Rand on Capitalism vs. Altruism
For the purposes of the commentary to my Thanksgiving post I had occasion to search my Objectivism Research CD Rom for "altruism." The following passage [click continue reading] from 'For The New Intellectual' made a tremendous impression on me when I first read it, lo those many years ago. It hasn't lost its punch.
I consider FNI to be the best of Rand's non-fiction writing and I highly recommend it to everyone. In a brief 224 pages the reader gets a compendium of the author's thoughts on history, philosophy and morality in the form of a review of her major works of fiction: We The Living, Anthem, The Fountainhead, Atlas Shrugged. Fifty pages precede this under the heading, For the New Intellectual. First sentence: "When a man, a business corporation or an entire society is approaching bankruptcy, there are two courses that those involved can follow: they can evade the reality of their situation and act on a frantic, blind, range-of-the-moment expediency-not daring to look ahead, wishing no one would name the truth, yet desperately hoping that something will save them somehow-or they can identify the situation, check their premises, discover their hidden assets and start rebuilding."
Damn! Where's my copy?! Gotta read it again.
From chapter 1 of 'For the New Intellectual' by Ayn Rand - 1963
The businessman, historically, had started as the victim of the intellectuals; but no injustice or exploitation can succeed for long without the sanction of the victim. The businessman, who could not accept the intellectual leadership of post-Kantian Witch Doctors, made his fatal error when he conceded to them the field of the intellect. He gave them the benefit of the doubt, at his own expense: he concluded that their meaningless verbiage could not be as bad as it sounded to him, that he lacked understanding, but had no stomach for trying to understand that sort of stuff and would leave it respectfully alone. No Witch Doctor could have hoped for a deadlier concession.
Posted by JohnGalt at December 2, 2009 6:23 PM
By becoming anti-intellectual, the businessman condemned himself to the position of an Attila. By restricting his goals, concerns and vision exclusively to his specific productive activity, he was forced to restrict his interests to Attila's narrow range of the physical, the material, the immediately present. Thus he tore himself in two by an inner contradiction: he functioned on a confidently rational, conceptual level of psycho-epistemology in business, but repressed all the other aspects of his life and thought, letting himself he carried passively along by the general cultural current, in the semi-unfocused, perceptual-level daze of a man who considers himself impotent to judge what he perceives. It is thus that he turned too often into the tragic phenomenon of a genius in business who is a Babbitt in his private life.
He repressed and renounced any interest in ideas, any quest for intellectual values or moral principles. He could not accept the altruist morality, as no man of self-esteem can accept it, and he found no other moral philosophy. He lived by a subjective code of his own—the code of justice, the code of a fair trader—without knowing what a superlative moral virtue it represented. His private version or understanding of altruism—particularly in America—took the form of an enormous generosity, the joyous, innocent, benevolent generosity of a self-confident man, who is too innocent to suspect that he is hated for his success, that the moralists of altruism want him to pay financial tributes, not as kindness, but as atonement for the guilt of having succeeded. There were exceptions; there were businessmen who did accept the full philosophical meaning of altruism and its ugly burden of guilt, but they were not the majority.
They are the majority today. No man or group of men can live indefinitely under the pressure of moral injustice: they have to rebel or give in. Most of the businessmen gave in; it would have taken a philosopher to provide them with the intellectual weapons of rebellion, but they had given up any interest in philosophy. They accepted the burden of an unearned guilt; they accepted the brand of "vulgar materialists"; they accepted the accusations of "predatory greed"—predatory toward the wealth which they had created, greed for the fortunes which, but for them, would not have existed. As a result, consciously or subconsciously, they were driven to the cynical bitterness of the conviction that men are irrational, that reason is impotent in human relationships, that the field of ideas is some dark, gigantic, incomprehensible fraud.
First I will second Brother JG's recommendation. I read this on his advice a couple of years ago and it is a great refresher for those who have not read Rand in many moons, or a good catch-up for those who missed it.
But I am still not down with this. Dagny and I started this argument March 21, 2006 and while it did end up with my reading "FNI," I cannot apologize that the ideas I cherish actually help other people. Adam Smith started with the food on his table, and the wonder that it was provided by disinterested parties. I can appreciate your reasons for an action being self-interest, but why deny the reflection, the reaction that you also contribute to others.
My belief can be established with one anecdote: Bill Gates did far more good for others than Mother Theresa. And he did not have to wash his clothes in the creek. I am updating this story to 2009 to say that Bill Gates, Microsoft CEO, did more good making $600 Billion than Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, will do giving it away.
You see it as philosophically important to bifurcate between motive and action. Call me pragmatic, but we have a first lady who tells the graduating class in her commencement speech that they should not go to work for Walmart or Carrefour. The Nick Shultz piece (below post) you all so mercilessly destroyed merely tells the 20 year old that they are not bad people if they go into business. I have nieces that are quite conflicted about that and I welcome the reinforcement.
No, Keith, he did not in 185 words outline a complete worldwide return to free market principles and liberal fundamentals. And, no, jg, he did not provide a timeless compelling argument for individual dignity and self-ownership.
So cancel your American subscriptions. Shultz, from co-founding ( I believe) TCS to his position at The American has been an eloquent, reliable and stout voice for liberty. I think you do a disservice to liberty to attack what a single paragraph blog post did not say versus celebrating the important thing that it did.
No matter how smart you think I is.