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Capitalism Defined

December 9, 2011

The very reason why statism or collectivism (translation: any form of collectivist socio-economic system such as socialism, fascism, communism, corporatism, Nazism, nationalism, etc.) is gaining ground the world over and why capitalism is being despised and discredited in the academe, media institutions, churches, intellectual hubs, entertainment centers, among others is  NOT because of the passion, determination and intellectual readiness of the enemies of the free market system, but mainly because of the confusion of its defenders, including its alleged ‘advocates’. Since the discovery of the concept of capitalism over 200 years ago, there have been many ‘capitalist intellectuals’  who defended and advocated this individualistic system on utilitarian grounds. These utilitarian defenders of capitalism claimed that the system is superior to socialism or to any variants of statist socio-political system, including mixed economy, because it is productive and it enables societies to achieve “the greatest good for the greatest number”. One of the most influential statists in the past century who critiqued capitalism by purging its alleged “utilitarian” foundation was John Rawls, a Harvard academic who introduced the anti-concept of “social justice”, which is the intellectual basis of a new political theory called “comprehensive welfare state”.

Adam Smith, who defended capitalism on utilitarian grounds, claimed that so long as markets were free and unregulated, the actions of individuals, fueled by rational self-interest or “enlightened greed”, would work together for the greater good of society. In his critique of Smith’s works, Karl Marx, who actually coined the term “capitalism”, recognized and understood the productiveness of the free market system, saying it “has accomplished wonders far surpassing the Egyptian pyramids, Roman aqueducts, the Gothic cathedrals… [D]uring its rule of scarcely one hundred years, it has created more massive and more colossal productive forces than have all preceding generations together.” However, he rejected capitalism and instead advocated his own brand of collectivist system because it is “immoral.” Yes, Marx sought to destroy capitalism on moral grounds. Relying on the works of Hegel, Immanuel Kant, and other intellectual god-fathers of sacrifice and collectivism, Marx declared that property is theft and capitalism would ultimately result in the “alienation” of the working class.

Take, for example, Obama’s latest and most controversial speech in which he outed himself as an unapologetic Marxist. He claimed that a limited government that preserves free markets, which “speaks to our rugged individualism” [as Americans] “doesn’t work” and “has never worked”. He then urged Americans to look to a more activist government that taxes more, spends more and regulates more if they want to preserve or serve the middle class. Obama was not merely channeling Franklin D. Roosevelt, but also Karl Marx (the founder of Marxist communism), Immanuel Kant (the intellectual advocate of duty and self-sacrifice), and John Rawls (the proponent of social justice and the intellectual founder of comprehensive welfare state).

Thankfully in the past century, a man- or a woman– came to defend capitalism or the free market system on moral grounds. Ayn Rand, who was the strongest advocate of reason and individualism, claimed this socio-economic system is moral NOT because it represents the best way to achieve “the common good”, but because “it is the only system consonant with man’s rational nature, that it protects man’s survival qua man, and that its ruling principle is: justice.” 

In her essay titled What is Capitalism, Ayn Rand wrote:

Capitalism is a social system based on the recognition of individual rights, including property rights, in which all property is privately owned.

The recognition of individual rights entails the banishment of physical force from human relationships: basically, rights can be violated only by means of force. In a capitalist society, no man or group may initiate the use of physical force against others. The only function of the government, in such a society, is the task of protecting man’s rights, i.e., the task of protecting him from physical force; the government acts as the agent of man’s right of self-defense, and may use force only in retaliation and only against those who initiate its use; thus the government is the means of placing the retaliatory use of force under objective control.

Now, I am glad to say that Ayn Rand’s highly valuable ideas and philosophy are now being discussed in the media, academes and other social and political institutions. Forbes Magazine recently published an article written by Richard M. Salsman, president and chief market strategist of InterMarket Forecasting, Inc.

The following are excerpts from Mr. Salsman’s article titled Capitalism Isn’t Corporatism or Cronyism:

Capitalism is the greatest socio-economic system in human history, because it’s so moral and so productive – the two features so essential to human survival and flourishing. It’s moral because it enshrines and fosters rationality and self-interest – “enlightened greed,” if you will – the two key virtues we all must consciously adopt and practice if we’re to pursue and attain life and love, health and wealth, adventure and inspiration. It produces not only material-economic abundance but the aesthetic values seen in the arts and entertainment.

But what is capitalism, exactly? How do we know it when we see it or have it – or when we haven’t, or don’t?

These aren’t easily-answered questions, because for more than a century capitalism has had more critics than champions, and because the critics have given biased or bigoted portrayals of what they feel is a demonic system. These critics despise capitalism’s root ethic (self-interest) as “evil” and then blithely presume the system harms human beings or sabotages societal peace and prosperity. Anti-capitalist prejudice has been perpetuated for decades by parents, teachers and preachers alike, who claim that to benefit yourself (egoism) is bad, but to benefit and serve others, especially at our own expense or sacrifice (altruism, or “other-ism”) is good – that it’s better to give than receive, to be our “brother’s keeper,” to serve or suffer rather than profit or enjoy. In truth, capitalism, the free society, means people trade value-for-value to mutually beneficial gain.

