Ayn Rand On War

Like many other issues, on war, Ayn Rand was right more often than not. Rand rightly points out that though most of the mankind is opposed to war and never wanted it, they live in fear, as they haven’t rejected the philosophy which leads to war: statism. Her article on war is full of brilliant insights. Yet, there are a few inconsistencies and incomplete arguments which I would like to point out. Rand was of the opinion that a free country has every right to start a war against a controlled economy. It might be true that a free country has the right to free the citizens of a totalitarian nation, but in these times of modern weapons it is extremely difficult to avoid civilian casualties. Not surprisingly, several libertarians have noted that the position of many Randians on the issue of Iraq war was equally inconsistent. Is it right to kill innocent victims in the name of punishing evil? Obviously not! Yet, their position amounted to that. Rand was right when she said that it makes no difference to a man whether he is killed by a nuclear bomb or a dynamite bomb or an old-fashioned club. But, is that all? Isn’t it difficult to pin-point criminals when nuclear weapons (or even ordinary bombs) are employed? An old fashioned club could be used only against the person who has initiated violence. She was partly right when she said the number of other victims or the scale of destruction might not make any difference to that man. (In some cases, it does make a difference.) The problem arises when she stretches the argument and claims that there is something obscene in the attitude of people who regard horror as a matter of numbers. We often hear that it is no worse to kill millions than it is to kill one man. The error in this mode of reasoning was pointed out by Murray Rothbard. He wrote: “Surely it makes a huge difference how many people he kills. We may see this by phrasing the problem thus: after a man has already killed one person, does it make any difference whether he stops killing now or goes on a further rampage and kills many dozen more people? Obviously, it does.”

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