Saturday, June 19, 2021

If Not for the Fourth of July, We’d Have No Juneteenth.

Today, June 19th, 2021, we celebrate Juneteenth for the first time as a nation (49 states already do), having been passed into law as a National Holiday by Congress and the President. This is the day that, in 1865, Union soldiers reached the last enslaved Americans in Galveston, Texas, with the news that slavery had been abolished and that they were now free.

The abolition of slavery in America is a major cause for celebration. The day the last slaves were liberated certainly rises to the level of deserving of a national holiday. But it must be remembered that the principles of the American Founding made possible the end of slavery. If not for the Fourth of July, we’d have no Juneteenth. Professor Jason D. Hill, author of We Have Overcome, aptly calls the abolition of slavery America’s Second Founding.  

By all means, celebrate Juneteenth, also known as Emancipation Day. But put it on a par with Constitution Day, which celebrates the document that Frederick Douglass called “a glorious liberty document.” Like The U.S. Constitution, Juneteenth owes its existence to the Declaration of Independence and the philosophy behind it

It’s a damn shame that it took almost a Century for the promises of the Declaration of Independence to reach all Americans of African descent. But it did, finally erasing America’s most glaring birth defect.

Happy Juneteenth.


On June 19th, 2021 - the first Juneteenth - The History Channel will air Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's documentory "Fight the Power: Movements That Changed America" at 8:00pm 

Based on an LA Times review, this film could be a welcome relief from the modern reactionary "Anti-racism" movement which is marked by revenge racism, egalitarianism, socialism, the return of racial discrimination in law (Jim Crow laws), "justified" violence and looting, collectivized "justice," a war on inalienable equal individual rights, and historical revisionism as part of a general war on the American Founding. 

The movie is about how "protest is part of the American DNA." Encouragingly, Jabbar's hero is Martin Luther King Jr. Hence,

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” Abdul-Jabbar quotes the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in the documentary. “I cannot call myself a champion of civil rights unless I champion everyone’s civil rights.”

Jabbar observes that if "Any marginalized group . . . is allowed to be brutalized and ostracized," then "at one time or another, we’ll all end up in that box, . . . so we have to be willing to stand up for the rights of all people, especially marginalized people." 

Jabbar's understanding of the fundamentals sounds a lot like Ayn Rand's observations that "if you violate the rights of one, you violated the rights of all" and "The smallest minority is the individual. If you violate individual rights, you can't claim to be a defender of minorities."

Sounds good. But there are danger signs. Jabbar first aligned with Malcolm X, who "talked about not going and letting our demonstrators being beaten," meaning to physically fight back. After listening to King's message of non-violence to show that "the real power" is that non-violent resistance “really embarrasses and totally takes the face away from oppressors when they’re shown to be the bullies that they are,” Jabbar aligned with King against Malcolm X. But Jabbar also finds room to admire Malcom X because "militancy also as its place" -- whatever that means.

Nonetheless, Jabbar is firmly in the camp of MLK. Which means, he advocates for equal individual rights for all. The historical protest movements highlighted in the review seem to confirm this view.

“Fight the Power” flows fluidly through American history as women protested for the right to vote, the Black community protested for equal treatment under the law and the LGBTQ+ community protested for freedom of expression.

Those were movements primarily focussed on equal political rights. How Jabbar relates those protest movements to the current protests, marked as they are with collectivistic group warfare and obliteration of individual rights, will be the real test of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's loyalty to his espoused hero, Martin Luther king Jr. The trailer is inconclusive.

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

QUORA: ‘Do you believe in the saying "when guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns"?’

 QUORA: ‘Do you believe in the saying "when guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns"?

This may be my shortest post ever. But I couldn’t resist, because the question answers itself. Or so you would think. Apparently, some people can’t see the most obvious.

I posted this answer, expanded for clarity:

Of  course. It’s indisputable and self-explanatory. I have friends who legally own guns. If guns are outlawed, they will immediately become outlaws, even though they’ve committed no crime, unless and until they turn in their previously legally purchased guns. Of course, actual criminals who own guns would still have guns. But then, they’re already outlaws. 

Laws that outlaw all guns are targeted at law abiding citizens, not criminals. All that would be accomplished if guns are outlawed would be to strip Americans of a critical means of personal self-defense, and immediately turn law-abiding citizens into criminals. Dr. Floyd Ferris would be proud.

Related Reading:

Reisman: We Need Gun Control--for Our Government

Gun Control Should focus On Principles, Not Guns

It's NOT the Guns, it's the Rights

Banning Guns Punishes the Innocent and Violates Rights

Armed Self-Defense Saves Lives

Media Underplays Successful Defensive Gun Use, by Paul Hsieh

Whose 'Gun Violence' Research Should We Trust?

