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Is it really wrong to be ‘selfish’?

Campaigning last week, Sen. Barack Obama responded to comments by Sen. John McCain and Gov. Sara Palin calling his tax plan “socialistic.” Obama implied the Republican ticket supported “selfishness.”

“John McCain and Sarah Palin they call this [the consequences of Obama’s tax plan] socialistic,” Obama said. “You know I don’t know when, when they decided they wanted to make a virtue out of selfishness.”

Although it is unlikely casting selfishness as a virtue is something either McCain or Palin intended (it would take an enormous amount of intellectual and political courage even for a maverick), the notion of selfishness as a virtue is not without philosophical support nor without philosophical merit.

Obama’s negative charge parallels the title of a 1961 collection of essays “The Virtue of Selfishness” by author-philosopher Ayn Rand (with Nathaniel Branden). The essays are Rand’s statement of the moral principles of Objectivism, her ethical and moral philosophy which holds that the life of the individual — the life proper to a rational being, the self-interest of the rational individual — is the only viable standard of moral value.

Like his “spread the wealth around” comment, Obama’s intended denigration of “selfishness” reveals much about the ultimate nature of his policies. Analyzing Obama’s comment in the context of Rand’s philosophy provides further evidence that the conservative-liberal paradigm, the traditional political divide in this country, is shifting to a more overt expression of the age-old battle between individualism and the collective society.

Altruism, the moral code of collective society, is the underlying value of Obama’s domestic policy. Altruism holds “goodness” is based on the beneficiary of action rather than an action itself. Altruism, Rand demonstrates, is incompatible with reality and human nature. Coerced altruism, the notion that government has an obligation to redistribute wealth and opportunity, is incompatible with the creative requirements of individual survival and incompatible with a free society.

Rand’s best-known work is “Atlas Shrugged.” In the 1957 novel Rand predicts the future of an America based on government-coerced altruism — “spreading the wealth around.” As American society becomes ever more dependent on the men and women of great minds creating ever more wealth to support its requirements and ever-growing desires, the independent creative thinkers — the industrialists, financiers, philosophers, artists and working people who take pride in their work, personal achievement and contributions to society — “shrug.” They take menial jobs, refusing to let their talents be looted and plundered by a parasitic society; America collapses into a nasty and brutish Hobbesian world. As the physical infrastructure of the country collapses at an accelerating rate with each new government initiative, the lack of moral fiber and character of  those who would impose collective rule is ultimately revealed in violence — the last resort of the incompetent.

“Atlas Shrugged” is a fictional tribute to the power of the human mind. “The Virtue of Selfishness” is a rational justification of Rand’s philosophy.

Rand introduces the collection of essays by addressing the question: “Why do you use the word ‘selfishness’ to denote virtuous qualities of character, when that word antagonizes so many people?

“For the reason that makes you afraid of it,” Rand answers in her challenging and uncompromising manner. “There is a profound moral issue involved.

“The meaning ascribed in popular usage to the word ‘selfishness’ is not merely wrong,” she writes, “it represents a devastating intellectual ‘package deal,’ which is responsible, more than any other single factor, for the arrested moral development of mankind.”

“Selfishness” is not synonymous with “evil,” according to Rand. It does not justify the image of a murderous brute who tramples over corpses to gratify his arbitrary whims. “Selfishness” is simply “concern with one’s own interests.” The definition does not include a moral evaluation. It does not preclude that one’s own self-interest might correspond to the self-interest of others (and in a free-market society must necessarily do so). The definition does not tell us whether any specific self-interest isgood or evil, nor does it tell us what constitutes an individual’s actual interests. Answering those questions is the object of ethics.

The two moral questions lumped together in a “package-deal” by altruism are: What are values? and who should be the beneficiary of values?

“Altruism substitutes the second for the first,” writes Rand. “It evades the task of defining a code of moral values, thus leaving man, in fact, without moral guidance.”

In other words, Rand is saying that altruism declares any action taken for the benefit of others is good, and any action taken for one’s own benefit is evil. The beneficiary of an action is the only criterion of moral value. So long as that beneficiary is anybody other than oneself, anything goes. Obama’s “virtue out of selfishness” speech is an example.