Historically, capitalism is only about 250 years old – a mere flick of the clock hand relative to mankind’s total time on earth so far (roughly 200,000 years, and only 15,000 years in the Americas). Capitalism arose during the Renaissance (1500s-1600s) and Enlightenment (1700s), which entailed a re-birth of reason, self-confidence, culture, and commerce – in short, the pursuit of one’s own personal happiness. This was in sharp contrast to what had preceded it for a millennium: zeal and faith, superstition, ignorance, oppression, torture, and economic poverty, imposed by church and state alike, amid religious Medievalism and the Dark Age. Capitalism has been co-extant with the Scientific Revolution, the Industrial Revolution and the Political Revolution, the last of which was realized in the U.S. Constitution (1787), which soon also abolished slavery.

The question of “what is capitalism,” exactly – and likewise, regarding its main rivals, what is “statism,” “socialism,” “social democracy,” “communism,” “fascism,” or “corporatism” – shouldn’t be a matter of mere semantics. These are real political systems affecting real people, whether for good or ill. Political systems are free, un-free and oppressive, or mixed. We cannot legitimately make up terms or equivocate (i.e., switch meanings from one argument to the next, to evade or twist the logic) about these political systems.

Capitalism has been blamed for the Great Recession of 2007-2009 and for the financial crisis and bailouts of 2008, but it’s not “capitalism” but the mixed economy and corporatism-cronyism that did it. We’ve had corporatism in the U.S. for roughly the past century, and it’s getting worse over time; it’s also the system we’ve seen in Europe since at least the time of Germany’s Otto von Bismarck, who launched the womb-to-tomb welfare state in the 1870s. In the interim, of course, Europe also imposed communism, socialism and fascism. The result, we know, was mass murder, world war, and the continent-wide destruction of wealth.

Capitalism’s greatest intellectual champion, Ayn Rand (1905-1982), once defined it as “a social system based on the recognition of individual rights, including property rights, in which all property is privately owned.” This recognition of genuine rights (not “rights” to force others to get us what we wish) is all-crucial and it has a distinctive moral foundation, according to Rand:

The recognition of individual rights entails the banishment of physical force from human relationships: basically, rights can be violated only by means of force. In a capitalist society, no man or group may initiate the use of physical force against others. The only function of the government, in such a society, is the task of protecting man’s rights, i.e., the task of protecting him from physical force; the government acts as the agent of man’s right of self-defense, and may use force only in retaliation and only against those who initiate its use; thus the government is the means of placing the retaliatory use of force under objective control.” “The moral justification of capitalism does not lie in the altruist claim that it represents the best way to achieve “the common good.” It is true that capitalism does—if that catch-phrase has any meaning—but this is merely a secondary consequence. The moral justification of capitalism lies in the fact that it is the only system consonant with man’s rational nature, that it protects man’s survival qua man, and that its ruling principle is: justice.

Elaborating, Rand explained in Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal (1966) that historically, politically, economically, and morally, capitalism was the superior socio-economic system, yet also how, for decades, its achievements and virtues had been hidden and buried deliberately in an avalanche of prejudice, distortion, and falsehood. Rand argued that capitalism is a moral ideal yet also was made real, and to the greatest extent, in America in the 19th century, especially during the Gilded Age (1865-1890). Thus she called the U.S. “the greatest, the noblest and, in its original founding principles, the only moral country in the history of the world.”

Most people today can’t even fathom (let alone endorse or advocate) a government that’s strictly limited to protecting each person’s right to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness. They assume a government must be controlled by some pressure group or another, in a “zero-sum game” of unavoidable exploitation – that “power” is ubiquitous and ineradicable, while the only question is who wields it and whose head gets bashed in. They say “timocracy” is rule by the military for the sole benefit of the military, that “plutocracy” is rule by the rich for the sole sake  of the rich, that “socialism” is rule by labor for the sake only of labor, that “capitalism” is rule by capitalists (or Wall Street bankers) for the singular benefit of capitalists, and that “democracy” is rule by people (i.e., the majority) at the expense of the minority (true!).

16 Comments leave one →
  1. December 9, 2011 3:38

    Thanks for reminding me of the moral foundation of capitalism.

    You just need a little more polish. After writing a paragraph, review it not only for typos and grammatical mistakes but also to improve sentence construction and clarity.

    John Rawls is a significant intellectual of the left and I’m glad you have encountered him. Contemporary leftists worth studying are Naomi Klein and Krugman. I have Naomi Klein’s “The Shock Doctrine” which I have tried to read, but can’t complete because 1) it’s difficult for me to follow her logic, and 2) I have other priorities right now. If you want to study her, I can lend you my copy of her latest book, or you can simply visit her website at http://naomiklein.org. She is one of the more prominent defenders of the Occupiers.

    • December 10, 2011 3:38

      Yes, I admit those errors. I wrote this piece before going to bed without editing, polishing it. Thanks!

