The Virtue of Selfishness
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"Objectivist ethics proudly advocates and upholds rational selfishness."
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“Ayn Rand is the greatest human being who has ever lived. Ayn Rand, by virtue of her philosophical genius, is the supreme arbiter of any issue pertaining to what is rational, moral or appropriate to man’s life on earth.” So said Nathaniel Brandon, her collaborator on this book, to which Scott McLemee has added “Or so she admitted with all due modesty, whenever the subject came up.”
Born in 1905 in St. Petersburg as Alisa Zinovyevna Rosenbaum, Rand emigrated to the USA, where she found fame in writing plays, and novels such as ‘The Fountainhead’ and ‘Atlas Shrugged’ which brought a Russian-style dogmatic vehemence to a hard and clear version of American libertarianism. With the true convert’s passion, she took to the idea of 'American exceptionalism' - that The United States of America is simply better than other countries, “the first moral society in history” as she put it, a society with an absolute right - indeed a duty - to invade and destroy any society which does not match its concept of 'freedom'.
As a political polemicist, her words have reached the heights of power. But where she outrages technical philosophers is her having for having achieved those heights largely by simply making stuff up. Although she pretends to be a precise and analytic philosopher in the mould of Aristotle, and uses lots of philosophical words to impress, she is accused of capturing the gullible by the ingenious trick of simply inventing her own definitions of terms like 'conservative', 'altruism', 'liberal', 'social', 'the real world' or 'most people'. Indeed, she calls her system “Objectivism”, yet it is almost entirely subjective - she usually begins with moral judgement and only later finds reasons for it, she rarely objectively relates her ideas to the external world, and when she quotes from authority it is frequently the authority of her own previous works. When you yourself make up what it is you think your opponents might be saying, it is very easy to look cleverer than they are, at least to those of little experience.
Rand remains little known outside her adopted land, but there she has legions of fans - it would be wise to understand Rand if one is to make sense of that, rather important, country.
Laissez-faire: (French: ‘leave alone’) The economic theory, particularly associated with the 18th Century philosophers George Whatley, Benjamin Franklin and Jeremy Bentham that government should never intervene in business affairs.
John Galt: A character in Ayn Rand's novel Atlas Shrugged
Shmoo: Lumpy, jolly, cartoon creatures devised by Al Capp, and immensely popular in the 1940's and 50's. Shmoos took joy in sacrificing themselves for humans - providing delicious flesh, a hide ideal as leather or timber and eyes that make perfect suspender buttons - the supreme herd animal and a supposed satire on the debates about a welfare state.
Rand's fame rests largely on her novels - this book, her last major work, represents a final summation of her political opinions. The original published version also included essays entitled Counterfeit Individualism, The Divine Right of Stagnation, The Psychology of Pleasure and Isn't Everyone Selfish?, all by Nathaniel Brandon. But, as Brandon later fell out with Rand and became highly critical of the whole project of “Objectivism”, I've omitted them here.
The Virtue of Selfishness
"Objectivist ethics proudly advocates and upholds rational selfishness."
"Selfishness" just means concern with one's own interests. The Objectivist holds that man must act for his own rational self-interest. Does man need values? Philosophers have avoided this question. So-called “society” is only the collection of individuals, so it cannot provide the answer, nor can “God”. Galt says that "Rationality is a matter of choice." Even the survival of parasites who loot, rob or cheat depends on victims who have rationally created things through their own productive work. A mere robot could have no values, but for humans that which furthers their own life is good, that which threatens it is evil. Even love is only good because one gains advantage from the loved one. One need not help others unless it furthers your own interests, though you might give essential aid for as long as an emergency lasts. Neither wealth, nor jobs, exist in given, limited, static quantity, waiting to be divided. Benefits have to be produced, so there can’t really be any conflict of interests among rational men. There can never be compromise between freedom and control. To submit to any control is to open the way to complete subjugation. One must never fail to pronounce moral judgment, never fail to take sides (for there is no ‘gray’, only ‘black’ and ‘white’) - which means taking responsibility for your judgments. If you want to help the poor, the ill and the disadvantaged, you are free to do so, but no “society” can rightly force you to help others. State-run “humanitarian aid” and collectivized health care are akin to robbery. Socialism, solely run by power-lusting intellectuals, has failed, in England as well as Russia and Nazi Germany, because it tries to subordinate the real interests of real men with a non existent "society". It hides its failure behind grand monuments, unlike the splendid and freely-made skyline of America’s New York. Only true and free capitalism can uphold freedom. Unfree countries, with their show trials, political executions, censorship and nationalization of private property cannot claim any rights whatsoever. No free nation must, but any free nation can, invade them whenever they wish, to restore individual rights. The only duty of government is to protect individual rights, especially against violence. Taxation ought to be voluntary - perhaps by a lottery, or by taxing contracts. Racism is the foulest version of collectivization - treating individuals as mere parts of a group. Only truly free capitalism can guard against it. Guard yourself against moral intimidation, where your enemies say that only bad people can hold your views, by having moral certainty, and being willing to stand by it.
Squashed version edited by Glyn Hughes © 2011
In popular usage, the word "selfishness" is a synonym of evil; it conjures the murderous brute who tramples over piles of corpses to achieve his own ends. Yet the exact meaning is: concern with one's own interests. This concept does not tell us whether the concern is good or evil. It is the task of ethics to answer such questions.
Altruism declares that any action taken for the benefit of others is good, and any action taken for one's own benefit is evil. Hence the appalling immorality, the chronic injustice, the grotesque double standards, the insoluble conflicts and contradictions that have characterized human relationships and human societies throughout history. An industrialist who produces a fortune, and a gangster who robs a bank are regarded as equally immoral, since they both sought wealth for their own "selfish" benefit. Yet there is a fundamental moral difference between a man who sees his self-interest in production and a man who sees it in robbery. To redeem both man and morality, it is the concept of "selfishness" that one has to redeem.
