The Capitalism Of Ayn Rand: No Room For Altruism


Most every developed economy that exists now or has ever existed has been a Mixed Economy… some free enterprise, some State-directed activity. This fact provides the perfect excuse for Randians to deflect every historical example of an indecent or undesirable outcome of Capitalism by simply stating that the fault could not have been due to Capitalism, for PURE Capitalism has never been tried. The State is always interfering with Capitalism’s natural and righteous course. Thus, Randians can shift blame away from Capitalism to that old bogey man, The State. Sort of like how the bad guys in a Scooby -Doo cartoon can always claim that their activities would have come-off well if it hadn’t have been for those meddlesome kids.

Rand believes that it is a very bad idea to tweak Capitalism in any way whatsoever. It must be absolutely pure if it is to work. When people try to mix Welfare State values with Capitalist values, neither side is a winner. This is because the ideals of the Welfare State are based on Altruism, and as Rand writes in Conservatism: An Obituary, “ Altruism holds that man has no right to exist for his own sake, that service to others is the only justification for his existence, and that self-sacrifice is the highest moral duty, virtue, and value. Capitalism and altruism are incompatible. They are philosophical opposites. They cannot co-exist in the same man or in the same society. The conflict between capitalism and altruism has been undercutting America from her start and, today, has reached its climax.”

Agree or disagree with her, Rand works hard to maintain consistency and follow her ideas to their logical conclusions. Here she makes it clear that according to her worldview, the Capitalist is the Ideal Man, and the Ideal Man does not possess any desire to be Altruistic. I assume, since Rand disparages cognitive dissonance or feelings of guilt for pursuing one’s own interests, that anyone possessing zero Altruistic tendencies must also possess zero sympathy for his fellow Man, or else he would be acting contrary to his own beliefs and fighting feelings of guilt. Of course, one common definition of a psychopath is… a person who experiences no sympathy for the physical or emotional sufferings of others. So, Rand is basically holding up as her ideal society a nation of psychopaths. That said, since I’m a misanthrope myself, I don’t automatically reject Rand’s ideas because this is where they lead.

I do wonder though, if Randians, selfish as they are, are giving up something of even more value than personal pleasure with they pursue their self-centered aims.

First off, there’s the fairly obvious argument to be made that even selfish people could be made better off if we all worked as a team and helped each other out, doing favors without expectation of direct quid pro quo return. I’ll save that argument for others to make.

But even setting aside this argument, I can’t help but think how SMALL a Randian life is. A life lived according to Rand’s principles cuts a tiny radius, marking out a circumference of existence just big enough for one person.

Rand considers that the ultimate sin is to live for others (and I assume that would certainly include dying for the sake of others, as well). But when we do this horrible thing, this “living for others,” something beautiful happens. Our circle expands. We become part of something bigger than ourselves– and longer lived. An individual life bobs up from the depths of dark eternity and then almost immediately sinks down again forever after tracing a miniscule physical path and burning through years like a flame on a match. A measely human life lived entirely for its own sake strikes most of us, instinctively I think, as a perversity and a waste.

Yes, perhaps this is just a genetically pre-programmed hive instinct, and perhaps some future race of Ubermenschen will not feel any sympathies for each other at all, and what we call psychotic behavior today will at that date seem normal. But for now, for you and me and most of the world, the closest thing to paradise is a life filled with loving and with being loved. And if that’s just the human genetic code talking, then I hope no one breaks the code.



4 thoughts on “The Capitalism Of Ayn Rand: No Room For Altruism

  1. The corporate is an individual, but it needs customers to survive, so Rand’s paradigm is limited because being a good servant to customers brings in business and thus allows the Corporate to survive.

  2. Sigh…

    Well, lets begin with the simple fact that Objectivism is a philosophy, whereas “Randian” is an insult, petty yes, but it is an insult nevertheless.

    It is true, very true, that in human history, mixed economy has been the norm, especially since the 18th century. Ayn Rand does say that in all her books. And Ayn Rand also points out that the State or statism to be specific has been the norm since the beginning of civilization, what changed to create our modern world is the efforts that have been made towards a capitalist society. However, as long as the state can be used to manipulate the economy, it will be done by those who have the power to do it, whether it’s mobs, corrupt businessmen, demagogues etc. Ultimately, as Rand has said, as much as people are fearful of big business, it is not big business that controls the police and military, it is the government that does.

    Finally on altruism, in the context of philosophy, altruism isn’t that complicated once you get passed Ayn Rand’s romantic conclusions of it, if you listen to her arguments, you see the connection behind why she used the term selfishness (people actually don’t believe that a person can pursue their own interest independently without harming others, which is based on the premise that you cannot engage in an act (including living) independently) as a virtue. Basically, in altruism, there’s nothing moral, good or ethical about making a million dollars, but there is something moral about giving a million dollars away. Ayn Rand’s argument is that it is moral to make a million dollars, and that there’s nothing immoral or moral about giving it away, since you had to have it before you can give it to someone else. Call it whatever you want, but what argument do you have to say that she’s wrong here?

    Finally, it is quite common for most people to grasp onto ideas that they like and ideas they don’t like from philosophers. One can find things in Aristotle and Plato that they like and don’t like, but just because they agree with some ideas, doesn’t make them followers or proponents of a philosophy, which covers a lot more than isolated ideas. Ayn Rand’s ideas exist in the context of her entire philosophy where she provides conclusions and provides reasons and proof for them, if you disagree, that’s good, but it would be nice to hear reasons for and against the matter.

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