      • December 10, 2011 3:38

        Yes, I read Rawls’s A Theory of Justice and found that his theory to be a gigantic contradiction. His political philosophy mainly focuses on distributive justice, and I say that it is also grounded in utilitarianism and consequentialism. Rawls was a modern-day Machiavellian, as he believed that the end justifies the means. He had no problem at all with using government powers to take away the wealth from certain individuals or sectors in order to serve the welfare of the least advantaged. The problem is- and most of his supporters who advocate “comprehensive welfare state” know this- Rawls never really tackled the issue of production. So the theorists of comprehensive welfare state tried to complete Rawls’s ‘deficient’ theory by injecting the concept of production into his distributive justice. These modern-day political theorists somehow understand the role of production in fulfilling the state’s distributive role or function.

        As to Klein, I couldn’t stand her utter ignorance. I couldn’t even start to read her book The Shock Doctrine and watch her speeches on YouTube. Klein (plus her hubby Avi Lewis) and Krugman are the champions of modern-day liberals, leftists, statists.

  2. December 10, 2011 3:38

    “The moral justification of capitalism does not lie in the altruist claim that it represents the best way to achieve “the common good.” It is true that capitalism does—if that catch-phrase has any meaning—but this is merely a secondary consequence. The moral justification of capitalism lies in the fact that it is the only system consonant with man’s rational nature, that it protects man’s survival qua man, and that its ruling principle is: justice.”

    I think this shows a fundamental error in not only one’s understanding of Marx’s many critiques of capitalism, but also a misunderstanding of the human condition. The problem inherent in this system is precisely what the “Randian” would hail it to be its redeeming moral principle. Contrary to what Rousseau may assert, man is a social creature, a being evolved from social creatures. Man’s intuit rationality is not one of mere self-preservation, but one of preservation for oneself along with the survival of the herd, the group. This rationality of protecting one’s own survival qua man is bred out of the capitalist paradigm, not out of the inherent ontos of man. While I certainly advocate for the libertarian approach to individual rights, one must understand that when these rights are based in a system predicated on the drive for fetishised commodities, when the ‘capitalist’ is more concerned with value of its products over his laborers, we see a system that is ostensibly contradictory to justice; unless, of course, one defines ‘justice’ as the betterment of oneself even if at the expense of others.

    Of course, all this is not even to address Marx’s other moral concerns with the capitalistic structure. But one thing at a time…

  3. December 10, 2011 3:38

    “I think this shows a fundamental error in not only one’s understanding of Marx’s many critiques of capitalism, but also a misunderstanding of the human condition.”

    — Kindly be more precise. What “misunderstanding of Marx’s critiques and of human condition” are you talking about? You mean to say it is moral to abolish private property, to nationalize industries, to centrally plan the economy, to destroy individual rights, to make the government the source of rights and almost everything the people need, to abolish free speech, etc?

    • December 10, 2011 3:38

      “You mean to say it is moral to abolish private property, to nationalize industries, to centrally plan the economy, to destroy individual rights, to make the government the source of rights and almost everything the people need, to abolish free speech, etc?”

      I don’t believe that I said that I believed in any of the aforementioned concepts were just, so I’m a bit confused as to why you are eager to paint a picture of my beliefs, especially one that’s based off of some bastardized version of communism. I’m not a communist if that puts your mind at ease, but you should also know that Marx didn’t consider most of the things you listed to be just either.

      Anyway, back to the topic at hand, I would still like you to respond to the fact that man is not inherently a self-centered being, but is evolved from and is a social being, thus rendering the notion of merely being concerned with oneself, even if at the expense of others, as unjust.

      • December 10, 2011 3:38

        Well, it’s because you claimed that that Ayn Rand quotation “shows a fundamental error in not only one’s understanding of Marx’s many critiques of capitalism, but also a misunderstanding of the human condition.”

        That’s why I’d like you to clarify that statement of yours. You mean to say it is moral to abolish private property, to nationalize industries, to centrally plan the economy, to destroy individual rights, to make the government the source of rights and almost everything the people need, to abolish free speech, etc?

        “I would still like you to respond to the fact that man is not inherently a self-centered being, but is evolved from and is a social being, thus rendering the notion of merely being concerned with oneself, even if at the expense of others, as unjust.”

        Do you want to live on earth? What would you do to achieve that purpose: of living on earth? Your answer to this question is the answer to your question. May I know your answer please.

        Plus, define “self-interest”. I’d like to know how you understand this concept. Do you think that self-interest is inherently evil? Is that what you think of it?

  4. December 11, 2011 3:38

    “That’s why I’d like you to clarify that statement of yours. You mean to say it is moral to abolish private property, to nationalize industries, to centrally plan the economy, to destroy individual rights, to make the government the source of rights and almost everything the people need, to abolish free speech, etc?”

    I’ve already responded to this and won’t do it again. If you wish to continue painting me as a nationalistic Stalinist when I explicitly said that I wasn’t, then there’s really no point in continuing.

    “Do you want to live on earth? What would you do to achieve that purpose: of living on earth? Your answer to this question is the answer to your question. May I know your answer please.”

    I’m not sure I understand the parameters of this question…

    “Plus, define “self-interest”. I’d like to know how you understand this concept. Do you think that self-interest is inherently evil? Is that what you think of it?

