Ethical Egoism does not support Libertarianism
Ayn Rand’s work (Atlas Shrugged) is famous for supporting the doctrine of ethical egoism, which claims that people should always act only in self interest. Several prominent politicians have endorsed Rand’s philosophies, notably Ron Paul, Rand Paul, and Paul Ryan.
In Atlas Shrugged, Rand praises the wealthiest in society and looks down on the working class, especially those who use government forms of assistance. She argued that the rich would be best off by refusing to cooperate with the poor and the government, and going “Galt”. Galt is the hero of Atlas Shrugged, who completely frees himself of all burdens related to dealing with others/government.
It’s fairly obvious why most people would abhor this philosophy. However, the argument is prevalent enough in politics that it needs to be addressed. The argument is as following:
1. People have no moral obligations whatsoever (Ethical Egoism)
2. There are no moral obligations for the rich to help the poor in any way (derived from premise 1)
3. The government shouldn’t tax the rich to help the poor at all (libertarianism).
The above argument isn’t logically valid, and I want to show why. The problem with this argument is that it contradicts itself. The conclusion is a normative claim, about what certain people should, or ought, to do. The first premise, however, is a direct rejection of any and all normative claims that go against self interest. It isn’t logically possible to derive a normative claim that is against self interest from a claim that there are no normative claims that go against self interest.
So, what can the argument validly claim based off of the ethical egoist premise? The only thing that can be derived is that the rich are not obligated to help the poor at all (premise 2). However, consider how the egoist’s premise affects the poor. It is in their rational self interest to take absolutely everything from the rich. Combined with the egoist’s premise, this means that the poor should do whatever it takes to take absolutely everything from the rich. If this takes the form of a government that enforces taxation through force, then so be it. The poor have no moral obligations to not take from the rich without justification, as there are no moral obligations.
The libertarian philosophy can only be supported by those who are both rich and ethical egoists. However, they cannot make the claim that those who are not rich should support libertarianism as well. If you are poor or have any need whatsoever for government services (like public education, subsidized healthcare, police, firemen, national security), then the ethical egoist’s premise demands that you do whatever possible to ensure that the government keeps giving you aid.
Let me be even clearer: libertarianism can only be supported by ethical egoism if the rich are successful in convincing the poor of two contradictory views: no morality exists, but moral restraints exist on what you can take from others.
What this ultimately means: there is very little chance of libertarianism being justified. If there is no morality, then the non-rich majority should use whatever means necessary to take from the rich without the need for any justifications. If there is some morality, then the non-rich majority is justified in expecting the rich to contribute to help out (a claim not supported in this post, but one which I could defend in the comments if asked).
Either way (based on the law of the excluded middle, these are the only two logically possible options), libertarianism will not be justified. It makes no sense to claim that there are no actions that are immoral, but that certain actions need moral justification (such as taxing and redistributing money).