The Objectivist ethics holds that the actor must always be the beneficiary of his action and that man must act for his own rational self-interest. But his right to do so is derived from his nature as man - and, therefore, it is not a license "to do as he pleases”.
THE OBJECTIVIST ETHICS
Since I am to speak on the Objectivist Ethics, I shall begin by quoting its best representative - John Galt, in ‘Atlas Shrugged’: "Yes, this is an age of moral crises. Your moral code has reached its climax, the blind alley at the end of its course. And if you wish to go on living, what you now need is not to return to morality... but to discover it."
The first question is not: What particular code of values should man accept? The first question is: Does man need values at all - and why?
No philosopher has given a rational, objectively demonstrable, scientific answer to the question. The greatest of all philosophers, Aristotle, did not regard ethics as an exact science; he based his ethical system on observations of what the noble and wise men of his time chose to do, leaving unanswered the questions of: why they chose to do it and why he evaluated them as noble and wise.
Most philosophers took the existence of ethics for granted. Many of them attempted to break the traditional monopoly of mysticism in the field of ethics and, allegedly, to define a rational, scientific, nonreligious morality. But their attempts consisted of trying to justify them on social grounds, merely substituting society for God.
This meant that "society" may do anything it pleases, since "the good" is whatever it chooses to do because it chooses to do it. And - since there is no such entity as "society," since society is only a number of individual men - this meant that some men (the majority or any gang that claims to be its spokesman) are ethically entitled to pursue and whims (or any atrocities) they desire to pursue. If you wonder why the world is now collapsing to a lower and ever lower rung of hell, this is the reason. If you want to save civilization, it is this premise of modern ethics - and of all ethical history that you must challenge.
I quote from Galt's speech: "There is only one fundamental alternative in the universe: existence or nonexistence - and it pertains to a single class of entities: to living organisms. Matter is indestructible, it cannot cease to exist. It is only a living organism that faces a constant alternative. It is only the concept of 'Life' that makes the concept of 'Value' possible."
Try to imagine an immortal, indestructible robot. Such an entity would not be able to have any values; it would have nothing to gain or to lose; it could not regard anything as for or against it. It could have no interests and no goals. But an organism's life is its standard of value: that which furthers its life is the good, that which threatens it is the evil.
Now in what manner does a human being discover the concept of "value" issue of "good or evil" in its simplest form? By means of the physical sensations of pleasure or pain. The capacity to experience pleasure or pain is innate in a man's body He has no choice about it. The physical sensation of pain is a warning signal, indicating that the organism is pursuing the wrong course of action. In the rare cases of children born without the capacity to experience physical pain; such children do not survive for long; they have no means of discovering what can injure them.
A plant has no choice of action. The range of actions required for the survival of the higher organisms is proportionate to the range of their consciousness. An animal is guided, not merely by immediate sensations, but by percepts. Its actions are not single, discrete responses to single, separate stimuli, but are directed by an integrated awareness of the perceptual reality confronting it. But an animal has no choice in the knowledge and the skills that it acquires; it can only repeat them generation after generation. An animal has no power to extend its knowledge or to evade it. In situations for which its knowledge is inadequate, it perishes - as, for instance, an animal that stands paralyzed on the track of a railroad in the path of a speeding train.
Reason is the faculty that identifies and integrates the material provided by man's senses. The act of focusing one's consciousness is volitional. Man can focus his mind to a full, active, purposefully directed awareness of reality - or he can unfocus it and let himself drift in a semiconscious daze. Existentially, the choice "to focus or not" is the choice "to be conscious or not." Metaphysically, the choice "to be conscious or not" is the choice of life or death.
Man has no "instincts" will tell him how to light a fire, how to weave cloth, how to make a wheel, how to make an airplane, how to perform an appendectomy, how to produce an electric light bulb or a box of matches. Yet his life depends on such knowledge - and only a volitional act of his consciousness can provide it.
A being who does not know automatically what is true or false, cannot know automatically what is right or wrong, what is good for him or evil. Yet he needs that knowledge in order to live. What, then, are the right goals for man to pursue? What are the values his survival requires? And this, ladies and gentlemen, is why man needs a code of ethics.
Ethics is not a mystic fantasy - nor a social convention - nor a dispensable, subjective luxury, to be switched or discarded in any emergency. I quote from Galt's speech: "Man has been called a rational being, but rationality is a matter of choice."
The standard of value of the Objectivist ethics - the standard by which one judges what is good or evil - is man's life, or: that which is required for man's survival qua man. Since reason is man's basic means of survival, that which is proper to the life of a rational being is the good; that which negates, opposes or destroys it is the evil.
If some men do not choose to think, but survive - by imitating and repeating, like trained animals, it still remains true that their survival is made possible only by those who did choose to think and to discover the motions they are repeating. The survival of such mental parasites depends on blind chance; their unfocused minds are unable to know whom to imitate, whose motions it is safe to follow. They are the men who march into the abyss, trailing after any destroyer who promises them to assume the responsibility they evade: the responsibility of being conscious.
If some men attempt to survive by means of brute force or fraud, by looting, robbing, cheating or enslaving the men who produce, it still remains true that their survival is made possible only by their victims, only by the men who choose to think and to produce the goods which they, the looters, are seizing. The
Objectivist ethics holds man's life as the standard of value - and his own life as the ethical purpose of every individual man. Its three cardinal values are: Reason, Purpose, Self-Esteem, with their three corresponding virtues: Rationality, Productiveness, Pride. Productive work is the central purpose of a rational man's life. Reason is the source and pride is the result.
The virtue of Rationality means the recognition and acceptance of reason as one's only source of knowledge, one's only judge of values and one's only guide to action. It means one's total commitment to a state of full, conscious awareness, to the maintenance of a full mental focus in all issues, a commitment to the fullest perception of reality within one's power and to the constant expansion of one's knowledge.
The virtue of Productiveness is the recognition of the fact that productive work is the process that sets man free of the necessity to adjust himself to his background, as animals do, and gives him the power to adjust his background to himself.