“The point is,” Obama said preceding his selfishness comment, “it’s not just charity, it’s not just that I want to help the middle class and working people who are trying to get in the middle class — it’s that when we actually make sure that everybody’s got a shot — when young people can all go to college, when everybody’s got decent health care, when everybody’s got a little more money at the end of the month — then guess what? Everybody starts spending that money, they decide maybe I can afford a new car, maybe I can afford a computer for my child. They can buy the products and services that businesses are selling and everybody is better off. All boats rise. That’s what happened in the 1990s, that’s what we need to restore. And that’s what I’m going to do as president of the United States of America.

“John McCain and Sarah Palin, they call this socialistic,” Obama continued. “You know I don’t know when, when they decided they wanted to make a virtue out of selfishness.”

The moral justification for Obama’s scenario is not based on consequences that arise because of it. Going to college, getting decent health care, having a little more money at the end of the month, buying a new car or a computer for a child — wealthy and middle class both do these things. Obama morally justifies his plan not by those actions, but by who does them.

Here is what Obama implies: If a person works hard and earns enough to buy a car and a boat or a car for himself and a car his child and does so instead of sending boat or second car money to the government, Obama considers him selfish and Sen. Joe Biden considers him unpatriotic. But when a person is forced by government to allow government to send his money to another person whom he does not know, who may or may not “deserve” it, and that person buys a boat or a car with it (or health insurance or a college education or alcohol and cigarettes or funds an illegal drug operation), that is good. A person is virtuous, implies Obama, because he gave his money away irrespective of to whom it goes and ultimately for what purpose it is used.

Rand would have us think about the “grotesque double standards” produced by altruistic ethics.

Updating Rand: People harshly criticized Bill Gates for his wealth when he focused his efforts on building Microsoft, directly producing tens of thousands of jobs and indirectly creating millions more in a new high-tech economy, spreading the wealth by creating more of it. He was an “evil industrialist,” to use Rand’s characterization of creative competence. But now that Gates is advocating spreading his and others wealth using government as the distribution mechanism, he is suddenly a virtuous hero and role model for the selfish and unpatriotic wealthy, irrespective of the consequences of the projects funded.

Obama himself seeks and is given praise for his decision to become a community organizer when he graduated from Harvard Law rather than accept a high-paying job on Wall Street. The praise comes despite the realty that the group for which he organized, Acorn, has (best case for Obama) degenerated into corruption, and it is evident from recent events that Wall Street might have benefited from more young people with Obama’s professed convictions working to change the system from within.

In both examples, the mere act of self-sacrifice creates “virtue” irrespective of outcomes.

“Observe what this beneficiary-criterion or morality does to a man’s life,” writes Rand. “The first thing he learns is that morality is his enemy; he has nothing to gain from it, he can only lose; self-inflicted loss, self-inflicted pain and the gray, debilitating pall of an incomprehensible duty is all that he can expect. He may hope that others might occasionally sacrifice themselves for his benefit, as he grudgingly sacrifices himself for theirs, but he knows that the relationship will bring mutual resentment, not pleasure. … Apart from such times as he manages to perform some act of self-sacrifice, he possesses no moral significance: morality takes no cognizance of him and has nothing to say to him for guidance in the crucial issues of his life; it is only his own personal, private, ‘selfish’ life and, as such, it is regarded as evil or, at best, amoral.”

Thus, Rand concludes, that altruism — a beneficiary-criterion of morality — permits no concept of a self-respecting, self-supporting man who supports his life by his own effort and neither sacrifices himself nor others.

“If you wonder about the reasons behind the ugly mixture of cynicism and guilt in which most men spend their lives,” Rand writes, “these are the reasons: cynicism, because they neither practice nor accept the altruistic morality — guilt, because they dare not reject it.”

“The Virtue of Selfishness” is a philosophical rationale for rejecting the altruistic, beneficiary-criterion, what today some refer to as the “nanny state” mentality, in favor of a moral code that objectively defines a human being’s proper values and interests. It contends that concern with his own self-interests is the essence of a moral existence, and the individual must be the beneficiary of his own actions. That conclusion, however, is but the first step in the thought process of building an ethical system. It is not the criterion for evil, which altruism makes it, nor is it a substitute for morality per se. Rand holds that the individual must always be the beneficiary of his action, but his action, to be considered moral, must actually be in his own rational self-interest.

