In the period after the publication of Atlas Shrugged in 1957, a young Murray Rothbard became involved in the Ayn Rand circle in New York. Rothbard brought several other young libertarians from his Circle Bastiat into the group.
Rothbard had been invited into the circle by Nathanial Branden after he wrote to Rand about how great her accomplishment was in writing Atlas Shrugged. Branden writes in Judgment Day:”The letter was movingly and beautifully written, profoundly insightful concerning what Ayn had accomplished in Atlas and full of what seemed like the most genuine appreciation and admiration. It was almost the model of an ideal fan letter, at the highest intellectual level.” (page 259).
It didn’t last. Rothbard came to see in the Ayn Rand circle what others came to see – acolytes looking up to a guru. After several months in the Ayn Rand circle, in a letter to Ludwig von Mises, Rothbard wrote that “the fanaticism with which they worship Rand and Branden has to be seen to be believed, the whole atmosphere being a kind of combination of a religious cult and a Trotskyite cell.” (quoted in Mises: the Last Night of Liberalism by Guido Huelsmann)
Nathanial Branden had his own reaction to Murray Rothbard:”Murray lived in New York and Ayn invited him to a meeting. While he clearly had striking intellectual gifts, I felt a stab of disappointment almost the first moment. fear and malice seemed to leap from his face.”
Soon Rothbard’s anarchism became an issue. Branden writes in Judgment Day (page 260): “We had a few debates with Murray about government and its necessity, which were initially calm and good natured. One evening he brought with him his own circle of friends —young students of economics, history and the like —all of whom were anarchists and all of whom, at least to my perception, had something of Murray’s manner about them, something fearful and given to sarcasm and hints of unidentified superiority. In appearance and style they were indistinguishible from any of the young socialists I had ever encountered.”
Objectivism and Libertarianism are both philosophies focused on individualism, and respect for individuality. Even such philosophies can lead to cult-like behavior. Murray Rothbard and Nathanial Branden have each warned us about cult behavior. It is up to us to protect our individuality and up to us to respect the individuality of others.
(By Gene Berkman, Editor, California Libertarian Report)