The virtue of Pride is the recognition of the fact "that as man must produce the physical values he needs to sustain his life, so he must acquire the values of character that make his life worth sustaining, - that as man is a being of self-made wealth, so he is a being of self-made soul." (Atlas Shrugged.)
The basic social principle of the Objectivist ethics is that just as life is an end in itself, so every living human being is an end in himself, not the means to the ends or the welfare of others - that man must live for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself.
But since man has no automatic knowledge, he can have no automatic values. His values, like all his premises, are the product either of his thinking or of his evasions. Man has no choice about his capacity to feel that something is good for him or evil, but what he will consider good or evil, what will give him joy or pain, what he will love or hate, desire or fear, depends on his standard of value.
Happiness is that state of consciousness which proceeds from the achievement of one's values. I quote from Galt's speech: "Happiness is a state of noncontradictory joy - a joy without penalty or guilt... Happiness is possible only to a rational man."
The maintenance of life and the pursuit of happiness are not two separate issues. "Happiness" can properly be the purpose of ethics, but not the standard. The philosophers who attempted to devise an allegedly rational code of ethics gave mankind nothing but a choice of whims: the "selfish" pursuit of one's own whims (Nietzsche) or “selfless" service to the whims of others (Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill, Comte and all social hedonists, whether they allowed man to include his own whims, or advised him to turn himself into a totally selfless "shmoo" that seeks to be eaten by others).
The moral cannibalism of all hedonist and altruist doctrines lies in the premise that the happiness of one man necessitates the injury of another. Today, most people hold this premise as an absolute not to be questioned. And when one speaks of man's right to exist for his own sake, for his own rational self-interest, most people assume automatically that this means his right to sacrifice others. Such an assumption is a confession of their own belief that to injure, enslave, rob or murder others is in man's self-interest. The Objectivist ethics proudly advocates and upholds rational selfishness - which means: the values required for man's survival qua man - for human survival - not the values produced by the desires, the emotions, the "aspirations," the feelings, the whims or the needs of irrational brutes, who have never outgrown the primordial practice of human sacrifices, have never discovered an industrial society and can conceive of no self-interest but that of grabbing the loot of the moment.
The principle of trade is the only rational ethical principle for all human relationships. It is the principle of justice. A trader is a man who earns what he gets and does not give or take the undeserved.
Love, friendship, respect, admiration are the emotional response of one man to the virtues of another, the spiritual payment given in exchange for the personal, selfish pleasure which one man derives from the virtues of another. To love is to value. The man who does not value himself, cannot value anything or anyone.
The basic political principle of the Objectivist ethics is: no man may initiate the use of physical force against others. Men have the right to use physical force only in retaliation and only against those who initiate it. The only proper, moral purpose of a government is to protect man's rights, which means: to protect him from physical violence - to protect his right to his own life, to his own liberty, to his own property and to the pursuit of his own happiness. Without property rights, no other rights are possible.
I will not attempt, in a brief lecture, to discuss the political theory of Objectivism. Those who are interested will find it presented in full detail in "Atlas Shrugged". I will say only that every political system is based on and derived from a theory of ethics - and that the Objectivist ethics is the moral base needed by that politico-economic system which, today, is being destroyed all over the world, destroyed precisely for lack of a moral, philosophical defense and validation: the original American system, Capitalism. When I say "capitalism," I mean a full, pure, uncontrolled, unregulated laissez-faire capitalism - with a separation of state and economics, in the same way and for the same reasons as the separation of state and church. A pure system of capitalism has never yet existed, not even in America; various degrees of government control had been undercutting and distorting it from the start. Capitalism is not the system of the past; it is the system of the future if mankind is to have a future.
I have presented the barest essentials of my system, but they are sufficient to indicate in what manner the Objectivist ethics is the morality of life - as against the three major schools of ethical theory, the mystic, the social, the subjective, which have brought the world to its present state and which represent the morality of death.
I will close with the words of John Galt, which I address, as he did, to all the moralists of altruism, past or present: "You have been using fear as your weapon and have been bringing death to man as his punishment for rejecting your morality. We offer him life as his reward for accepting ours."
THE ETHICS OF EMERGENCIES
The psychological results of altruism may be observed in the fact that a great many people approach ethics by asking such questions as: "Should one risk one's life to help a man who is: a) drowning, b) trapped in a fire, c) stepping in front of a speeding truck, d) hanging by his fingernails over an abyss?"
Altruism has destroyed the concept of any authentic benevolence or good will among men. It has indoctrinated men with the idea that any love, respect or admiration a man may feel for others is not and cannot be a source of his own enjoyment, but is a threat to his existence, a sacrificial blank check signed over to his loved ones.
Love and friendship are profoundly personal, selfish values: one gains a profoundly personal, selfish joy from the mere existence of the person one loves. It is one's own personal, selfish happiness that one seeks, earns and derives from love. A "selfless," "disinterested" love is a contradiction in terms: it means that one is indifferent to that which one values.
If a man who is passionately in love with his wife spends a fortune to cure her of a dangerous illness, it would be absurd to claim that he does it as a "sacrifice". His wife's survival is of greater value to the husband than anything else that his money could buy, it is of greatest importance to his own happiness and, therefore, his action is not a sacrifice. But suppose he let her die in order to spend his money on saving the lives of ten other women, none of whom meant anything to him - as the ethics of altruism would require. That would be a sacrifice. The Objectivist ethics would tell him: your highest moral purpose is the achievement of your own happiness, your money is yours, use it to save your wife, that is your moral right and your rational, moral choice.
The proper method of judging when or whether one should help another person is by reference to one's own rational self-interest. If one is drowning, one cannot expect a stranger to risk his life for one's sake, remembering that one's life cannot be as valuable to him as his own. It is on the ground of generalized good will and respect for the value of human life that one helps strangers in an emergency.
