Ayn Rand in South Africa

In its current form libertarianism and its worship of the market is utterly irrelevant to South Africa.

Car guards in Maboneng, a hipster neighborhood in Johannesburg. Image credit Francisco Anzola via Flickr (CC).

Prince Albert, a backwater town in South Africa’s Karoo region, was the site of a truly world historic event on October 20th, 2013. The event in question was the official launch of the latest addition to our growing register of political parties — namely the South African Libertarian Party. (By the way, at its launch he party also made sure they didn’t elect the only black member, who helped found the party.) Claiming inspiration from the prehistoric congressman from Texas, Ron Paul (he is also a Tea Party favorite), and that notorious Roman crank Cato the Younger — the Libertarian party looks set to storm the ballot boxes “Atlas Shrugged” in hand as they get crank South African reddit users to the polls in numbers.

But are they really necessary when there is another new entrant to the political scene talking libertarian master theorist Friedrich Hayek’s language of “economic freedom”? I am of course talking the Economic Freedom Fighters, led by former ANC Youth League president Julius Malema.

Surely their radical program based upon land expropriation without compensation, nationalization and their commie pinko headgear is the very antithesis to libertarianism worship of property rights? One might ask. But is this really the case? I for one believe the only rational position for South African libertarians to take in our current political context is to Juju and co in EFF if they are to stay true to their own ethical and moral imperatives demanded by their ideology.

Libertarianism intellectual roots in its more sophisticated articulates can be located primarily in the founding father of liberal theory — John Locke, as well as a number of eclectic economists and political theorists — primarily the so-called Austrian school of economics. The less sophisticated versions spout the wisdom of a cult called objectivism originating from the work of one tik-addled, pop novelist and welfare recipient known to the world as Ayn Rand.

Post-Rand, the American political philosopher Robert Nozick revitalized libertarian theory with his book Anarchy, State and Utopia. The book itself was a response to his Harvard colleague’s John Rawls A Theory of Justice — a treatise on liberal egalitarian theory which is pretty much the most important text in analytic political theory.

In the book Nozick takes the Lockean view that individuals in the state of nature are free “to order their actions and dispose their possession and persons as they think fit” (1974: 10). The essential problem at the heart of this situation is that there exists no effective or just way to settle disputes over individual rights and private property. There exists no fair manner to enforce individual rights. This is where the need for civil government arises (Nozick, 1974: 11-12). Now the fundamental purpose of the state in this sense is to protect and enforce an individual’s right to private property, any attempt by the state to interfere with one’s right to private property as an attack one’s rights and a form of tyranny. Following this he lays a theory of distributive justice and property rights known as “entitlement theory”

Entitlement Theory can be outlined as follows:

  • A principle of justice in acquisition – This principle deals with the initial acquisition of holdings. It is an account of how people first come to own common property, what types of things can be held, and so forth.
  • A principle of justice in transfer – This principle explains how one person can acquire holdings from another, including voluntary exchange and gifts.
  • A principle of rectification of injustice – how to deal with holdings that are unjustly acquired or transferred, whether and how much victims can be compensated, how to deal with long past transgressions or injustices done by a government, and so on.

In South Africa blacks were forcible dispossessed of their land in a historical process which began with the arrival of Dutch explorers to the Cape back when those monstrous black hats were all the rage, a series of rather bloody ‘border wars’ in which sturdy Afrikaners and red-coated British slaughtered the natives and took their stuff. Eventually codifying dispossession in law through the 1913 land act and later the forced removals of Apartheid and the creation of dumping grounds otherwise known as Bantustans.

This by the standards outlined by Nozick clearly outlines any conception of a just principle of acquisition of property and following this clearly mandates a principle of the rectification of injustice. And before the comment section is stormed by those who put forward the lie that the land was empty or that the blacks were colonialists too and all such other spurious propaganda — I’ll just say denying the reality of our history and the violence of the past put you on the same level as those who deny the Arminian genocide or make apologetics for the slave society known as the American confederacy (something popular among US libertarians). Furthermore much of this process happened within living memory.

How then could this past injustice be rectified, while millions of black South Africans remain in poverty, without land, while those employed are paid far less than living wage? As far as I can see it would be to pursue a principle of radical land redistribution and returning property rights to the original occupants of the land or compensating the victims with something more than the symbolic ‘reconciliation’ of the TRC. Here libertarians if they are truly committed to a theory of justice which demands legitimate compensation for past dispossession must either put forward a radical redistributive program which brings results unlike our pathetic market based response to the question of land.

In our current political landscape there is only one political party that has put forward such a program and has a decent chance of having some impact among voters — the EFF. The EFF has made the point of land appropriation without compensation one of their seven non-negotiable points. While libertarians might share some distaste for this method and the EFF’s other policies, particularly because they think public services and such are the first steps to totalitarianism and the camps. They should put this aside for the sake  of justice and the sacred value of property rights, as part of a strategy eventually leading to Freemarket Utopia put forward by Ivo Vegter in the Daily Maverick every week.

I’ll leave the details of the libertarian entry up the libertarians or let them put forward some sort of radical redistributive program other than attacking workers and unions and attempting to get rid of the minimum wage. But in its current form libertarianism and its worship of the market is utterly irrelevant to South Africa.

Further Reading

Edson in Accra

It happened in 1969. But just how did he world’s greatest, richest and most sought-after footballer at the time, end up in Ghana?

The dreamer

As Africa’s first filmmakers made their unique steps in Africanizing cinema, few were as bold as Djibril Diop Mambéty who employed cinema to service his dreams.

Socialismo pink

A solidariedade socialista na Angola e Moçambique pós-coloniais tornou as pessoas queer invisíveis. Revisitar esse apagamento nos ajuda a reinventar a libertação de forma legítima.