WHAT DID AYN RAND THINK OF ALTRUISM?

In the comment thread of Sunday Verse 2: Root of Evil by Keith DeHavellemarmoe initiated an interesting debate. The subject? What did Any Rand think about altruism?

In German “love of money” is often translated as “greed for money”, or simply “greed”. It’s one of the many places in the New Testament, where the danger of losing your true goal over the hunt for earthly rewards is pointed out.

As you brought up Ayn Rand, she thought Jesus got the individualism right and the altruism wrong. Christianity holds altruism a moral virtue, a stance Rand considered evil. (thread continues here)

Here is how  brought Ayn Rand into the discussion in his post.

Money is not, in and of itself, an evil thing. I’d mentioned recently the “Money Speech” from Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand, and it explicitly addresses this point:

“So you think that money is the root of all evil?” said Francisco d’Aconia. “Have you ever asked what is the root of money? Money is a tool of exchange, which can’t exist unless there are goods produced and men able to produce them. Money is the material shape of the principle that men who wish to deal with one another must deal by trade and give value for value.”

The speech is just getting started, and I recommend the audiobook version of this is on YouTube here with the second part here. The text is on-screen as well.

Essentially, Rand made a hero out of her idealized version of the American Capitalist. Consider this excerpt from Francisco d’Aconia speech.

“To the glory of mankind, there was, for the first and only time in history, a country of money–and I have no higher, more reverent tribute to pay to America, for this means: a country of reason, justice, freedom, production, achievement. For the first time, man’s mind and money were set free, and there were no fortunes-by-conquest, but only fortunes-by-work, and instead of swordsmen and slaves, there appeared the real maker of wealth, the greatest worker, the highest type of human being–the self-made man–the American industrialist.

“If you ask me to name the proudest distinction of Americans, I would choose–because it contains all the others–the fact that they were the people who created the phrase ‘to make money.’ No other language or nation had ever used these words before; men had always thought of wealth as a static quantity–to be seized, begged, inherited, shared, looted or obtained as a favor. Americans were the first to understand that wealth has to be created. The words ‘to make money’ hold the essence of human morality. (from here)

Francisco d’Aconia speech is an excellent example of literary and intellectual genius. In the context of ‘s post, Aconia’s speech raises questions (All good posts raise questions.). When Francisco d’Aconia speaks in favor of the love of one’s money, what is he talking about? Is loving money a good thing?

When we also consider that Rand despised “altruism,” was she advocating evil?

Altruism

What is the moral code of altruism?  The basic principle of altruism is that man has no right to exist for his own sake, that service to others is the only justification of his existence, and that self-sacrifice is his highest moral duty, virtue and value.

Do not confuse altruism with kindness, good will or respect for the rights of others.  These are not primaries, but consequences, which, in fact, altruism makes impossible.  The irreducible primary of altruism, the basic absolute, is self-sacrifice—which means; self-immolation, self-abnegation, self-denial, self-destruction—which means: the self as a standard of evil, the selfless as a standard of the good.

Do not hide behind such superficialities as whether you should or should not give a dime to a beggar.  That is not the issue.  The issue is whether you do or do not have the right to exist without giving him that dime.  The issue is whether you must keep buying your life, dime by dime, from any beggar who might choose to approach you.  The issue is whether the need of others is the first mortgage on your life and the moral purpose of your existence.  The issue is whether man is to be regarded as a sacrificial animal.  Any man of self-esteem will answer: “No.” Altruism says: “Yes.” (from here)

Evil? No, but is this how we should define “altruism”? What does the dictionary say?

altruism

n : the quality of unselfish concern for the welfare of others
[syn: selflessness] [ant: egoism]

The dictionary makes altruism sound considerably more innocuous, but Rand attacks altruism ferociously. Why? When Rand spoke altruism, she defined it the way the Nazis and the Communists defined it. Check out what she says 5.00 minutes into this video.