    No, of course I don’t consider self-interest inherently evil. I would consider self-interest to be immoral if it were to come at the intentional disinterest of others, though.

  5. December 11, 2011 3:38

    “I’ve already responded to this and won’t do it again. If you wish to continue painting me as a nationalistic Stalinist when I explicitly said that I wasn’t, then there’s really no point in continuing.”

    — Where’s your response? I’d like to see it. I’d like you to elaborate on your alleged response. I am not trying to paint you as a “nationalistic Stalinist”. I am just trying to point out that if you don’t see anything wrong with Marxism, then you somehow believe that it is moral to abolish private property, to nationalize industries, to centrally plan the economy, to destroy individual rights, to make the government the source of rights and almost everything the people need, to abolish free speech, etc. in the name of the greater good or common good. That’s why I’d like to know where you’re coming from.

    “I’m not sure I understand the parameters of this question…”

    The point is, MAN IS A SELF-INTERESTED BEING. If you want to use another term like “self-centered” then so be it. But the term used is “self-interested” being. Take note the word SELF-INTEREST.

    I asked: “Do you want to live on earth? What would you do to achieve that purpose: of living on earth?”

    If you want to live on earth, then you must know how to achieve that purpose of living or survival. That process of acting on your survival is motivated by SELF-INTEREST. Self-preservation is motivated by self-interest. Why do you have to earn a living, to keep the products of your labor, to create value that others want and need, to put up a business, to join organizations that represent your beliefs and values, etc.? It’s because of self-interest.

    What I am trying to point out is that self-interest, as against the philosophical convention spread by Kant, Compte, Marx, etc., is NOT inherently evil. It is not inherently immoral. You have to understand the concept of “self-interest”. I advise that you read Ayn Rand’s “The Virtue of Selfishness” to properly argue against her ethical system. Otherwise, you’d only misrepresent her views and philosophy.

    You said: “No, of course I don’t consider self-interest inherently evil. I would consider self-interest to be immoral if it were to come at the intentional disinterest of others, though.”

    That’s the reason why you need to consciously understand the concept of self-interest. Is it in your “self-interest” to take advantage of others?

    Someone asked me this question: “Is ‘corruption’ motivated by “Self-Interest”?”

    Here’s my answer:

    No. It’s motivated by disrespect of one’s ‘self’. It’s a sign of weakness. It is SELF-DESTRUCTIVE. If you’re about to commit any kind of corrupt practice or act, you know for yourself that you’re going to commit a wrongful, immoral, self-destructive act, unless you’re a clinically proven imbecile or you’re living in an immoral society that sanctions any kind of immoral, evil acts. The very reason why man needs a government is to have an agency to protect his rights against immoral, corrupt rights-violators.

    It is not in your self-interest to sacrifice others or to commit immoral acts. Immoral, corrupt acts are self-destructive!

    Why is “an act of corruption” motivated by conscious disrespect of one’s “self” or “soul”? It’s because before you commit an immoral, dishonest act, you have to betray your “self” and “soul” first. You have betray and negate your moral principles, even if you don’t have any.

    It’s a sign of “weakness” because your “evil, dishonest act” simply proves you cannot survive by relying on your own ability. You cannot survive or exist without cheating or taking advantage of others. Or: You cannot live a decent life without stealing from government coffers.

    Corrupt politicians who drive SUVs and live in tinseled mansions know deep inside that they’re immoral and not worthy to be called “honorable”, “sirs”, or “gentlemen”. Everyday in their lives they betray their “soul”. Everyday they support their family with stolen, ill-gotten money or resources. They’re not “human beings” if they’re not consciously aware that what they’re ‘doing’ is wrong or immoral.

    Corruption is self-destructive because in a just, moral society, people who commit crimes and dishonest, immoral acts (that violate the rights of others) are punished by the legal, justice system. People who commit wrongful acts, in a just and moral society, are brought to justice. So corruption is NOT motivated by self-interest if you know for yourself that your “immoral”, “wrongful”, “illegal” act could send you to jail and destroy your name, your family, your future, and your life.

    Self-interest must be long-term. What I like about Ayn Rand is that she clearly explained the concept of self-interest and why self-interest is moral, not immoral.

    She wrote: “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—which he must selflessly renounce. The idea that man’s self-interest can be served only by a non-sacrificial relationship with others has never occurred to those humanitarian apostles of unselfishness, who proclaim their desire to achieve the brotherhood of men. And it will not occur to them, or to anyone, so long as the concept “rational” is omitted from the context of “values,” “desires,” “self-interest” and ethics.”

    In “Objectivist Ethics”, Ayn Rand also wrote:

    “The term “interests” is a wide abstraction that covers the entire field of ethics. It includes the issues of: man’s values, his desires, his goals and their actual achievement in reality. A man’s “interests” depend on the kind of goals he chooses to pursue, his choice of goals depends on his desires, his desires depend on his values—and, for a rational man, his values depend on the judgment of his mind.

    “Desires (or feelings or emotions or wishes or whims) are not tools of cognition; they are not a valid standard of value, nor a valid criterion of man’s interests. 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.

