Full Context - An International Objectivist Publication
Full Context - An International Objectivist Publication Full Context - An International Objectivist Publication Full Context - An International Objectivist Publication Full Context - An International Objectivist Publication Full Context - An International Objectivist Publication Full Context - An International Objectivist Publication

Interview with
Keith Edwards
by Karen Reedstrom

Biographical note


Keith EdwardsIn the following excerpts from his conversation with Full Context editor Karen Reedstrom, Edwards vigorously defends the role of party-based political action, and urges Libertarians and Objectivists to end their hostilities and recognize the contributions that they have both made to the cause of freedom and individual rights.

* * *

Q: The early organizers of the Libertarian Party—Don Ernsberger and Dave Walter, for example—they called themselves Objectivists. How did a party founded by so many people who admired Rand’s ideas end up so criticized by Rand and her followers?

Edwards: Most of the people, particularly Ernsberger (and I know Don) are very strong ethical people, and they were very much affected by Rand. And most of them, like me, got into the political world back during the Goldwater campaign. In fact, at our last convention we were remarking how many of us got our start there. One of the things we liked about Barry Goldwater was that he was a guy who had a lot of integrity. When he said something you knew that he believed it. Probably 95% of his voting record was very consistent, which may be an all time record for a politician. So I think we are all highly motivated by ethics and I can’t explain why Rand was as violently opposed as she was, except that some of the people in the early movement, not so much in the party, were outright anarchists. And I think she decided to tar everybody with the same brush. I wouldn’t want to ascribe to her the motive of jealously or anything, but let’s face it, the Libertarian movement took off like a shot at the same time that the Objectivist movement was collapsing and I don’t think that she was very happy about seeing a bunch of people running around talking about freedom who hadn’t declared their allegiance to her.

But there was no way to declare our allegiance to her anymore because the whole movement had collapsed with the departure of Branden. After all, Branden was a great promoter of the philosophy and once he left there was nothing left, and Leonard Peikoff certainly was not going to be able to do it and most of the other people who were still around are not the kind of people who would build a movement. They’re not that friendly towards people and I think Rand missed a big bet, because there’s a very large segment of the Libertarian movement that has been influenced by her, in fact, every poll that has been taken shows that she is the most influential author among Libertarians.

Q: What can bridge the gap between Objectivists and Libertarians?

Edwards: You cannot communicate by excommunicating. The Objectivist movement has done that from almost day one. And that’s why I’m very much a fan of David Kelley. He has brought tolerance back into the Objectivist movement. I think that will bridge the gap between Objectivists and Libertarians. That is my goal. I want to see all Libertarians operating on the Objectivist ethics, and I would like to see all Objectivists supporting Libertarianism. After all, Objectivism is, politically, in the Libertarian spectrum, and I think that the Objectivist ethics is by far the most rational base that anybody could find for Libertarianism.


Q: [One] criticism of the party is that it has no specific moral base, that it practices a moral ecumenicism, that without defending rational egoism it will be ineffective or disintegrate into arguing splinter groups. What is your view?

Edwards: I’ve never known a political party that had a strong, overtly philosophical base going back into metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics. The political principle of the Libertarian Party is that no one has the right to initiate the use of force against someone else. That is an ethical conclusion that comes directly out of Objectivism. The wording of the preamble to our platform was chosen by Objectivist-influenced people. We have always maintained that any kind of violence that is initiatory is wrong, and so there is an implied moral base there. But political parties do no succeed by standing around giving long lectures on philosophy, they assume that most of the people that come into the party are people who already have come to conclusions about violence or other things.


Q: Some people contend that it would be better to support the Mackinac Center [a Michigan-based conservative/libertarian think-tank], giving their money and time, instead of the Libertarian Party. Instead of a political model, wouldn’t it be better to energize support for education, instead of people just having meetings for twenty years? What is the Libertarian success rate?

Edwards: Any political movement has to take a multi-faceted approach. We are very supportive of the Mackinac Center although they say some things that we don’t quite agree with—the same thing with Cato. The think-tank idea is great and those are run, to quite an extent, by Libertarians. As a matter of fact, most of Cato is Libertarian. A former state chair of the Libertarian Party of Michigan has been involved in the Mackinac Center now for the last decade. We support the idea of Libertarian magazines such as Reason and some of the foundations such as The Future of Freedom Foundation. There are a great many areas in which Libertarians have worked, but we get most of our attention through politics. I wouldn’t be running around speaking before all these high school and college groups if we didn’t have a political party. That’s where the invitations are directed and I take advantage of that and I hope the rest of the party around the country does the same.

We are going to expand our speakers bureau in the next year or so, so that by the ’98 election we’re going to make every school district in the state aware of the fact that we have speakers available. We are going to refine our teaching techniques, so there’s just all kinds of things Libertarians can do. ... The International Society for Individual Liberty is very effective in introducing libertarian ideas in Europe. A good many people in the Czech government have been influenced by the libertarian literature. Vaclav Klaus, the prime minister, has attended a number of Libertarian gatherings in the past. The former mayor of Moscow is another one. So we’re very active all over the world right now. It’s a rapidly growing movement.

We’re out there busting our butts to do this. The Objectivist movement is doing nothing, outside of holding an occasional conference—that’s all they do.

They don’t do the things Branden used to do. I’m not a great lover of Nathaniel Branden, but he was a master promoter. He had a tremendous idea and did a terrific job of spreading the word and it was just growing so fast! The Objectivist movement doesn’t have that anymore and that is a real shame. It is the Libertarian Party that is carrying on the battle now and Objectivists have to get back in the game.


from Full Context, Vol. 9, No. 7
(Mar. 1997)

Issues of Full Context containing the full transcripts of our interviews are available here.

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National Libertian Party - Michigan organization

Michigan Libertarian Party site

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