An emergency is an unchosen, unexpected event, limited in time, that creates conditions under which human survival is impossible - such as a flood, an earthquake, a fire, a shipwreck. It is only in emergency situations that one should volunteer to help strangers. For instance, a man who values human life and is caught in a shipwreck, should help to save his fellow passengers (though not at the expense of his own life). But this does not mean that after they all reach shore, he should devote his efforts to saving them from poverty, ignorance, neurosis or whatever other troubles they might have. Nor should he spend his life sailing the seven seas in search of shipwreck victims to save.
Suppose one hears that the man next door is ill and penniless. Illness and poverty are not metaphysical emergencies, they are part of the normal risks of existence; but since the man is temporarily helpless, one may bring him food and medicine, if one can afford it (as an act of good will, not of duty) or one may raise a fund among the neighbors to help him out. But this does not mean that one must support him from then on. One's sole obligation toward others, in this respect, is to maintain a social system that leaves men free to achieve, to gain and to keep their values.
The fact is that men do not live in lifeboats - and that the moral purpose of a man's life is the achievement of his own happiness. This does not mean that human life is of no value to him and that he has no reason to help others in an emergency. But it does mean that he does not subordinate his life to the welfare of others
THE "CONFLICTS" OF MEN'S INTERESTS
Some students of Objectivism find it difficult to grasp the Objectivist principle that "there are no conflicts of interests among rational men." "Suppose two men apply for the same job. Only one of them can he hired. Isn't this an instance of a conflict of interests ?"
There are four considerations in a rational man's view of his interests:
(a) Reality. The mere fact that a man desires something does not constitute a proof that the object of his desire is good, nor that its achievement is actually to his interest.
(b) Context. A rational man does not indulge in wistful longings for ends divorced from means. He supports his life by trading his products or services for the products or services of others.
(c) Responsibility. Most people evade the responsibility of judging the social world: "A world I never made" There is the girl who wishes to be loved, but never thinks of discovering what love is, and whether she possesses any virtues to be loved for. There is the man who wants a job, but never thinks of discovering what qualifications the job requires or what constitutes doing one's work well. A European architect of my acquaintance was talking - with great indignation - of the squalor of Puerto Ricans' living conditions. Then he described what wonders modern housing could do for them, including electric refrigerators and tiled bathrooms. I asked: "Who would pay for it?" He answered, in a faintly offended, almost huffy tone of voice: "Oh, that's not for me to worry about! An architect's task is only to project what should be done." That is the psychology from which all "social reforms" or "welfare states" or "noble experiments", to the destruction of the world, have come.
(d) Effort. A rational man knows that neither wealth nor jobs nor any human values exist in a given, limited, static quantity, waiting to be divided. He knows that all benefits have to be produced. If he encounters competition, he either meets it or chooses another line of work.
Now let us return to the question about the two men applying for the same job
(a) Reality. The mere fact that two men desire the same job does not constitute proof that either of them is entitled to it or deserves it, and that his interests are damaged if he does not obtain it.
(b) Context. Both men should know that if they desire a job, their goal is made possible only by the existence of a business concern able to provide employment - and that their competition for the job is to their interest.
(c) Responsibility. Neither man has the moral right to a job.
(d) Effort. Whoever gets the job, has earned it This benefit is due to his own merit - not to the "sacrifice" of the other man.
All of the above discussion applies only to the relationships among rational men and only to a free society. In a nonfree society, no pursuit of any interests is possible to anyone; nothing is possible but gradual and general destruction
DOESN'T LIFE REQUIRE COMPROMISE?
A compromise is an adjustment of conflicting claims by mutual concessions, where both parties agree upon some fundamental principle which serves as a base for their deal.
There can be no compromise between a property owner and a burglar; offering the burglar a single teaspoon of one's silverware would not be a compromise, but a total surrender. Once the principle of unilateral concessions is accepted, it is only a matter of time before the burglar would seize the rest. As an example of this process, observe the present foreign policy of the United States.
There can be no compromise between freedom and government controls; to accept "just a few controls" is to surrender the principle of inalienable individual rights and to substitute for it the principle of the government's unlimited, arbitrary power, thus delivering oneself into gradual enslavement. As an example of this process, observe the present domestic policy of the United States.
There can be no compromise on basic principles or on fundamental issues. What would you regard as a "compromise" between life and death? Or between truth and falsehood? Or between reason and irrationality?
The excuse given is that the "compromise" is only temporary and that one will reclaim one's integrity at some indeterminate future date. But one cannot achieve the victory of one's ideas by helping to propagate their opposite. There can be no compromise on moral principles. "In any compromise between food and poison, it is only death that can win. In any compromise between good and evil, it is only evil that can profit." (Atlas Shrugged.) The next time you are tempted to ask: "Doesn't life require compromise?" translate that question into its actual meaning: "Doesn't life require the surrender of that which is true and good to that which is false and evil?"
HOW DOES ONE LEAD A RATIONAL LIFE IN AN IRRATIONAL SOCIETY?
I will name only one principle: One must never fail to pronounce moral judgment. But to pronounce moral judgment is an enormous responsibility. There is, however, a court of appeal from one's judgments: objective reality. It is only in today's reign of amoral cynicism, subjectivism and hooliganism that men may imagine themselves free to utter any sort of irrational judgment and to suffer no consequences. If a man condemns America and extols Soviet Russia - if he attacks businessmen and defends juvenile delinquents - or if he denounces a great work of art and praises trash - it is the nature of his own soul that he confesses.
The moral principle to adopt is: "Judge, and be prepared to be judged." It is a task that requires the most precise, the most exacting, the most ruthlessly objective and rational process of thought. When one pronounces moral judgment, whether in praise or in blame, one must he prepared to answer "Why?" and to prove one's case - to oneself and to any rational inquirer.
