Ayn Rand and Vietnam
The Atlas Society’s Laurie Rice has a fantastic new report out on how certain disciples of Ayn Rand helped end the draft. She points out several legal challenges waged by Objectivists before moving on to Martin Anderson, an economist who had mostly left the movement by the time he served on the Gates Commission:
A month before he was elected, Nixon consulted his advisors, including Martin Anderson, about an upcoming speech for the CBS Radio Network. In an interview with TNI, Anderson recalls the meeting: “He was talking about, ‘In the next ten days I want to put out something powerful and new so that people know what my presidency is all about.’ I said, ‘Well, how about the all-volunteer army that you’ve been speaking about?’ He said, ‘Damn it, that’s good. We’re gonna do that.’” This dynamic became characteristic of Anderson and Nixon—in his own accounts and others, Anderson rarely missed an opportunity to push the issue of the all-volunteer force, and his encouragement seemed to be a kind of super-spinach for Nixon, who would quickly become enthusiastic, then adamant about his decision to take the next steps towards ending the draft. Nixon delivered his address to the CBS Radio Network on October 17, 1968. The address, “The All Volunteer Force,” was written by Martin Anderson and Nixon’s senior speech writer Ray Price.
And yet, to say Objectivists ended the draft would be going too far:
If Martin Anderson called himself an Objectivist intellectual, if he had made an Objectivist moral case against the draft, if Nixon and the Gates Commission had been convinced on these terms, then there would be a strong case for saying that Objectivists ended the draft. But these things are simply not true. The end of the draft was a goal for Objectivists, but not their doing. The success of the all-volunteer army is a validation of an Objectivist tenet—that the moral is the practical—but it isn’t Objectivism’s victory.
Check out the report for yourself.
The point is not to notch victories for the philosophy, Rice writes, but that in an age of collectivist thinking Objectivism “offers the alternative values and the consistently principled arguments which would counteract the draft and bar absolutely its return, in any form of national service.”
I find this very unpersuasive. There’s a strange tendency among Objectivists to claim a monopoly on individual values, and that along with individualism one must accept all the other metaphysical mumbo-jumbo, but it’s historically unsound. While the noninterventionist Old Right had been mostly swept away by the late 1960s, their critiques did, and still do, have power, no matter how “collectivist” their concern for war’s effect on the American character may have been. The same year Nixon announced his intention to abolish the draft, Murray Rothbard wrote in Ramparts that when he joined the right wing, “There was no question as to where the intellectual right of that day stood on militarism and conscription: it opposed them as instruments of mass slavery and mass murder. Conscription, indeed, was thought far worse than other forms of statist controls and incursions…”
Not to mention Rand’s own positions on anti-communism and the draft were, well, complicated. In an interview she referred to draft dodgers as “bums” and said if their reason for doing so was an unwillingness to fight against the Soviet Union, “not only don’t they deserve amnesty, they deserve to be sent permanently to Russia or North Vietnam at the public’s expense.” She opposed interventions in principle but was an ardent anti-communist. She argued that distinguishing between combatants and noncombatants in wartime was immoral. In the lecture Rice notes as being most influential to the Gates Commission, “The Wreckage of the Consensus,” Rand specifically argues against withdrawal from Vietnam, calling it an act of “appeasement”:
To continue it is senseless—to withdraw from it would be one more act of appeasement on our long, shameful record. The ultimate result of appeasement is a world war, as demonstrated by World War II; in today’s context, it may mean a nuclear world war.
In other words, Rand opposed the thing that would have brought an end to the draft most quickly. She said there was no such thing as a “proper solution” to the war, but one surmises from her other positions that the best possible option, in her view, would be to bomb the Vietnamese people into oblivion.
Today the only supporters of the draft seem to be Rep. Charlie Rangel–Women in combat? Great! Draft them too!—and the occasional New York Times contributor, and they usually do so in the name of racial or socioeconomic equity. It’s mostly a notional debate. Yet if in the realm of foreign relations Objectivism’s lessons are rare and morally outrageous, why should one base his or her opposition to the draft there?
(I don’t mean to knock Rice in all of this, she and I serve together on the board of Alumni for Liberty, and her research really is excellent, but I think this is an important debate. Not least because an Objectivist now leads Washington’s lone noninterventionist think tank and once sponsored an ad in the New York Times with the title, referring to Iran, “End States Who Sponsor Terrorism.” Not sanction them. Not invade them. End them.)