Randian selfishness is not a license to do as one pleases, as Obama implied of McCain-Palin selfishness. Nor does it justify a person acting on “irrational emotion, feelings, urges, whishes or whims.” Morality is not a contest of whims.

A similar error is the idea that because a person must be guided by his own independent judgment, any action he chooses to take is moral if he chooses it.

“One’s own independent judgment is the means by which one must choose one’s actions, but it is not a moral criterion nor a moral validation: Only reference to a demonstrable principle can validate one’s choices.”

Contrast that idea, as Rand does in the essay “The Objectivist Ethics,” with the progressive rational for action:

“Today, in worldwide practice … ‘society’ stands above any principle of ethics, since it is the source, standard and criterion of ethics, since ‘the good’ is whatever it wills, whatever it happens to assert as its own welfare and pleasure. This [means] 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 [means] that some men (the majority or any gang that claims to be its spokesman) are ethically entitled to pursue any whims (or any atrocities) they desire to pursue, while other men are ethically obliged to spend their lives in the service of the gang’s desires.”

In the essay “Collectivized Ethics” Rand uses the example of Medicare to support that point, but today, we might think of it also in terms of Obama-like proposals for a government-run, universal health care system. Writes Rand:

“‘Isn’t it desirable that the aged [or under ‘Medicare for All,’ all] should have medical care in times of illness?’ its [Medicare] advocates clamor. Considered out of context, the answer would be: yes it is desirable. Who would have a reason to say no? … It’s the good, isn’t it? — it’s not for myself, it’s for others, it’s for the public, for a helpless ailing public … fog hides 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.”

“Selfishness” in the Randian sense is defined without moral evaluation as “concern with one’s own rational self-interest.” “Rational self-interest” is distinguished from arbitrary whim in that the former contributes to a person’s survival and fulfillment as a human being. It creates the genuine self-esteem inherent in leading a productive life. The latter is “sacrifice.” “Sacrifice” is surrendering one’s rational self-interest (the highest principle) to petty personal desires or the whims of collective society (a lower principle). It is surrendering to “unthinking misconceptions, distortions, prejudices, and fears of the ignorant and the irrational.”

“The attack on ‘selfishness,'” writes Rand, “is an attack on man’s self-esteem; to surrender one, is to surrender the other.”

Bottom line: Individual freedom and planned equality are irreconcilable positions. A better world cannot tolerate the less-than-perfect choices free individuals make. Freedom will inevitably create inequality and thus, freedom is incompatible with a planned vision for a “better world.” That conflict cannot be compromised out of existence. It cannot be eliminated through a “moderate” agenda. The conflict cannot be camouflaged by complex, incomprehensible, however-well-intentioned legislation. A political messiah cannot eliminate it with rhetorical flourish or presidential power.

Ultimately there comes a time for every individual to elect between principle and pragmatism, between the uncertainty of freedom and the security of servitude, between striving for equality and striving for excellence, between his own rational self-interest and sacrifice to collective society, between “selfishness” and surrender. This may not be that election, but that time is coming.

Comments (16)

  1. Submitted by Mark Gisleson on 11/03/2008 - 03:21 pm.

    Did I miss something or did Westover just pin his ENTIRE argument on Ayn Rand, the author Alan Greenspan worshipped and on whose writings he based his crazed economic policies that have all but destroyed our economy?

    I kept expecting to read something about which world religion praises selfishness, but Westover mentioned no religions. I kept expecting to read a name other than Ayn Rand’s, but Westover cites no other author, philosopher or school of political belief that praises selfishness.

    The fact is that ALL world religions, including organized atheists, praise altruism. Without altruism we’d all be living in mud huts hoping the local Lord stayed in his castle instead of dispensing justice with his sword. There is, however, one exception: Scientology.

    Ayn Rand’s supporters have made a fetish out of selfishness and to date not one life has been improved by her teachings. The notorious cult of Scientology is largely very respectful of Ayn Rand as they also teach the virtues of selfishness which is hardly surprising given that L. Ron Hubbard invented his cult solely for the purpose of self-enrichment.