Observe how many people evade, rationalize and drive their minds into a state of blind stupor, in dread of discovering that those they deal with - their "loved ones" or friends or business associates or political ruler - are not merely mistaken, but evil. If people did not indulge in such abject evasions all the claim that some contemptible liar "means well" - that a mooching bum "can't help it" - that a juvenile delinquent "needs love" - that a power-seeking politician is moved by patriotic concern for "the public good" - that communists are merely "agrarian reformers" - the history of the past few decades, or centuries, would have been different.
Ask yourself why totalitarian dictatorships find it necessary to pour money and effort into propaganda for their own helpless, chained, gagged slaves, who have no means of protest or defense. The answer is that even the humblest peasant or the lowest savage would rise in blind rebellion, were he to realize that he is being immolated, not to some incomprehensible "noble purpose," but to plain, naked human evil.
Observe also that moral neutrality necessitates a progressive sympathy for vice and a progressive antagonism to virtue. It is then that such formulas as "Nobody is ever fully right or fully wrong" and "Who am I to judge?" take their lethal effect.
THE CULT OF MORAL GRAYNESS
One of the most eloquent symptoms of the moral bankruptcy of today's culture, is a certain fashionable attitude toward moral issues, best summarized as: "There are no blacks and whites, there are only grays."
"Black and white," in this context, means "good and evil." And when a man has ascertained that one alternative is good and the other is evil, he has no justification for choosing a mixture. If, in a complex moral issue, a man struggles to determine what is right, and fails or makes an honest error, he cannot be regarded as "gray"; morally, he is "white." Errors of knowledge are not breaches of morality; no proper moral code can demand infallibility or omniscience.
But if, in order to escape the responsibility of moral judgment, a man closes his eyes and mind, if he evades the facts of the issue and struggles not to know, he cannot be regarded as "gray"; morally, he is as "black" as they come.
Observe, in politics, that the term extremism has become a synonym of "evil," regardless of the content of the issue (the evil is not what you are "extreme" about, but that you are "extreme" - i.e., consistent). Like a mixed economy, men of mixed premises may be called "gray"; but, in both cases, the mixture does not remain "gray" for long. "Gray," in this context, is merely a prelude to "black." There may be "gray" men, but there can be no "gray" moral principles. Morality is a code of black and white. Such are the reasons why - when one is asked: "Surely you don't think in terms of black-and-white, do you?" - the proper answer should be: "You're damn right I do!"
Objectivists will often hear a question such as: "What will be done about the poor or the handicapped in a free society?" Barbara Branden has answered: "If you want to help them, you will not be stopped." This is the essence of the whole issue - only individual men have the right to decide when or whether to help others; society - as an organized political system - has no rights in the matter at all.
Since nature does not guarantee automatic security, success and survival to any human being, it is only the dictatorial presumptuousness and the moral cannibalism of the altruist-collectivist code that permits a man to suppose (or idly to day- dream) that he can somehow guarantee such security to some men at the expense of others.
Hence the appalling recklessness with which men propose, discuss and accept "humanitarian" projects. "Medicare" is an example of such a project. "Isn't it desirable that the aged should have medical care in times of illness?" Considered out of context, the answer would be: yes, it is desirable. And it is at this point that the mental processes of a collectivized brain are cut off; the rest is fog. The fog hides such facts as the enslavement and, therefore, the destruction of medical science, the regimentation and disintegration of all medical practice, and the sacrifice of the professional integrity, the freedom, the careers, the ambitions, the achievements, the happiness, the lives of the very men who are to provide that "desirable" goal - the doctors.
There would be no controversy about the moral character of some young hoodlum who declared: "Isn't it desirable to have a yacht, to live in a penthouse and to drink champagne?" - and stubbornly refused to consider the fact that he had robbed a bank and killed two guards to achieve that "desirable" goal.
There is no moral difference between these two examples; the number of beneficiaries does not change the nature of the action, it merely increases the number of victims. The examples of such projects are innumerable: "Isn't it desirable to clean up the slums, or to have an educated public?" "Isn't science, or the conquest of space, desirable?
And here we come to the essence of the unreality - the savage, blind, ghastly, bloody unreality - that motivates a collectivized soul. The unanswered and unanswerable question in all of their "desirable" goals is: To whom? Desires and goals presuppose beneficiaries. Is science desirable? To whom? Not to the Soviet serfs who die of epidemics, filth, starvation, terror and firing squad - when some bright young men wave to them from space capsules circling over their human pigsties. And not to the American father who died of heart failure brought on by overwork, struggling to send his son through college - or to the mother who lost her child because she could not afford to send him to the best hospital. Progress can come only out of men's surplus, that is: from the work of those men whose ability produces more than their personal consumption requires. Capitalism is the only system where such men are free to function and where progress is accompanied, not by forced privations, but by a constant rise in the general level of prosperity, of consumption and of enjoyment of life.
All public projects are mausoleums, not always in shape, but always in cost. The next time you encounter one of those "public-spirited" dreamers who tells you rancorously that "some very desirable goals cannot be achieved without everybody's participation," tell him that if he cannot obtain everybody's voluntary participation, his goals had jolly well better remain unachieved.
And, if you wish, give him the following example. It is medically possible to take the corneas of a man's eyes after his death and transplant them to the eyes of a living man who is blind, thus restoring his sight. Would you advocate cutting out a living man's eye and giving it to a blind man, so as to "equalize" them? No? Then don't struggle any further with questions about "public projects" in a free society. You know the answer.
THE MONUMENT BUILDERS
What had once been an alleged ideal is now a ragged skeleton rattling like a scarecrow in the wind over the whole world, but men lack the courage to glance up and to discover the grinning skull under the bloody rags. That skeleton is socialism.
Fifty years ago, there might have been some excuse (though not justification) for the widespread belief that socialism is a political theory aimed at the achievement of men's well-being. Today, that belief can no longer be regarded as an innocent error. Socialism may be established by force, as in the USSR - or by vote, as in Nazi Germany. The socialization may be total, as in Russia - or partial, as in England. But the results have always been a terrifying failure - terrifying, that is, if one's motive is men's welfare.