    “To claim that a man’s interests are sacrificed whenever a desire of his is frustrated—is to hold a subjectivist view of man’s values and interests. Which means: to believe that it is proper, moral and possible for man to achieve his goals, regardless of whether they contradict the facts of reality or not. Which means: to hold an irrational or mystical view of existence. Which means: to deserve no further consideration.” — http://www.formspring.me/vincentonpost/q/268983049809575153

    I also tackled the morality of self-interest in the following blog, in which I said:

    In biological terms, SELF-INTEREST is evidenced by any human beings’ willingness to survive by going to work, finishing a college degree, starting a business, working on a potential invention or discovery, etc. You work, study, and mingle with the right people in order to live, to improve your life, and to learn from others. Is self-interest evil?

    ALTRUISM means self-sacrifice or putting the welfare of others above your own. The altruists (like missionaries, nuns, environmentalists, etc.) are free and have the right to serve others so long as they don’t advocate for political measures that call for a national or social sacrifice (e.g., political advocacy like the passage of the Reproductive Health bill, socialized health care, etc.)

    In business terms, SELF-INTEREST is manifested/evidenced by every business’s or corporation’s desire to maximize its profit margins and to encourage productivity. These naive Flips miserably try to prove their claim that ALTRUISM is good by pointing at some corporations and wealthy personalities that embark on charitable causes and activities. But in reality, are these corporations and wealthy people really ALTRUISTIC by engaging in charities and community services? The answer is NO, stupid.

    Charity, as the term connotes, should be voluntary. Charity cannot be made possible by means of coercion, force or compulsion. You cannot force your neighbor to be charitable or to feed or help others. Forced charity is a contradiction in terms. Just as you don’t have the right to use force on others to render or perform charitable works, so you cannot urge the government to be charitable and generous with other people’s money. https://fvdb.wordpress.com/2011/08/27/why-self-interest-is-good-and-moral/

  6. December 14, 2011 3:38

    First, the reason why I stated that there was an ostensible lack of understanding in, “Marx’s many critiques of capitalism, but also a misunderstanding of the human condition,” was not because I am a defender of Marxism, but because of exactly what I said: I think there lies here a misunderstanding of Marx’s many critiques of capitalism, as well as a misunderstanding of the human condition. As can be substantiated from just this thread alone, there is a perverse tendency to conflate Marx’s works on economics into one subject when, in fact, there are two aspects: his actual critiques of capitalism (which can be further subdivided into either moral and economical) and his implementation of a new system (i.e. Communism) (Note: I would like to once again point out that many of the things which you listed is not what was envisioned by Marx. For example, Marx would never condone the abolition of free speech. That came when communism was bastardized by the likes of Stalin, et. al.) My comment to you was intended to point out that I think that there is a misunderstanding of the former (which was not even my biggest contention with the post). Your unfounded critiques of myself is predicated on a false assumption that I am defending the latter. I’m not. I say that there is a misunderstanding of Marx’s critiques of capitalism inherent in this post because of this conflation found throughout the OP.

    ” I advise that you read Ayn Rand’s “The Virtue of Selfishness” to properly argue against her ethical system. Otherwise, you’d only misrepresent her views and philosophy.”

    Secondly: I am usually quite patient, but I would suggest that you carefully read what I write and not just assume what it is I am saying, or take a quick perusal. The fact that you took so much space in your reply back to me to defend self-interest tells me that you have not carefully read my responses, especially when I explicitly stated that I did not think self-interest is inherently evil (which is a bit weird since you actually acknowledged that I did this by quoting me…). Now, I have some issues with saying that there is not, at least to a certain extent, an element of self-interest inherent in corruption, but that is not the issue at hand (though, I would like to return to this subject, because that would be interesting to talk about. Maybe later?) My criticism of any ideology, like certain tendencies found in Objectivism, is that it does not recognize that man is not this monolithic creature who is solely relegated to have merely one inherent characteristic. “Occurrences like this astonish because they conflict with the image we have of man in harmony with himself, coherent, monolithic; and they should not astonish because that is not how man is. Compassion and brutality can coexist in the same individual and in the same moment, despite all logic; and for all that, compassion itself eludes logic.” (Primo Levi) I saw some glimmers of hope when you began discussing altruism, but they were mere glimmers. You, and other Randians that I have discussions with, write and talk (even if not consciously) as if there is this Cartesian dichotomy with respect to the ontos of man: we are either evil or compassionate, sane or insane, self-interested or altruistic. (Note: I did misspeak earlier when I said that man is not inherently self-interested. I meant to say that man is not inherently merely self-interested. I sincerely apologize because that is an important distinction.) Whenever I have these types of discussions, there is always this tendency to put into separate categories the “altruists” and the “self-interested”. But the fact of the matter is that man is fully capable of being both self-interested and altruistic, of showing compassion, and that most people do indeed exhibit both altruism and self-interest without one having to necessarily affect the other. You said:

    “If you want to live on earth, then you must know how to achieve that purpose of living or survival. That process of acting on your survival is motivated by SELF-INTEREST. Self-preservation is motivated by self-interest.”