I believe Rand either misunderstood or did not appreciate certain distinctions between Christian altruism and the Marxist version of it. Nonetheless, we can understand why  feels the way he does. The Sermon on the Mount is beyond scary. It’s impossible. When Jesus spoke of what the Christian faith requires, many who might otherwise have followed Him just gave up. They could not reconcile Jesus’ call for self-sacrifice with the love they have for themselves. However, to the extent we are capable of it, the Christian compulsion towards altruism — towards love — stems from within, not from without. Our faith requires us to love God and our neighbor. Our altruism towards our neighbor stems from the fact we do in fact love our neighbor.

Because it begins in love, such altruism is completely different from whatever “altruism” government might require of us. Although it does require self-sacrifice, altruism is not necessarily self-destructive. When a mother and father care for their children, they make an altruistic sacrifice, but few parents think whatever price they pay unrewarded.

Consider again what Francisco d’Aconia says about America in his speech. Doesn’t America, the object of his praise, exist because of altruism? Can you imagine what it was like to serve in the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War? For most of the war, the Continental Army had no advantage in numbers, weapons, or training. It struggled just to endure. Yet men, sacrificing for the sake of their countrymen, committed their service to the Continental Army for years, and eventually they won. Without the love these men had for their country and the sacrifice they made, even in fiction Francisco d’Aconia would have found little to praise.

Ayn Rand has now been dead for three decades. Would she have condemned the men who served in the Continental Army for their altruism? I doubt it, but what else could she have called the selfless sacrifice these men made?

Although we are creatures who live only briefly, many of us are full of bravado. Therefore, we can congratulate ourselves that we have begun journey that extends to infinity and beyond. Yet how can that be? We have no solution for death. We can only strive as if this life had no end. Without the love of God — without His altruism — when we die, we each eternally end our journey.

1 John 4:19 Amplified Bible (AMP)

We love Him, because He first loved us.

We are His creations. Just as a parent cares for a child, He cares for us. Just as any parent would, He calls upon us to imitate Him. And so He calls upon us to love Him and each other just as He loves each of us. In altruism, we display our love for each other. With praise, thanksgiving, and obedience to His commands, we show our love for Him.

3 thoughts on “WHAT DID AYN RAND THINK OF ALTRUISM?

  1. Ayn Rand understood the issue of altruism vs. egoism in the philosophical sense, which can be put this way: In any given action, what is the ultimate purpose of it? (I pursue a means to an end, which is itself a means to a further end, and so on.) Is the ultimate purpose my own long-term enjoyment of my own life, or is it something else? If it is the former, the action is egoistic. If it is the latter, it is self-sacrificial. (Altruism is the most common case of modern self-sacrifice, which names other people as the ultimate beneficiaries.)

    I recommend this article: Atlas Shrugged and Ayn Rand’s Morality of Egoism, especially the part that explains altruism. It begins with this paragraph: “Because as human beings we have to make choices—because we have free will—a morality of some kind is unavoidable to us. Morality is truly inescapable. Our only choice in this regard is whether we acquire our morality through conscious deliberation—or by default, through social osmosis.”

    I also recommend this entry on love from the Ayn Rand Lexicon: Love

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    1. Sword of Apollo — First altruism is evil. Then with the word philosophical you suggest that only Ayn Rand took a rational approach to altrusim and egoism? Have you considered the possibility that these “clever” language manuevers only result a failure to communicate?

      We all have a bias towards our own point of view. Christian philosophers try to see themselves as God sees us. That tends to be rather humbling. It also tends to produce a certain objectivity. If we want to understand what others believe and why they believe what they believe, such objectivity is a necessity.

      What I intend to do in the short term is concentrate on the election. On the Monday after the election I will post something with respect to your references.

      Meanwhile, if you want to understand Christian theology, please read the Book of Romans. If you want to understand Christian love, please read 1 Corinthians 13 .

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