England, once the freest and proudest nation of Europe, has been reduced to the status of a second-rate power and is perishing slowly from hemophilia, losing the best of her economic blood: the middle class and the professions. They are escaping from the reign of mediocrity, from the mawkish poorhouse where, having sold their rights in exchange for free dentures.
Socialism is not a movement of the people. It is a movement led and controlled by the intellectuals, out of their stuffy ivory towers into those bloody fields of practice where they unite with their allies and executors: the thugs. What is the motive of such intellectuals? Power-lust - as a manifestation of helplessness, of self-loathing and of the desire for the unearned. "The public interest," "service to the public" are the means. Since there is no such entity as "the public," since the public is merely a number of individuals, any claimed or implied conflict of "the public interest" with private interests means that the interests of some men are to be sacrificed to the interests and wishes of others.
Greatness is achieved by the productive effort of a man's mind in the pursuit of clearly defined, rational goals. But a delusion of grandeur can be served only by the switching, undefinable chimera of a public monument. America's greatness lies in the fact that her monuments are not public. The skyline of New York is a monument of a splendor that no pyramids or palaces will ever equal or approach. And, instead of impoverishing the people, these skyscrapers kept raising the people's standard of living- including the inhabitants of the slums, who lead a life of luxury compared to the life of an ancient Egyptian slave or of a modern Soviet Socialist worker.
When you consider the global devastation perpetrated by socialism, the sea of blood and the millions of victims, remember that they were sacrificed, not for "the good of mankind" nor for any "noble ideal," but for the festering vanity of some scared brute or some pretentious mediocrity who craved a mantle of unearned "greatness" - and that the monument to socialism is a pyramid of public factories, public theaters and public parks, erected on a foundation of human corpses, with the figure of the ruler posturing on top, beating his chest and screaming his plea for "prestige" to the starless void above him.
If one wishes to advocate a free society, if one wishes to uphold individual rights, one must realize that capitalism is the only system that can uphold and protect them. The most profoundly revolutionary achievement of the United States of America was the subordination of society to moral law. The United States was the first moral society in history. All previous systems had regarded man as a sacrificial means to the ends of others, and society as an end in itself. The United States regarded man as an end in himself, and society as a means.
A "right" is a moral principle defining and sanctioning a man's freedom of action in a social context. The right to life is the source of all right - and the right to property is their only implementation. Without property rights, no other rights are possible. "The source of man's rights is not divine law or congressional law, but the law of identity. A is A - and Man is Man." (Atlas Shrugged.)
The Declaration of Independence laid down the principle that "to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men”. This provided the only valid justification of a government and defined its only proper purpose: to protect man's rights by protecting him from physical violence. The result was the pattern of a civilized society which - for the brief span of some hundred and fifty years - America came close to achieving. But it was not formulated explicitly, nor fully accepted nor consistently practiced.
America's inner contradiction was the altruist-collectivist ethics. Altruism is incompatible with freedom, with capitalism and with individual rights. One cannot combine the pursuit of happiness with the moral status of a sacrificial animal. The "gimmick" was the switch of the concept of rights from the political to the economic realm. The Democratic Party platform of 1960 offers “Rights” to “a useful and remunerative job”, to "adequate food and clothing and recreation" “to a decent home", to “adequate medical care” to “a good education." A single question: At whose expense? Any alleged "right" of one man, which necessitates the violation of the rights of another, is not and cannot be a right.
There is no such thing as "a right to a job" - there is only the right of free trade There is no "right to a home," only the right of free trade: the right to build a home or to buy it. There are no "rights of consumers" There are no "rights" of special groups, there are no "rights of farmers, of workers, of businessmen, of employees, of employers, of the old, of the young, of the unborn." There are only the Rights of Man - rights possessed by every individual man and by all men as individuals.
Such is the state of one of today's most crucial issues: political rights versus "economic rights." It's either-or. One destroys the other. There are, in fact, no "economic rights," no "collective rights," no "public-interest rights." The term "individual rights" is a redundancy: there is no other kind of rights and no one else to possess them. Those who advocate laissez-faire capitalism are the only advocates of man's rights.
Just as a man needs a moral code in order to survive, so a society (a group of men) needs moral principles in order to organize a social system consonant with man's nature. What subjectivism is in the realm of ethics, collectivism is in the realm of politics - the replacement of "The Rights of Man" by "The Rights of Mob."
For instance, the right of an industrial concern to engage in business is derived from the right of its owners to invest their money in a productive venture - from their right to hire employees - from the right of the employees to sell their service - from the right of all those involved to produce and to sell their produce - from the right of the customers to buy (or not) those products. Every link of this complex chain of contractual relationships rests on individual rights, individual choices, individual agreements. A group, as such, has no rights. A man can neither acquire new rights by joining a group nor lose the rights which he does possess. The principle of individual rights is the only moral base of all groups or associations.
The amorality of the collectivist mystique is particularly obvious today in the issue of national rights.
The citizens of a free nation may disagree about the specific legal procedures or methods of implementing their rights, but they agree on the basic principle to be implemented: the principle of individual rights Such a nation has a right to its sovereignty (derived from the rights of its citizens) and a right to demand that its sovereignty be respected by all other nations.
But a nation that violates the rights of its own citizens cannot claim any rights whatsoever. A nation ruled by brute physical force is not a nation, but a horde - whether it is led by Attila, Genghis Khan, Hitler, Khrushchev or Castro. It does not matter, in this context, whether a nation was enslaved by force, like Soviet Russia, or by vote, like Nazi Germany. Individual rights are not subject to a public vote; a majority has no right to vote away the rights of a minority. Dictatorship nations are outlaws. Any free nation had the right to invade Nazi Germany and, today, has the right to invade Soviet Russia, Cuba or any other slave pen. It is not a free nation's duty to liberate other nations at the price of self-sacrifice, but a free nation has the right to do it, when and if it so chooses.
