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Ayn Rand on Courts’ Subpoena Power and Compulsory Jury Duty (and Eminent Domain)

One problem with minarchism is that it makes it difficult to find a principled opposition to various state policies and actions that violate individual rights. And just as controls breed controls,1 one compromise leads to another. Ayn Rand, for example, maintained that the subpoena power was legitimate–that state courts could legitimately compel people to show up at court to give testimony or evidence in a trial.2 However, she argued against compulsory jury duty. But if the state courts can compel witnesses to attend trial, why can’t it compel people to serve as jurors? In fact, Rand’s “intellectual heir” Leonard Peikoff makes just this argument.3 Some Objectivists, such as Diana Hsieh, disagree,4 but as Peikoff’s ex-wife, Amy Peikoff, says, “What I am trying to figure out is whether the jury issue is more like the subpoena issue, or instead is the same as military service or compulsory taxation.”5

Another issue that some minarchists waver over is eminent domain. Richard Epstein, in his book Takings, builds an entire political theory around the idea that the state is justified because it can take private property when the taking generates enough surplus proceeds to compensate the victim and thus make everyone overall better off. Ayn Rand initially favored eminent domain, as indicated in Murray Rothbard’s correspondence, because the Constitution implicitly authorized it–until around 1954, when Herb Cornuelle convinced her to oppose eminent domain.6 Neo-Objectivist Tibor Machan still argues that eminent domain may be legitimate.7

Then, of course, there is also Rand’s half-baked views on taxation. She claimed the minimal state was legitimate, yet she was honest and perspicacious enough to realize that compulsory taxes are illegitimate (though, if I recall, she put elimination of taxes low on the list of important reforms she would press for). She opined that the state could perhaps be financed by some voluntary scheme–donations, contract fees, or a lottery. None of which make sense.

  1. See my post Controls breed controls, Monopolies breed monopolies. []
  2. Ayn Rand interview with Raymond Newman: See 35:44 – 37:05 for her brief discussion of subpoenas; Rothbard’s brief mention of this in his The Sociology of the Ayn Rand Cult. []
  3. Dr. Peikoff’s podcast questions on compulsory juries and subpoenas: June 7th, 2010 and July 19th, 2010; see also ARCHNblog, Do They Just Make This Stuff Up?. []
  4. See Hsieh’s Noodlefood podcast #78; Don’t Let it Go, “Jury Duty” post. []
  5. Amy Peikoff’s defense of compulsory jury duty; see also Association for Objective Law discussion of the subpoena power. []
  6. See my post Ayn Rand Finally Right about the First-to-File US Patent System. []
  7. See my post Before Vandanarchists, there were … Randanarchists! []
{ 7 comments… add one }
  • Ronald C. Shapiro October 3, 2011, 2:31 pm

    As for Eminent Domain. Let’s look at using Austrian Economics of Subjective Marginal Utility for the Property of the owner. Said owner’s valuation is different from any Eminent Domain Authority’s costing out of the Property. Therefore in MinArchism a price truly can’t be set.

    In a voluntary system of mutual support, ie, the “Old West” Cattlemen s Associations, Gold Miners Associations I believe most people would sell their property for the Common Good of the Freely Membered Association. At least in the sense that Prior Sales of others’ property having benefited most everyone. Any Meeting where there’s a disposition of Property and a Hard Refusal takes place, the Refuser/Property Owner could terminate his/her membership in the Association ( the refuser’s like minded friends as well ). Perhaps the Specter of losing Members will temper the predilection of the ‘Grabbier’ Associations.

    A good case for Subsidiarity

  • Brian Hibbs October 6, 2011, 5:33 pm

    Might you elaborate on why voluntary methods don’t make sense? In Indiana we have a state lottery that has consistently generated revenue for the state which has allowed for lower taxes.

    • Stephan Kinsella October 6, 2011, 5:37 pm

      the state outlaws private gambling/lotteries, so is able to charge a monopoly price. How can you not know this? If the state could not outlaw competition how could it compete with private lotteries? How could the post office compete with FedEx if it did not have a monopoly?

  • terrymac October 12, 2011, 8:00 am

    Suppose the State does not outlaw competing lotteries. It must then compete with lotteries which may have lower costs and better odds, since private lotteries need not support the State.

    Lower returns do not necessarily mean that State lotteries would fail to attract revenues; some customers might choose to support the more expensive lottery (where the house takes a higher percentage) for the psychic satisfaction of supporting the State, in the same way that people often buy lottery tickets from charities.

    Some people choose the State lottery today (as opposed to playing the numbers in a private venue) out of a belief that they are helping “the elderly” or “education.” In a hypothetical minarchy, they might believe themselves to be “supporting law and order and defense.”

    There are stronger arguments against the State than the question of whether a State can be voluntarily funded. A greater concern is that a State which judges cases against itself has an inherent conflict of interest and a predisposition to decide in favor of itself.

  • bob December 12, 2011, 5:03 pm

    Amy Peikoff is Leonard’s ex-wife, not daughter.

  • the achilles tendon December 12, 2011, 7:18 pm

    The primary moral philosophic argument involved in Objectivism (that you should not be forced by the gov. to do anything you don’t want to) is at odds with imminent domain. Yet at the same time, it is clear that the use of imminent domain leads to better economic success. Just look at China’s economy vs India’s economy. 30 years ago, India was wealthier. Now, China has done much better than India because its government is stronger and better at forcing its people to put infrastructure in place.

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