  2. Submitted by David Gardner on 11/03/2008 - 03:54 pm.

    I don’t think it is wrong to be a little selfish, we all have a little selfishness in us. I do think, however, that it becomes wrong when it becomes pathological. With all of the corruption and greed that now permeates our government and our businesses, it is clear that it has become pathological.

  3. Submitted by Joel Jensen on 11/03/2008 - 07:50 pm.

    Mr. Westover seems to be arguing, through his exhaustive journey into the mind of Ayn Rand, that Obama will bring a new and startling ‘intervention’ into the economic sphere. The question is not ‘should there be intervention’ nor is it ‘will there be intervention’. The question is and always has been intervention by whom and for whom.

    An economy is not something that was laid out by God or created by some immutable laws at the first nano-second after the Big Bang. Every economy is established and maintained by the choices and policies of human beings. These choices and policies reflect a certain set of economic values (which inherently include moral and political values)

    In this Country, those economic values are supposed to reflect the will of the people. While Rand may assume that such values will always be the “desires of the gang”, that fear and loathing of mobocracy seems impossible to reconcile with a belief that ordinary citizens are capable of self-government.

    In fact such a view reminds me of a quote from Edward Dowling: “The two greatest obstacles to democracy in the United States are, first, the widespread delusion among the poor that we have a democracy, and second, the chronic terror among the rich, lest we get it.”

    Values breed choices; choices create policies that favor one group or another always as compared to the economy that was created by the values, choices and policies that came before. As such, every economy will always be rife with intervention and therefore redistribution. The question again is not if, but by whom and for whom.

    In discussing “by whom” it is critical to understand that these ‘redistributionist’ choices already include those that affect the very structure of the market and that while these choices and policies include the acts of governments, they also include the acts of powerful and influential individuals, companies and institutions. To find a balance between these trampling giants is essential in order to protect the individual person or business attempting to thrive within the market and to protect the market itself.

    To discern “for whom” such re-balancing is conducted, we must acknowledge that all choices and policies shape and direct our economy to redistribute the costs and benefits (wealth) of that economy more narrowly or more broadly.

    For example, today’s economy clearly reflects the last two decades worth of choices, policies and values that sought to redistribute wealth upwards to an increasingly narrow group of beneficiaries. That has certainly been its effect, so if it was not its intent, it has been an abysmal failure and should be scrapped in either event.

    The re-balancing that many now call for reflects a growing knowledge of this allocation of wealth and a judgment that it does not reflect the values shared by a growing number of our citizens.

    It also reflects a judgment that such choices and policies have damaged and continue to threaten the structure of the marketplace itself. Many of these choices and policies have been in conflict with free market principles, separating risk from reward and privatizing profit while socializing loss.

    These same choices and policies have also made our economic system vulnerable to some of the same economy-distorting activities that Adam Smith sought to address in putting forward his free market theories. Then, as now, a powerful few distorted the market and the economy for their own ends by using their own economic power in anti-competitive ways and by exerting their influence over the government to redirect opportunities and profits to themselves in ways divorced from free market principles resulting in an artificial distribution of wealth and an inefficient and unresponsive economy.

    It was this aspect of the existing status quo that Adam Smith sought to remedy by trying to persuade the governments of his time to move toward free market principles; that subsequent free market advocates sought to protect against through the enactment of pro-competitive laws that discouraged monopolies, price fixing and various predatory activities and that prompted more recent efforts to limit and expose such efforts to influence government in these ways.

    To imply that taking government out of the market would somehow produce some kind of Randian Market Utopia belies the reality that it is sometimes only government that has the power and authority to prevent other powerful and willing redistributionists from doing harm to others and to the economy in an unbounded attempt to accumulate wealth and influence for themselves.

    In doing so the government intervenes for the people, through their elected representatives, exercising rational self-interest and acting for their own long-term common good.

    Perhaps even Ayn Rand could see the benefit of that.

  4. Submitted by Jeff Klein on 11/03/2008 - 10:47 pm.

    Can someone *please* explain to me why every libertarian-leaning conservative thinks that he can win over liberals by simply explaining to them the genius of Ayn Rand, despite that anyone with a reasonable bit of education and worldliness (liberals, statistically speaking) is completely aware of these arguments and simply doesn’t find them convincing. Repeating them again won’t help.