A slave country has no national rights, but the individual rights of its citizens remain valid, and the conqueror has no right to violate them. Therefore, the invasion of an enslaved country is morally justified only when the conquerors establish a free social system, that is, a system based on the recognition of individual rights.
There are four characteristics which brand a country unmistakably as a dictatorship: one-party rule - executions without trial or with a mock trial, for political offense - the nationalization or expropriation of private property - and censorship. A country guilty of these outrages forfeits any moral prerogatives and becomes an outlaw.
Observe the “liberals” double standard: while, in the civilized countries of the West, they are advocating internationalism and global self-sacrifice - the savage tribes of Asia and Africa are granted the sovereign "right" to slaughter one another in racial warfare. Such is the logical result and climax of the "liberals" moral collapse. Why do they use the word "rights" to denote the things they are advocating? The answer is obvious.
THE NATURE OF GOVERNMENT
A government is an institution that holds the exclusive power to enforce certain rules of social conduct in a given geographical area. Do men need such an institution - and why?
Men can derive enormous benefits from dealing with one another. A social environment is most conducive to their successful survival - but only on certain conditions. The two great values to be gained from social existence are: knowledge and trade. Man is the only species that can transmit and expand his store of knowledge from generation to generation; every man gains an incalculable benefit from the knowledge discovered by others. The second great benefit is the division of labor: it enables a man to devote his effort to a particular field of work and to trade with others who specialize in other fields.
Man's rights can be violated only by the use of physical force. The precondition of a civilized society is the barring of physical force from social relationship. If a society provided no organized protection against force, it would compel every citizen to go about armed, to turn his home into a fortress, to shoot any strangers approaching his door - or to join a protective gang of citizens who would fight other gangs, formed for the same purpose, and thus bring about the degeneration of that society into the chaos of gang-rule, i.e., rule by brute force, into perpetual tribal warfare of prehistorical savages.
The use of physical force - even its retaliatory use - cannot be left at the discretion of individual citizens. Men need an institution charged with the task of protecting their rights under an objective code of rules. This the task of a government - of a proper government - its basic task, its only moral justification and the reason why men do need a government.
The fundamental difference between private action and governmental action - a difference thoroughly ignored and evaded today - lies in the fact that a government holds a monopoly on the legal use of physical force. Under a proper social system, a private individual may do anything except that which is legally forbidden; a government official may do nothing except that which is legally permitted. This subordinating of "might" to "right" is the American concept of "a government of laws and not of men."
Now what happens in case of a disagreement between two men about an undertaking in which both are involved? This leads to one of the most important and most complex functions of the government: to the function of an arbiter who settles disputes among men according to objective laws. Even a primitive barter society could not function if a man agreed to trade a bushel of potatoes for a basket of eggs and, having received the eggs, refused to deliver the potatoes. Visualize what this sort of whim-directed action would mean in an industrial society where men deliver a billion dollars' worth of goods on credit, or sign ninety-nine-year leases.
Observe the basic principle governing the administration of justice: it is the principle that no man may obtain any values from others without the owners' consent The proper functions of a government therefore fall into three broad categories, all of them involving the issues of physical force and the protection of men's rights: the police, to protect men from criminal - the armed services, to protect men from foreign invaders - the law courts, to settle disputes among men according to objective laws.
A recent variant of anarchistic theory, which is befuddling some of the younger advocates of freedom, is a weird absurdity called "competing governments." One cannot call this theory a contradiction in terms, since it is obviously devoid of any understanding of the terms "competition" and "government." One illustration will be sufficient: suppose Mr. Smith, a customer of Government A, suspects that his next-door neighbor, Mr. Jones, a customer of Government B, has robbed him; a squad of Police A proceeds to Mr. Jones' house and is met at the door by a squad of Police B, who declare that they do not accept the validity of Mr. Smith's complaint and do not recognize the authority of Government A. What happens then? You take it from there.
In mankind's history, the understanding of the government's proper function is a very recent achievement: it is only two hundred years old and it dates from the Founding Fathers of the American Revolution. If one considers the monstrous moral inversions of governments (made possible by the altruist-collectivist morality) under which mankind has had to live through most of its history, one begins to wonder how men have managed to preserve even a semblance of civilization. One also begins to see more clearly the nature of the political principles that have to be accepted and advocated, as part of the battle for man's intellectual Renaissance.
GOVERNMENT FINANCING IN A FREE SOCIETY
In a fully free society, taxation - payment for governmental service - would be voluntary. The question of how to apply the principle of voluntary financing is a very complex one. The task of political philosophy is only to establish the nature of the principle and to demonstrate that it is practicable.
There are many possible methods of voluntary government financing. A government lottery, which has been used in some European countries, is one such method. There are others. As an illustration, consider the following possibility. One of the most vitally needed services, which only a government can render, is the protection of contractual agreements among citizens. Suppose that the government were to protect only those contracts which had been insured by the payment, to the government, of a premium of a legally fixed percentage of the sum involved. Such an insurance would not be compulsory; there would be no legal penalty imposed on those who did not choose to take it - the only consequence would be that such agreements or contracts would not be legally enforceable; if they were broken, the injured party would not be able to seek redress in a court of law.
When one considers the magnitude of the wealth involved in credit transactions, one can see that the percentage required to pay for such governmental insurance would be infinitesimal - yet it would be sufficient to finance all the other functions of a proper government. (If necessary, that percentage could be legally increased in time of war.)
It would work only when the basic principles and institutions of a free society have been established. It would not work today, and it would not be sufficient to provide unearned support for the entire globe. But no type of taxation is sufficient for that - only the suicide of a great country might be, and then only temporarily.
It may be observed, in this example, that the cost of such voluntary government financing would be proportionate to the scale of an individual's economic activity; those on the lowest economic levels would be virtually exempt - though they would still enjoy the benefits of legal protection, of the armed forces, the police and the courts. These benefits may be regarded as a bonus to the men of lesser economic ability, made possible by the men of greater economic ability - without any sacrifice of the latter to the former. This type of bonus cannot be stretched to cover direct benefits, or to claims - as the welfare statists are claiming - that direct handouts to the non- producers are in the producers' own interests.
