Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson. For a history of these influences, see The Decline of American Lib­eralism by Arthur A. Ekirch, Jr. (New York: Longmans, Green, 1955.)

 I’ve seen a number of Libertarians who made it their duty to destroy Ayn Rand and to distort hew views, particularly her views on foreign policy, war and intervention. What is impossible to refute is the fact that Rand was against imperialism, nationalistic militarism, or intervention in the Middle East.

In fact, she was against the Vietnam war as well as mandatory military draft. She was strongly in favor of a voluntary army, which she described as “the only proper, moral—and practical—way to defend a free country.”

In regard to the issue of war, Rand also tackled the concepts of “interventionism” and “isolationism”, she she considered as “anti-concepts.

The purpose of an anti-concept, Rand explained, is to “replace and obliterate some legitimate concept”. Ideologues or political pressure groups use anti-concepts to the people some sense of approximate understanding of social or political issues.

The term “isolationism”, which she designated as an anti-concept, was invented to smear those who allegedly favor foreign intervention.

“[Isolationsim” was a derogatory term, suggesting something evil, and it had no clear, explicit definition. It was used to convey two meanings: one alleged, the other real—and to damn both,” she said.

“The alleged meaning was defined approximately like this: “Isolationism is the attitude of a person who is interested only in his own country and is not concerned with the rest of the world.” The real meaning was: “Patriotism and national self-interest,” she added.

In “The Lessons of Vietnam”, Rand wrote:

Observe the double-standard switch of the anti-concept of “isolationism.” The same intellectual groups (and even some of the same aging individuals) who coined that anti-concept in World War II—and used it to denounce any patriotic opponent of America’s self-immolation—the same groups who screamed that it was our duty to save the world (when the enemy was Germany or Italy or fascism), are now rabid isolationists who denounce any U.S. concern with countries fighting for freedom, when the enemy is communism and Soviet Russia.

In addition, Dr. Leonard Peikoff, Rand’s intellectual heir, exposed the fallacy of “isolationism” and “interventionism” in this excellent podcast. One of his listeners asked him whether he was an “interventionist” or “isolationist” in regard to foreign policy. His answer is: “I am neither”.

Peikoff said:

“These two terms are anti-concepts, not just invalid concepts, but anti-concepts. That means dishonest, epistemologically corrupt attempts to evade differences. To merge together two radically different things and then take the value judgments that people have on one and get away with it on the other.”

Peikoff said that based on how so-called peace advocates during the World War II used “isolationism”, the term actually means “ignoring the world”. He defined intervention as “giving economic aid and military aid” to other countries and “taking part in battles”.

Thus he said: “Intervention is inter-mixed– self-defense, altruism, self-sacrificial military adventurism– all of that comes under intervening. Not being an isolationist. Not quote, ignoring. And ignoring means not just ignoring your relevant conflicts, but ignoring any threats to yourself. So the alternative is, either you give your country away to foreign countries, or you’re selfish and then you’re gonna die. It’s such an absurd coinage.”

This isolationism-interventionism fallacy simply ignores that the fact that war is not a naturally occurring event or phenomenon. Someone or some country has to initiate wars, while others have to defend themselves and their people against their invaders.

But according to some Libertarians and their so-called peace advocate cohorts, you’re an interventionist even if you’re only defending yourself. And this is why Ron Paul criticized America for joining the second world war.

Ayn Rand was neither an isolationist or an interventionist. She was for reason, capitalism, non-interventionism and self-defense.

Now what did Ayn Rand actually say about the Middle East conflict? The YouTube clip below shows exactly how she applied her philosophy to the then ongoing war in the Middle East.

In that video a woman asked: “I’d like to know your opinion on United States foreign policy and what’s happening in the Middle East right now.”

Here’s what Rand said:

“Right now? I’m not sure we know what’s happening. I think the United States’ foreign policy has been disgraceful for years, for decades. I would say roughly since the New Deal and in part, even before that.

“But, if you mean whose side should one be on, Israel or the Arabs, I would certainly say Israel because it’s the advanced, technological, civilized country amidst a group of almost totally primitive savages who have not changed for years, and who are racist, and who resent Israel because it brings the industry and intelligence and modern technology into their stagnation.”

To be sure, Rand never mentioned anything about giving monetary support or military aid or sending troops to Israel. That’s never her style. But for those who are not that familiar with her views and philosophy, they might think she was in favor of sending troops or providing military aid to Israel.

Ayn Rand believed in helping other countries by teaching them the ideals of capitalism and by giving them moral support. She believed in private support. She also believed that any country has the right to defend itself against any kinds of foreign aggression or threat. One example of foreign aggression is the killing or abduction of your embassy personnel or even citizens abroad by agents of a hostile government.

Foreign threat or war is not a market or economic issue. And even if a hostile country were motivated by poverty or economic factors, it has no right or authority at all to initiate war or to kill and abduct innocent citizens of any country.

According to established international law, acts of war may include direct aggression or invasion, unlawful or unjustified blockade, massive espionage by a hostile country, mass murder of citizens by a hostile host country, sponsorship or support of terror groups, among others. Today there are countless of ways to initiate direct war or to start a covert war campaign against a target country or territory. As military strategists often said: War is deceit.

Ayn Rand’s foreign policy is strongly based on her ethics of rational self-interest. She believed in “collective” or national self-defense against any hostile country. She never advocated unjustified or immoral foreign intervention, and this is evidenced by her strong rejection of the Vietnam war and other interventionist foreign policies of the United States government in the past.

It is not in the national interest of any free or semi-free nation to initiate war or to invade other countries. Causeless war, according to Rand’s philosophy, is not just immoral and impractical but self-destructive as well.

This is why she said:

Laissez-faire capitalism is the only social system based on the recognition of individual rights and, therefore, the only system that bans force from social rela­tionships. By the nature of its basic principles and interests, it is the only system fundamentally op­posed to war.

Men who are free to produce, have no incentive to loot; they have nothing to gain from war and a great deal to lose. Ideologi­cally, the principle of individual rights does not permit a man to seek his own livelihood at the point of a gun, inside or outside his country. Economically, wars cost money; in a free economy, where wealth is privately owned, the costs of war come out of the income of private citizens — there is no overblown public treasury to hide that fact — and a citizen can­not hope to recoup his own finan­cial losses (such as taxes or busi­ness dislocations or property de­struction) by winning the war. Thus his own economic interests are on the side of peace.

… “If men want to oppose war, it is statism that they must oppose. So long as they hold the tribal notion that the individual is sacrificial fodder for the collective, that some men have the right to rule others by force, and that some (any) alleged “good” can justify it —there can be no peace within a na­tion and no peace among nations.”

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