    “Altruism,”, says Westover, “is incompatible with reality and human nature.” I’ll tell you what’s incompatible with reality and human nature: that the market in all its glory will solve our problems, should we simply step out of the way. That we exist as stalwart individuals, like bears each patrolling his own square miles of territory, rather than beings whose very humanity is defined by our social nature and who can hardly make a move without stepping on another person’s toes. There’s nothing natural about capitalism, as Westover and his fellow Randians would like us to think; when you’re dealing with social beings, it exists as a conscious decision like any other system of economics.

    All of this teeters on the assumption that there’s some inherit “fairness” to the market; that those who contribute tho most are rewarded and win, rather than the corrupt who contribute the least – or nothing. And further, that those who win deserve not only riches, but above that disparities in wealth that make them basically princes to the rest of us paupers.

    Added to this is a straw man: that any serious Democratic candidate has ever proposed a system of taxation that would make it impossible to get filthy rich (because, of course, nobody got rich when the last Democrat was in charge). All that’s proposed is adding a small bit of negative feedback as an attempt to reign in the never ending increases in disparity that occur when we don’t step in, to prevent us from being pushed back to the middle ages.

    Craig, I’m a graduate student. I contribute more in the form of labor and creativity to society that just about anyone (certainly more than curmudgeonly old journalists). I get paid peanuts now, and I probably always will, because I don’t particularly care so long as I have the basics – I do this work because it challenges me and I enjoy it. So does everyone else I work with. I don’t know if that’s “altruism”, but I do know it’s not driven by greed. The smart people who were out to make money left for Carlson long ago and won’t contribute anything valuable for the rest of their working lives.

    This theory is tired. Give it up so we can all move on.

  5. Submitted by Jeff Urbanek on 11/04/2008 - 11:05 am.

    Yes, it is wrong.

  6. Submitted by Jack Crawford on 11/04/2008 - 11:39 am.

    Jeff asks, “Can someone *please* explain to me why every libertarian-leaning conservative thinks that he can win over liberals by simply explaining to them the genius of Ayn Rand…”

    As an Objectivist, not a conservative or libertarian, this question intrigued me. I think that many people are not changeable after a certain age. They have too much invested in their philosophy to change, so I wouldn’t try to reach them. Younger people, though, are always potentially reachable, so they are the ones to persuade. The reason that people are not persuaded by others is that Ayn Rand really was a genius and many of her admirers cannot hold a candle to her brilliance. However, Ayn Rand thought that the older liberals were a better target for her ideas because they at least accepted conclusions based on reason, not faith. I don’t know if that is true anymore.

  7. Submitted by Michael Friedman on 11/04/2008 - 12:57 pm.

    The idea that the conservate-liberal divide has morphed into the individual versus the collective is contradicted by the alliance of economic libertarians and those who demand collective restrictions on personal choices, most often in the guise of a so-called common moralist/religious value. When the Republican supporters of the other M Friedman (Milton)begin the fight against government intrusion into social issues and the ever-expanding encroachment of our criminal code, I’ll take them mroe seriously as an ideological proposition. Meanwhile, it’s just a lot of blather to justify unequal wealth, and its true basis.

  8. Submitted by Jeff Klein on 11/04/2008 - 03:37 pm.


    I feel like you missed the point of that question. It’s not about whether someone’s opinions are mutable or not. I consider myself above all a rational person whose mind is open to arguments and evidence.

    The point of the question was more that Objectivists (which I think is for all practical purposes interchangeable with libertarian or economic conservative, minor squabbles aside) seem to think that explaining their argument is the same as making their argument. It’s not like I don’t know what the free market is or how it’s supposed to work. I simply reject that it’s the only game in town. They only explain the same thing over and over, never attacking the responses (some of which are in mine and other comments on this thread).

  9. Submitted by Sylvia Bokor on 11/05/2008 - 10:34 am.

    Your article is the most judiciously thoughtful newspaper article I’ve ever read. It is benevolent and true. Thank you for publishing it.

    Selfishness is the highest virtue and it’s not easy to accomplish. It requires a great deal of thought to identify what is in one’s own self-interest and whether it meets the criteria of the standard of Man’s life. It requires intransigent dedication to Man’s best.