    While I certainly want to live and survive, and self-interest is perhaps the best means to achieve that end, I would not – and most people would agree with me on this matter – employ this self-interest in all scenarios. For example: I would unabashedly, and without hesitation, sacrifice myself for the sake of my family. Yet, this act of self-sacrifice does not in any way negate my self-interest in my own survival. I am merely able to recognize that there are more important things than myself – whether this is objectively true is besides the point. This is why I originally brought up the fact that we are evolved from social creatures, and thus are social creatures ourselves. In addition to our inherent self-interest, we also have inherent within us the, for the momentary lack of a better word, “knowledge” that the needs of the group, and of the next generation, are usually greater than ourselves.

    Lastly, I would just like to briefly mention that it seems as if many of your examples demonstrating the inherent self-interest of man (e.g. “In biological terms, SELF-INTEREST is evidenced by any human beings’ willingness to survive by going to work…”) seems to be showing self-interest as predicated upon a capitalist paradigm, rather than actual man. I’ll be clear, I do agree that self-interest is an inherent characteristic of man, but a lot of your examples are not founded on man, but on the capitalistic structure. But, this would be delving into the second aspect of Marx’s critique, which would be straying too far off-topic. Although, we could certainly discuss it if you like.🙂

    Thanks for the discussion! I haven’t really had a robust discussion on economic philosophy in awhile and I appreciate your time!

    • December 14, 2011 3:38

      Also, I’ll have to re-read Rand’s The Virtue of Selfishness as it’s been awhile…

    • December 14, 2011 3:38

      Hi Oscar!

      Thanks for your reply.

      I believe there are a lot of issues that I need to address here.

      You said: “I think there lies here a misunderstanding of Marx’s many critiques of capitalism, as well as a misunderstanding of the human condition.”

      This is the reason why I asked you to clarify your point. Please do not forget that you’re dealing with a “student” of Objectivism. I value facts and logical reasoning. You should have presented those “misunderstanding of Marx’s many critiques of capitalism”, including a “misunderstanding of the human condition” POINT BY POINT. This is what you should have done:

      1. Cite those misunderstandings, or give particular examples.

      2. Explain why you believe they are “misunderstandings”.

      3. Present your own arguments or counter-arguments.

      This is how a logical discussion is done.

      You said: “there is a perverse tendency to conflate Marx’s works on economics into one subject when, in fact, there are two aspects: his actual critiques of capitalism (which can be further subdivided into either moral and economical) and his implementation of a new system (i.e. Communism) (Note: I would like to once again point out that many of the things which you listed is not what was envisioned by Marx.”

      Marx’s economic arguments against capitalism was motivated by his anti-self interest morality or morality of altruism. While he believed that the bourgeoisie system uplifted human conditions in the past, he rejected it because of its morality of self-interest. This is why Marx was a collectivist. His works prove that he regarded human beings as not sovereign entities possessing inalienable rights to the products or fruits or their labor. Instead, he believed that property “is theft” and that self-interest is evil or the root of all evil.

      In effect, Marx’s works were based on an utterly flawed concept of human nature. In the words of Ludwig von Mises, Marxism is an attack on logic and REASON. His class warfare principle or ideology proves it. Marx was actually the first proponent of the zero-sum game, a belief or concept that one individual’s gains result only from another individual’s equivalent losses. This is, in fact, the conceptual basis of his collectivist ideology. That is why he advocated the abrogation of private property, central planning, abolition of individual rights, etc.

      You said: “For example, Marx would never condone the abolition of free speech. That came when communism was bastardized by the likes of Stalin, et. al.)”

      This is funny. But even those leftist dictators NEVER thought their collectivist systems or ideologies would lead to mass murder, mass starvation, abrogation of free speech and other rights, slavery, and many forms of social and political evils. Stalin, Lenin, Mao, Pol Pot were all motivated by their desire to SERVE THE POOR, THE LESS PRIVILEGED, THE LEAST ADVANTAGED, THE WORKING CLASS, THE LITTLE MEN. They didn’t start by killing people. They started by preaching the gospel COMMON GOOD OR GREATER GOOD and the POWER OF THE PROLETARIAT. However as well all know, these guys ended up burning books and bodies. That’s the tragic history of socialism.

      Death, slavery and extreme poverty are the only LOGICAL result of any form of collectivist ideology. Marx did not invent socialism or collectivism or communism. He merely formed or conceptualized his own version of socialism. Ever heard of the term “Utopian Socialism” that preceded Marx? Ever heard of the story of the Pilgrims who first settled in Plymouth, Massachusetts in the early 1600s? The Pilgrims established a collective system that very similar to Marx’s socialism. But that was about 200 years before the birth of Marx.

      A society that regards private property as “theft” and individualism or self-interest as “evil” would ultimately end up limiting free speech, violating the residual rights of the people, and establishing a system of slavery.

      Collectivism is the opposite of individualism. Individualism is a concept that “regards man—every man—as an independent, sovereign entity who possesses an inalienable right to his own life, a right derived from his nature as a rational being. Individualism holds that a civilized society, or any form of association, cooperation or peaceful coexistence among men, can be achieved only on the basis of the recognition of individual rights—and that a group, as such, has no rights other than the individual rights of its members.”