Racism is the lowest, most crudely primitive form of collectivism. Racism claims that the content of a man's mind (not his cognitive apparatus, but its content) is inherited; that a man's convictions, values and character are determined before he is born, by physical factors beyond his control. Racism is a doctrine of, by and for brutes. It is a barnyard or stock farm version of collectivism.
The respectable family that supports worthless relatives or covers up their crimes to "protect the family name", the bum who boasts that his great-grandfather was an empire-builder, the celebrity who starts his autobiography with a detailed account of his family history - all these are samples of racism, the atavistic manifestations of a doctrine whose full expression is the tribal warfare of prehistorical savages, the wholesale slaughter of Nazi Germany, the atrocities of today's so-called "newly emerging nations."
The theory that holds "good blood" or "bad blood" as a moral-intellectual criterion, can lead to nothing but torrents of blood in practice. Brute force is the only avenue of action open to men who regard themselves as mindless aggregates of chemicals.
Just as there is no such thing as a collective or racial mind, or a collective or racial achievement. There are only individual minds and individual achievement. Even if it were proved - which it is not - that the incidence of men of potentially superior brain power is greater among the members of certain races than others, it would still tell us nothing about any given individual. A genius is a genius, regardless of the number of morons who belong to the same race - and a moron is a moron, regardless of the number of geniuses who share his racial origin. It is hard to say which is the more outrageous injustice: the claim of Southern racists that a Negro genius should be treated as an inferior because his race has "produced" some brutes - or the claim of a German brute to the status of a superior because his race has "produced" Goethe, Schiller and Brahms. To ascribe one's virtues to one's racial origin, is to confess that one has no knowledge of the process by which virtues are acquired and, most often, that one has failed to acquire them.
There is only one antidote to racism: the philosophy of individualism and laissez-faire capitalism. It is not a man's ancestors or relatives or genes or body chemistry that count in a free market, but only one human attribute: productive ability. Racism was always strongest in the more controlled economies, such as Russia and Germany - and weakest in England, the then freest country of Europe.
It is capitalism that gave mankind its first steps toward freedom and a rational way of life. It is capitalism that abolished serfdom and slavery in all the civilized countries of the world. In its great era of capitalism, the United States was the freest country on earth - and the best refutation of racist theories. Men of racial groups that had been slaughtering one another for centuries, learned to live together in harmony and peaceful cooperation. The major victims of such race prejudice as did exist in America were the Negroes. Racial discrimination, imposed and enforced by law, is so blatantly inexcusable an infringement of individual rights that the racist statutes of the South should have been declared unconstitutional long ago.
The Southern racists' claim of "states' rights" is a contradiction in terms: there can be no such thing as the "right" of some men to violate the rights of others. The "conservatives" who claim to be defenders of freedom, of capitalism, of property rights, of the Constitution, yet who advocate racism, do not seem to realize that they are cutting the ground from under their own feet. The "liberals" are guilty of the same contradiction, but in a different form. They advocate the sacrifice of all individual rights to unlimited majority rule - yet posture as defenders of the rights of minorities. But the smallest minority on earth is the individual. Those who deny individual rights, cannot claim to be defenders of minorities.
This accumulation of contradictions has now reached its climax in the new demands of the Negro leaders. Instead of fighting for equal rights, they are demanding special race privileges. For instance, since Negroes constitute 25 per cent of the population of New York City, they demand 25 per cent of the jobs.
That absurdly evil policy is destroying the moral base of the Negroes' fight. If they demand the violation of the rights of others, they negate and forfeit their own. For instance, the demand for racial quotas in schools is pure racism. And by the very same principle, the government has no right to violate the right of private property by forbidding discrimination in privately owned establishments. If the individual has all the rights and privileges due him under the laws and the Constitution, we need not worry about groups and masses - those do not, in fact, exist, except as figures of speech.
THE ARGUMENT FROM INTIMIDATION
There is a certain type of argument which, in fact, is not an argument, but a means of forestalling debate. It is a method of bypassing logic by means of psychological pressure. Since it is particularly prevalent in today's culture, one would do well to learn to identify it and be on guard against it.
The essential characteristic of the Argument from Intimidation is its appeal to moral self-doubt. It is used in the form of an ultimatum demanding that the victim renounce a given idea without discussion, under threat of being considered morally unworthy. The pattern is always: "Only those who are evil (dishonest, heartless, insensitive, ignorant, etc.) can hold such an idea." The classic example is the story of The Emperor's New Clothes.
We have all heard it and are hearing it constantly: "Only black-hearted reactionaries can advocate capitalism." - "Only war-mongers can oppose the United Nations." - "Only the lunatic fringe can still believe in freedom." As an example of an entire field of activity based on nothing but the Argument from Intimidation, I give you modern art - where, in order to prove that they do possess the special insight possessed only by the mystic "elite," the populace are trying to surpass one another in loud exclamations on the splendor of some bare (but smudged) piece of canvas.
How does one resist that Argument? There is only one weapon against it: moral certainty.
When one enters any intellectual battle, big or small, public or private, one cannot seek, desire or expect the enemy's sanction. Truth or falsehood must be one's sole concern and sole criterion of judgment - not anyone's approval or disapproval. But a moral judgment must always follow, not precede (or supersede), the reasons on which it is based.
When one gives reasons for one's verdict, one assumes responsibility for it and lays oneself open to objective judgment: if one's reasons are wrong or false, one suffers the consequences. But to condemn without giving reasons is an act of irresponsibility, a kind of moral "hit-and-run" driving, which is the essence of the Argument from Intimidation.
The most illustrious example of the proper answer to the Argument from Intimidation was given in American history by the man who, rejecting the enemy's moral standards and with full certainty of his own rectitude, said: "If this be treason, make the most of it."
Rand and her husband’s grave at Kensico Cemetery, Westchester County, New York, USA
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