    Obama wants to create a utopia. Utopias are always collectivist, demanding that everyone be this or that equally. The utopian view of man’s happiness is always that it should be effortlessness. The utopian view of the self is always that it must be sacrificed. But as Ayn Rand wrote, “For a man of moral stature, whose desires are born of rational values, sacrifice is the surrender of the right to the wrong, of the good to the evil.” This is what Obama advocates with his “hope” and “change.” He hopes we don’t notice his moral standard, which is not Man’s best but man’s death.

  10. Submitted by Jim May on 11/05/2008 - 04:49 pm.

    Mark Gisleson writes:

    “The fact is that ALL world religions, including organized atheists, praise altruism. Without altruism we’d all be living in mud huts hoping the local Lord stayed in his castle instead of dispensing justice with his sword.”

    Funny thing; during the thousands of years dominated by religion and its altruistic moral code, we DID live in mud huts hoping the local Lord stayed in his castle. Not until the secular idea of moral individualism and political freedom took hold, did we finally escape that.

    Joel Jensen writes:

    “The question is not ‘should there be intervention’ nor is it ‘will there be intervention’. The question is and always has been intervention by whom and for whom.”

    This is the same rhetoric that used to be used by Communists: “It is not whom the State controls, it is who controls the State.” In other words: tyranny is a given, it is only a question of who is the ruler, and who is the ruled.

    Jeff Klein writes:

    “All of this teeters on the assumption that there’s some inherit “fairness” to the market; that those who contribute tho most are rewarded and win, rather than the corrupt who contribute the least – or nothing.”

    The basic assumption of the free market is, well, freedom — that’s what the “free” means. Markets are not a system at all — a market is a legal and social space, where coercion is banned and people are thusly free to think, choose, and act. No particular individual’s success is assured.

    It’s pretty clear that none of the detractors here have read Ayn Rand, and are therefore ignorant of the subject matter. Only that kind of ignorance would enable Mark Gisleson to make up BS like “not one life has been improved by her teachings” and expect to be taken seriously.

    As for selfishness, there’s a package-deal here, which needs to be cracked open before this question can be answered. “Selfishness” is commonly understood as meaning to live at the expense of others, e.g. a common thief. It is also used to attack those who do not acknowledge a “duty to others”.

    These are two different things. Ayn Rand did not debate the first; to live at the expense of others like a thief (or a welfare bum) is immoral.

    But that second part is the one Obama meant, and that is the idea that Ayn Rand rejected: this notion of a “duty to others”. A “duty” is an unchosen obligation. Such an idea is flatly incompatible with the freedom to choose.

    And that’s the truth at the core of the question. If by “selfish” you mean to subordinate others to oneself, that is plainly wrong. But the second part is saying that we ought to subordinate ourselves to others.

    What of the man who chooses to forgo subordination completely, and stands independent? Well then, he *also* is “selfish”!

    *That* is Ayn Rand’s innovation. She is saying that the man who *selfishly* lives for himself, as neither a slave nor slavemaster, is the moral man.

    She rejects the moral equivalent of Joel Jensen’s idea — that servitude is a given, and that our only alternative is whether we are a slave or a master — in favor of the third alternative: each individual is morally sovereign, and free to deal with others — or not — according to one’s own judgment.

  11. Submitted by Robert Reynolds on 11/06/2008 - 09:06 am.

    An excellent piece by Mr. Westover.

    It is telling to see the objections here in the comments. The criticisms seems to hinge on the fact that people aren’t perfect and aren’t equal, therefore we need government to try to perfect and equalize everything. Why such the obsession with economic equality? Read Marx much?

  12. Submitted by Jane Birk on 11/06/2008 - 11:38 am.

    Every bright high-schooler goes through an Ayn Rand phase and GETS OVER IT. (Kind of like going through a Morrissey phase…)

  13. Submitted by Jeff Montgomery on 11/06/2008 - 09:34 pm.

    >”Did I miss something or did Westover just pin his ENTIRE argument on Ayn Rand, the author Alan Greenspan worshipped and on whose writings he based his crazed economic policies that have all but destroyed our economy?”

    No, because none of those premises are true, nor can you provide any evidence for them.

