I’m still subjecting myself to Leonard Peikoff’s podcast, in part because I still find Peikoff funny, even though he’s clearly kind of losing it. (And the fact that he sometimes mixes it up on his podcast by posting extremely old recordings where he had his shit together only hammers that point home.) I think I may have explained that, even though I’m increasingly disagreeing with Yaron Brook, I still think it’s important to listen to his podcasts… Because basically, if I feel compelled to defend attacks on Objectivism, I should know what one of the chief spokesmen for Objectivism is saying to make us all look like idiots.
In the podcast from February 2nd, Brook fields the following question:
Q: Okay, the first question we have is kind of a follow-up on a previous answer I gave regarding the responsibility of the United States to protect the rights of its citizens abroad. The questioner posits that for U.S. citizens, the government should always be protecting their rights abroad and helping them if their property is seized or if they’re in trouble in a foreign country that it’s the U.S.’s responsibility always to protect its citizens.
A: In a sense, that’s right, but I don’t completely agree with her, ’cause I think she’s excluding the possibility, for example, that U.S. citizens are doing things that are really, really stupid. If the U.S. has no diplomatic relations with North Korea, and some American decides to fly in there, or to sneak in there or whatever, I, as an American, do not want to be responsible for the action of this irresponsible individual. And they get captured by the North Koreans, and the North Koreans are doing all kinds of stuff…
I want my country engaged in activities that protect, in a sense, responsible citizens. If the government has already said, “Look, don’t go to North Korea,” and you do, I think you’re on your own. So I do think the government needs to present, in a sense, a list of countries, and what it’s willing to do given those countries. Certain countries should be off bounds for Americans in terms of government protection, where they know they’re not going to get that protection overseas.
Now, the second part of the question: she questions my arguing that the government should stand by American corporations whose property is seized overseas. She says, “Look, corporations are not individuals, and therefore, it’s not the role of government to defend them.”
So, what are corporations? This brings up a much bigger question. Corporations are just legal entities owned by individuals. So what’s the difference between a corporation and a self-proprietorship? If I have a business, and I own 100% of it, and I’m a U.S. citizen, and in the context of me running this business, the business opens up operations in Brazil, and I get tangled in some issue with the Brazilian government, is it the responsibility of the U.S. government to protect me? Well, I think she would say, “Yes, you’re a U.S. citizen. Even though it’s this business entity that’s in trouble, it’s 100% owned by you; therefore, it’s okay.”
But now we have a corporation, and the corporation is owned by a hundred different American citizens, or a thousand different American citizens, or a million different American citizens—it doesn’t matter. As an American corporation—the corporation is just a legal construct, but all it represents is the fact that it has lots of owners.
Now, here I’m not going to address all the issues of limited liability and so on; I’ve done that elsewhere. You can also get my course on the corporation from the Ayn Rand Institute eStore, where I delve into those. But here, just in the sense of protecting rights overseas, when you’re protecting the “rights” of a corporation, all you’re doing is protecting the rights of its owners. And its owners are—now, I’m assuming it’s an American corporation; therefore, its owners are Americans.
So, no, absolutely corporations’ property should be protected overseas by the U.S. government if it’s an American corporation owned by Americans. Your rights don’t end as an individual when you form a business with a bunch of other individuals, and form it in a legal way that’s called a corporation. We have to get rid of this whole animosity towards corporations that exists among so many people in the free-market world.
The same is true of free speech: it’s not that corporations have free speech; it’s that the individuals who own the corporations have free speech. Therefore, all the corporation is doing when it speaks is speaking for the owners. So, when we apply free speech principals to the corporation, it’s just extending the free speech rights that are with their owners to this legal construct. It’s the owners who have the rights, and through them, the corporation has rights. But again, a corporation is not an individual; it’s a legal entity which is owned by individuals, and those individuals’ rights don’t go away ’cause they formed this legal entity.
Boiled down to its essentials, the question is this: if an American citizen breaks a law overseas, is it the obligation of the American government to protect their rights? Brook’s answer is basically, “Yes,” with some conditions. For those unfamiliar with or confused by the Objectivist perspective on the role of government, answering “Yes” under any circumstances should be regarded as, at the very least, slightly insane.