      Individualism simply means man is an end himself, NOT the means to the ends of others. In an individualist society, the powers of the state or government are strictly limited by the constitution or by the rule of law. The government cannot sacrifice or violate the rights of any individual without due process.

      You should know that this discussion REQUIRES critical thinking skills. It requires LOGIC, and logic is the art of non-contradictory identification.

      Of course, Marx would not have condoned the limitation of free speech, but his system, which grants all political and economic powers to a single entity, would ultimately lead to abuse of power.

      From what country are you? Do you own property? Do you own your salary or savings? Are you not required to submit all your earnings to the state? Do you own your house, your car, your computer, and everything you have? Just imagine if the state owns everything you have. Also, try to imagine what would happen if you criticize or attack that entity that owns everything, including perhaps your life. Why are there no free speech in collectivist, property right-less societies? It’s because their governments own everything, including their own citizens. Central planning simply treats people as slaves or non-sovereign entities.

      You still don’t get it? Logic, sir, is what you need.

      As to self-interest, what is your understanding of this term? How do you understand self-interest? Is it in your self-interest to commit crimes? Is it in your self-interest to destroy your name, your life, your health, your future? Perhaps you’re confusing self-destruction with self-interest. Try to re-read my reply and try to use LOGIC.

      You said: “My criticism of any ideology, like certain tendencies found in Objectivism, is that it does not recognize that man is not this monolithic creature who is solely relegated to have merely one inherent characteristic.”

      What made you say that? What do you mean by “it does not recognize that man is not this monolithic creature who is solely relegated to have merely one inherent characteristic”? Kindly support your claim with actual passages or citation? What is this “one inherent characteristic”? Kindly clarify your statements, please.

      Please read the works of Ayn Rand to have a clear, objective understanding of her philosophy. I tell you, I was a critic before I came to understand her philosophy. Before I was a mini-Marxist and an admirer of Chomsky, Foucault, Barthes, and other post-structuralist thinkers.

      You said: “You, and other Randians that I have discussions with, write and talk (even if not consciously) as if there is this Cartesian dichotomy with respect to the ontos of man: we are either evil or compassionate, sane or insane, self-interested or altruistic.”

      — I don’t know about those “Randians” whom you had discussion with. What do you mean by “Cartesian dichotomy?” Well, I tell you, that’s not how I understand Objectivism. So in your next reply, be very clear and objective. Tell me what you understand by Objectivism by simply citing ACTUAL PASSAGES. I tell you, you have lots of misunderstanding and FALSE ASSUMPTIONS of Rand’s philosophy and ideas.

      You said: ” Whenever I have these types of discussions, there is always this tendency to put into separate categories the “altruists” and the “self-interested”. But the fact of the matter is that man is fully capable of being both self-interested and altruistic, of showing compassion…”

      HERE is the reason why I want to you be LOGICAL. What is your understanding of altruism? Very clearly, you’re equating ALTRUISM with COMPASSION. I think you’re wrong. I urge you to check your premise. I urge you to better understand the proper concept of altruism. Altruism is not the same as, or does not suggest, compassion or charity. In fact they are opposites.

      Let me show you why.

      Altruism, a form of morality or ethics coined by Auguste Compte, is “the principle or practice of unselfish concern for or devotion to the welfare of others ( opposed to egoism).” Altruism is simply defined as a selfless concern for the welfare of others. The keyword here is “selfless.” Here’s the Wikipedia definition of altruism. “Altruism is an ethical doctrine that holds that individuals have a moral obligation to help, serve, or benefit others, if necessary at the sacrifice of self interest. Auguste Comte’s version of altruism calls for living for the sake of others. One who holds to either of these ethics is known as an ‘altruist.’”

      Here what I said in a previous blog:

      “This type of man-sacrificing ethical system conceptualized by Auguste Compte, states that it is the moral duty or obligation of individuals to serve the good and welfare of others and put their interests above their own.”[vi] Perhaps some of these people reject philosophy, but they cannot evade the fact that their altruistic statements and behavior are tied to a certain form of process of thought.

      “What can be deduced from their statements and advocacies is that they are so loud in proclaiming that they care for the poor, the weak, and the have-nots. They deeply believe that it is the duty of those who have in life to provide welfares and goods to those who don’t. If Compte argues that man has the “moral obligation” to serve others, Immanuel Kant, another anti-reason philosopher, solidifies this claim by declaring that man has a special sense of “duty” to serve others.[vii] It is Kant’s subjectivist philosophy, meaning a philosophy that is detached from reality and determined only by the perceiver’s consciousness, that claims that an action is moral only if the individual performs it out of a sense of duty and obtains no benefit from it of any sort.”

      That said, logic tells us that altruism obliterates compassion and charity. Why? Charity is supposed to be voluntary. There’s nothing wrong with helping other people so long as you can afford it.

      I repeat what I said in my previous reply:

      “Charity, as the term connotes, should be voluntary. Charity cannot be made possible by means of coercion, force or compulsion. You cannot force your neighbor to be charitable or to feed or help others. Forced charity is a contradiction in terms. Just as you don’t have the right to use force on others to render or perform charitable works, so you cannot urge the government to be charitable and generous with other people’s money.”

