Ayn Rand And The Enforcement Of Contracts


One of the cornerstones of Rand’s ethical system is that force should not be used except for retaliation. She would not, for instance, be in favor of the “pre-emptive” strike. However, if someone uses force on you, you may strike back… Well, actually, you would normally get the government to be your bulldog and strike back for you, via the criminal justice system.

It turns out that Rand painted herself into a corner with this force thing.  She was convinced that for Capitalism to work, the government, as Ultimate Enforcer, must take on the role of enforcing contracts. However, when someone breaks a contract, it’s not like they’ve just clobbered you over the head or used some other type of physical force. They’ve basically just unilaterally renegotiated the terms of the contract. Therefore, if the government came in using their police power against contract-breakers, said government would be guilty of using force first-– a fundamental no-no of Rand’s.

Furthermore, Rand is against government stepping in to act as consumer protector. She believes (and here, I believe, exceedingly erroneously) that each person in a free market will behave properly in order to protect his Reputation. A businessperson would not want word to get around that their products were unsafe or their claims bogus or their workplaces dangerous– for if it did, claims Rand, they would go out of business from lack of customers or workers. (Again, I stand amazed at how often the greatest philosophers just don’t “get” the real world). And I hate to sound soft-hearted, but even if Rand’s Reputation argument were correct, I don’t particularly like the idea that thousands of people must suffer or die first while word of bad behavior was getting out.

But in the case of contracts, Rand obviously does NOT feel that her Reputation argument is enough to protect contract-makers.  To get around this problem, she expands the concept of first-use of “force” or “violence” to a ludicrous degree, considering the unfulfillment of contractual terms a use of “force.” And– importantly– Rand welcomes government regulation here.


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