A government should not be a social plannerThe most remarkable fact in the history of Nazi Germany is that the Nazis came to power openly proclaiming exactly what they planned to do. They repeatedly and clearly advocated total obedience to the state, nationalization of businesses, mass murder -- and were legally and freely elected by the German people. How could such a thing happen? To this day people avoid the answer.
John Morrison, in his letter ["Altruisim is not authoritarianism," Nov. 23], says, "the fact that an ideal is abused to promote...cruelty...does not mean that those ideals are bad." But I msut add that when certain ideals have been used throughout history to justify cruelty, as the ideals of altruism and socialism have, it is time those ideals were examined more closely.
First listen to the Nazis' leading theorietician, Adolph Hitler, speaking in Buckeburg on Oct. 7, 1933: "...the individual should finally come to realize that his own ego is of no importance in comparison with the existence of his nation; that the position of the individual ego is conditioned solely by the interests of the nation as a whole...that above all, the unity of a nation's spirit and will are worth far more than the freedom of the spirit and will of an individual..."
And in Mein Kampf: "The basic attitude from which such activity arises, we call -- to distinguish it from egoism and selfishness -- idealism. By this we understand only the individual's capacity to make sacrifices for the community..." (Both quoted in The Ominous Parallels by Leonard Peikoff.)
Self-sacrifice, duty, disinterested service -- that these are virtues had been rooted in the minds of the German people long before the Nazis came on the scene. (The rooting was done by a long line of intellectuals.) The ethics which say, "your life is not for your own benefit" gave the Nazis no opposition when they concluded "your life is for the nation to dispose of."
Hitler was sincere at the end of his speech. The Jews, long hated by Lutheran Christians, were regarded as enemies of the community.
Altruism does not mean courtesy, kindness, or goodwill to one's fellow man. Nor does it mean merely concern for others. The essence of altruism is self-sacrifice. Altruism is the ethical code which says that one's actions are virtuous only if done for the benefit of others; one's own life and interests have no intrinsic value according to this code. The fact that others (each of whom must also practice selfless service to others in order to be good) end up in practice not benefiting, is the reason why it is more accurate to describe altruism in negative terms. Altruism is anti-self, self-abnegation.
Egoism (in the Objectivist conception) does not mean sacrificing others to oneself. Egoism is the ethical code which says one ought to act to be the beneficiary of what one produces, that to act to further one's life as a human being is good. The ideal man wants to deal with other men as a trader, both in the material and spiritual realms.
Altruism extols the individual's self-sacrifice. The Nazis took off from this and said the nation should receive these sacrifices, since the Nation represents the collective of individuals, which individuals have no independent selves. The Nazis found altruism ideally suited for sacrificing the individual to the State.
You don't want to be sacrificed? What moral base do you have? Don't be selfish. You will wear this uniform like me! (Egoism is the enemy of obedience.)
These considerations apply to the Rising Sun regime of Japan as well. But the Japanese' gory exploits did not come as such a surprise as the Germans' because Eastern culture never discovered the concept of the individual (especially during the enlightenment). Altruism-collectivism destroyed the growing idea of the individual in ther German people's minds and released the Nazis among them.
The Nazis sometimes used the word "self" when in fact they meant a group (eg. the Nation). The Nazis were invariably anti-individual.
The Nazi leaders were barking thugs--pompous, strutting, and hate-ridden--qualities which do not go with self-sufficiency, self-confidence, or the desire to be left alone.
Mr. Morrison asks me to explain in more detail how, in general, altruism in ethics leads to statism in politics. If selfless service to others is the good and acting out of rational self-interest the evil, then a government which promotes the former and hinders the latter is desirable. A system of government which protects what you earn would have a shaky moral base since your earnings should be alms to the cripples and starving everywhere. A system of government which takes away what you earn for you and your fellow men's alleged benefit, i.e. a Welfare State, fits the moral bill. Soon the government is into health care, education, annuity insurance ("social security"), science, "social planning", etc., all for the benefit of "others". Altruism leads to the Welfare State variant of Statism.
In a Welfare State everybody steals (legally through government grants) from everybody else. It's difficult to feel goodwill towards your fellow man when he's stealing form you! The Welfare State, furthermore, is not viable economically; it eventually goes bankrupt. The leaders call for more self-sacrifice, more government control, less personal liberty (perhaps using the threat of war as an excuse). A point is reached which becomes either chaos (as a prelude to the invasion of barbarian hordes) or a Totalitarian State. This is the road we are on now.
Suppose a woman spends her savings on medical treatment for a man she loves so that he can be cured of tuberculosis. This is not self-sacrificial but rather selfish, in the proper sense of the word. The man has value to her and she is acting to preserve what is valuable to her. Her money is worth less to her than his health she turns it into.
An advocate of altruism would say she should spend a postion of her money on the poor and starving in India, and would approve of laws which force her to pay taxes into foreign aid (to give just one example).
Mr Morrison's comments on Ayn Rand's novel Atlas Shrugged are a string of misrepresentations. Period.
As to his remarks based on The Jungle, I should tell you I haven't read that book, for the same reason I try to avoid reading the front page of The National Enquirer: it's trash. The author had to rake hard to pile his muck, even in a less than ideal capitalist society. Only a few factories were as he described, indeed at the turn of the century laborers were flocking from the farm fields to work in the city factories. Better pay -- and the city was more fun back then. It was a much noted population shift.
I disagree with Morrison that government control of private property (i.e. facism) applied to factories makes factory personnel safe. The general prosperity that statism destroys or makes impossible creates the best safety. Mobility, the ability to quit one job for another, efficiently run factories, technology -- these result from capitalism and are the real source of safety.
This is not to say that misrepresentation (fraud) by a factory owner to either his employees or customers should not be punishable by law. It is to say that a factory owner is entitled to be assumed innocent, and if evidence to the contrary is brought forth, entitled to due process like any other alleged contract breaker. (Employee associations can be useful in this regard, but not government favored unions. Look what such unions have done.)
Government controls do not protect life or property rights, they violate them. Further down the road, the controllers (regulators, planners, etc.) in government will be the thugs you wished to be protected from.