      You still don’t understand? Altruism is a duty. It imposes duty. LOGIC!

      Denouncing altruism does not mean you’re not compassionate or you reject charity. In fact, charity is one of the ingredients of an individualist, capitalist society. Ayn Rand herself gave to charity. I give to charity. But I only want to help those who’re willing to help themselves. I support organizations that represent my beliefs. There’s nothing wrong with charity. There’s nothing wrong with helping people. What makes it wrong is when you sacrifice your life to others or ask others to sacrifice theirs. That’s EVIL.

      You said: “While I certainly want to live and survive, and self-interest is perhaps the best means to achieve that end, I would not – and most people would agree with me on this matter – employ this self-interest in all scenarios. For example: I would unabashedly, and without hesitation, sacrifice myself for the sake of my family.”

      Here I call you attention on the CONCEPT OF VALUE. A value is that which you gain and/or keep. I hope this definition is clear. When you value something, you want to gain and/or keep it. When you value someone, you want to keep him/her. You show him/her love. You show him/her respect and affection. Why? Because it is in your SELF-INTEREST to keep, love, respect him/her. Do you love your parents? Do you love your wife or girlfriend? Do you love your child? Is it an act of sacrifice when you give something valuable (like your kidney) to the one you love who’s on the verge of death? IT’S NOT. Why? Because that person represents your value. Because it is in your SELF-INTEREST to keep him/her. You don’t want to lose him/her so you’re willing to give him/her your kidney or even your life.

      Why are patriots or some people willing to die for their country? Is that an act of self-sacrifice or altruism? NO. It’s an act of self-interest. They fight for their country against an invading army because they don’t want to live as slaves, or because they care for their children.

      However, certain wars in the past were motivated by altruism or self-sacrifice. Ayn Rand opposed the Vietnam war because it sacrificed the lives of American soldiers just to liberate the Vietnamese from communism. I opposed the Iraq war. I opposed the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan.

      Here’s what Ayn Rand said abou sacrifice:

      In “The Ethics of Emergencies”:

      “Sacrifice” is the surrender of a greater value for the sake of a lesser one or of a nonvalue. Thus, altruism gauges a man’s virtue by the degree to which he surrenders, renounces or betrays his values (since help to a stranger or an enemy is regarded as more virtuous, less “selfish,” than help to those one loves). The rational principle of conduct is the exact opposite: always act in accordance with the hierarchy of your values, and never sacrifice a greater value to a lesser one.”

      … “Sacrifice” does not mean the rejection of the worthless, but of the precious. “Sacrifice” does not mean the rejection of the evil for the sake of the good, but of the good for the sake of the evil. “Sacrifice” is the surrender of that which you value in favor of that which you don’t.

      “If you exchange a penny for a dollar, it is not a sacrifice; if you exchange a dollar for a penny, it is. If you achieve the career you wanted, after years of struggle, it is not a sacrifice; if you then renounce it for the sake of a rival, it is. If you own a bottle of milk and give it to your starving child, it is not a sacrifice; if you give it to your neighbor’s child and let your own die, it is.

      “If you give money to help a friend, it is not a sacrifice; if you give it to a worthless stranger, it is. If you give your friend a sum you can afford, it is not a sacrifice; if you give him money at the cost of your own discomfort, it is only a partial virtue, according to this sort of moral standard; if you give him money at the cost of disaster to yourself—that is the virtue of sacrifice in full.

      “If you renounce all personal desires and dedicate your life to those you love, you do not achieve full virtue: you still retain a value of your own, which is your love. If you devote your life to random strangers, it is an act of greater virtue. If you devote your life to serving men you hate—that is the greatest of the virtues you can practice.

      “A sacrifice is the surrender of a value. Full sacrifice is full surrender of all values. If you wish to achieve full virtue, you must seek no gratitude in return for your sacrifice, no praise, no love, no admiration, no self-esteem, not even the pride of being virtuous; the faintest trace of any gain dilutes your virtue. If you pursue a course of action that does not taint your life by any joy, that brings you no value in matter, no value in spirit, no gain, no profit, no reward—if you achieve this state of total zero, you have achieved the ideal of moral perfection.”

      In “For the New Intellectual”:

      “Concern for the welfare of those one loves is a rational part of one’s selfish interests. 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” for her sake, not his own, and that it makes no difference to him, personally and selfishly, whether she lives or dies.

      “Any action that a man undertakes for the benefit of those he loves is not a sacrifice if, in the hierarchy of his values, in the total context of the choices open to him, it achieves that which is of greatest personal (and rational) importance to him. In the above example, 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. Here the difference between Objectivism and altruism can be seen most clearly: if sacrifice is the moral principle of action, then that husband should sacrifice his wife for the sake of ten other women. What distinguishes the wife from the ten others? Nothing but her value to the husband who has to make the choice—nothing but the fact that his happiness requires her survival.

      “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.”

      Related blogs:

      On Ethics and Politics

      The Psychology of the Anti-Population Cult

      Why Self-Interest is Good and Moral

      The Altruist-Collectivist Mentality and the Revival of Mysticism

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