The recent expansion of so-called "hate crime" legislation by the US Congress has drawn a storm of condemnation from Conservatives and Libertarians, occasionally echoed by other observers, including some who consider themselves Objectivists. Yet if one is to actually apply Ayn Rand's philosophy to the evaluation of such laws, one needs to strip away the false labels and intrinsicist arguments - and evaluate what is really being legislated independently of either.
"Hate crime" is a bad label, because hate is just as much a part of violence that falls outside the scope of this legislation, as of violence punished by longer prison terms under it. What the legislation actually concerns (and what, unfortunately, only Objectivists can accurately name) is crime motivated by collectivism: by animus, not against the specific individual whom the criminal assaults or kills, but against a collective classification to which the victim happens to belong. How should such motivation affect the punishment?
There are three distinct (albeit closely interwoven) reasons why crimes are punished, and need to be punished. The first is retribution: the criminal has inflicted an injustice on the victim, and justly deserves punishment. The second is retaliation: the prospect of punishment reduces, proactively, the incidence of crime. The third is prevention: the incarceration of the criminal prevents him from committing additional crimes while incarcerated - and, if provided and made use of, rehabilitation services may reduce the criminal's inclination to commit additional crimes after his eventual release.
How is each of these considerations affected when a crime is motivated by collectivism?
In an objective legal system, retribution is proportional to the product of two measurements: the harm done to the victim, and the irrationality of the criminal's action. If it were shown that no non-consensual harm was done to anyone, or that an accused person's action had been rational (for example, to save his own life in an emergency) then no criminal sanctions are objectively called for. To harm another individual not because of anything that individual has chosen or has done, but from bigotry about facts that were outside the victim's choice, such as where the victim was born, or her race, or her sexual orientation and so on - in other words, crime motivated by collectivism - is, outside of some barely imaginable emergency contexts, at the outer extreme of irrationality, and therefore at the outer extremity of injustice that deserves retribution.
Retaliation works indirectly, by enhancing, through the prospect of punishment, the disincentive against irrational (and therefore unjust) action. A greater irrationality - and collectivism is close to the acme of irrationality, exceeded only by such self-sacrifice as attempting to carry out a suicide bombing - needs to be met by the prospect of proportionally greater retaliation.
Similarly for prevention. Someone who strikes a cheating spouse or an abusive boss is acting out, however irrationally, against a specific individual's actions; such a person is not likely to endanger, after his release, anyone other than someone who would then choose to marry him or to hire him in spite of his criminal record. Once the requirements of retribution and retaliation have been met, such a person can be safely released. On the other hand, a collectivist who is out to bash or kill Mexicans or Jews or homosexuals or Blacks cannot be released, when there are many other potential victims against whom he bears the same anti-rational, collective animus, and whom his release would put in harm's way.
So by all means, let us call so-called "hate crimes" by their right name: crimes motivated by collectivism. And punish them accordingly.