    Greenspan was a student of Rand about 30+ years ago. Any self-respecting capitalist would move to abolish the Fed, not run it. Greenspan’s loose credit policy is exactly what liberal altruists have been clamoring for for decades, to allow high-risk borrowers to own homes.

    The credit bubble was caused at every single turn by government intervention: Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the CRA, loose credit from the Fed, the Too Big To Fail policy. You name it. None of it is capitalist. If captialism were in charge, there’d be no Fed, no CRA, no Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and high-risk borrowers would hear what they should have heard: “Application Denied!”.

  14. Submitted by Jeff Montgomery on 11/06/2008 - 09:42 pm.

    >”Every bright high-schooler goes through an Ayn Rand phase and GETS OVER IT. (Kind of like going through a Morrissey phase…)”

    That is not an argument.

    What part of the philosphy do you disagree with? For example, which cardinal value of the Objectivist ethics to you not approve of: Reason, Purpose, or Self-esteem? Which virtue: Rationality, Productivity or Pride? And why?

    (Those were rhetorical questions)

    In order to be a critic, one has to be talking about the subject at hand.

  15. Submitted by Jeff Montgomery on 11/06/2008 - 09:52 pm.

    Mr. Westover,

    Excellent article, and a nice piece of applied philosophy.

    It’s nice to see discussions of Objectivism that show an understanding of these ideas and their power to explain events. If more American readers had this same grasp, we could have avoided all our recent alleged “failures of capitalism” (which are actually a failure to allow capitalism to function), and we would not be staring down an oncoming freight train of political statism. No doubt the fixes we are about to endure are going to be worse than the disease, because so few stop to actually think about what they are saying/doing and to analyze events for real causes.

    Thank you.

  16. Submitted by Mike "Zemack" LaFerrara on 11/11/2008 - 07:55 pm.

    It is refreshing and heartening to read an article by someone who actually understands the Objectivist ethics. I laud Mr. Westover for his accurate and insightful presentation of Ayn Rand’s revolutionary discovery of rational egoism.

    I find it telling that Rand’s critics must, almost without exception, base their opposition on either honest misunderstanding or willful misrepresentation. This is evident in Jeff Klein’s equating individual human beings pursuing their own rational self-interest with “bears each patrolling his own square miles of territory”. He exhibits a complete ignorance of Rand’s theories. Based upon the metaphysical fact of each individual’s possession of his own reasoning mind, Rand correctly identified man not as a social being, but as a contractual being, whose proper mode of social organization is based upon voluntary association and trade to mutual advantage…i.e., capitalism.

    While not the first thinker to advocate self-interest, Rand is the first to identify an ethical system fully compatible with man’s nature as a rational, autonomous being. That is to say, a non-predatory, non-sacrificial, rights-respecting egoism…which is the exact opposite of altruism. It is altruism, in fact, that turns men into the equivalent of jungle animals, preying upon each other for their sustenance. The conventional definition of “selfishness”, which Jim May correctly identifies as “commonly understood as meaning to live at the expense of others” and which Rand condemned, is actually the flip side of the altruist coin. Since altruism holds self-sacrifice to be moral…and since all sacrifice implies a beneficiary…it follows that it is moral to profiteer on the sacrifices of others. Altruism is an anti-morality that holds the unearned as a virtue, and the earned as a vice. Since men must earn…i.e., produce…the values required for his survival, altruism is thus anti-life. (Rand exploded another package deal here-that of equating altruism with benevolence, good will, and generosity.)

    “This theory is tired. Give it up so we can all move on”, Jeff Klein says of Rand’s ethics.

    He’s got it backwards. Altruism has been destroying lives, and nations, for thousands of years. Its acceptance on the personal level leads to unearned guilt; culturally, to an entitlement mentality; politically, to a predatory, totalitarian state. Obama’s embrace of altruism to justify his socialistic vision for America is no accident.

    In contrast, the Objectivist ethics has been around for barely half a century…a blink of an eye from an historical perspective. To grasp selfishness as a virtue and altruism as evil requires a proper understanding of both, which in turn requires a willingness to invest tremendous mental effort, and the courage to challenge the deep-rooted dogma spanning all of recorded human history. Whether it takes years, decades, or centuries for her moral code to take root in the culture, Rand’s ethical discoveries nonetheless represent one of man’s great philosophic achievements.

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