Human Volition, not Guns, is the Source of Gun Aggression

Memo to the S-L: Gun Makers' Profits are Not the Issue

Sunday, June 13, 2021

Did Ayn Rand Support the ‘Native American Genocide’?

In the Salon article, Libertarian superstar Ayn Rand defended Native American genocide, Ben Norton takes Ayn Rand to task for her views on the “colonization and genocide” of Native Americans. The article concerns her remarks during a Q & A after her West Point lecture “Philosophy, Who Needs It.” The text of her remarks, which include references to slavery, racism, and Native Americans, but in the context of advocating for individual rights—a point utterly ignored by Norton—is included at the end of the article (and below this post). The author transcribed the text from “an official MP3 recording of the event from the Ayn Rand Institute eStore.”

A thorough, objective reading of Norton’s article and transcription shows that Norton’s take is wrong on it’s essential points. Norton intersperses direct quotes from Rand with putting words in her mouth that she did not say or imply. For example, Norton uses the term “ethnically cleansing” of Native Americans when what she actually sanctioned was Europeans replacing primitive savage culture on the continent with a free civilized society. That is human progress, not “ethnic cleansing.” He doesn’t give any evidence for that charge, either against Rand or the European settlers.

Norton goes on to accuse Rand, without evidence, of “white supremacy.” Norton completely ignores the philosophical points Rand makes, offering no rebuttals whatsoever. For instance, while irresponsibly accusing Rand of racism, he ignores the opening paragraph of the transcript, in which Rand identifies the roots of racism:

To begin with, there is much more to America than the issue of racism. I do not believe that the issue of racism, or even the persecution of a particular race, is as important as the persecution of individuals, because when you deprive individuals of rights, if you deprive any small group, all individuals lose their rights. Therefore, look at this fundamentally: If you are concerned with minorities, the smallest minority on Earth is an individual. If you do not respect individual rights, you will sacrifice or persecute all minorities, and then you get the same treatment given to a majority, which you can observe today in Soviet Russia.

Here, Rand does not endorse “the persecution of a particular race,” she argues for individual rights as the foundation of anti-racism. That’s clear enough--but not to Norton. Where is the “white supremacy” in the defense of individual rights? Norton doesn’t say.  Where is any promotion of any form of racial supremacy, or supremacy of any group over others? There is none. There is only a defense of individual rights, the antipode of collectivism. Rand’s opening remarks set the tone of her entire monologue on the subject. But nowhere does Norton address Rand’s crucial issue, individual rights. 

Having accused Rand of “white supremacy” and racism, the very same article contains Rand’s passionate condemnation of racism, in particular “state establishing racism by law.” And, as Rand observed, that was the project of the ‘liberals.” Norton ridiculed Rand for that. But Richard Rothstein backs her up. Maybe Norton should read Rothstein’s The Color of Law, which documents the liberals’ systematic, decades-long project to racially segregate America by law. In fact, Norton should actually read the transcript of Rand’s Q&A monologue that he uses to condemn Rand, and that he himself provided.

While Rand may have been wrong on isolated facts, the substance of her view of European settlers "taking over" the continent is that it was right to sweep aside a culture that is not free to make way for a culture that is free. And she defines freedom specifically in terms of individual rights, not the collective “right” of a racial group to own a continent to the perpetual exclusion of all other people and ideas. Unless you oppose progress and civilization, you would have to agree with Rand's point. To say otherwise would be to uphold the proposition that primitive tribal savagery should be the permanent state of human life. You would have to be against the rise of civilization, equality of moral/political free agency, individual freedom, and the rule of law; a society in which all people, regardless of race or color or ethnic or cultural background—including previously savage peoples like Native Americans—could cast off tribal subjugation and join civilization as free persons and live in respectful peaceful harmony.

By the way, nowhere does Ayn Rand defend or sanction Native American Genecide, or genocide at all. I don’t think the killing of Native Americans that resulted as an effect of the replacement of savagery with civilization can even be called genocide. If so, then every war is by definition genocidal, even wars of self-defense against tyrannical aggressors like the Axis powers, and the word loses any useful meaning. That's absurd. Every human has in his/her ethnic history primitive tribal savagery. Indeed, most of human history was the life of hunter-gatherers. If progressive people had no right to sweep aside savagery to make room for civilization, then where would humanity be today? In a permanent state of miserable stagnation. 

Genocide is mass murder with the intent of exterminating an entire racial, ethnic, national, religious, or cultural group. Where was the Native American genocide?* Americans traded massively with the Indians—trade was so important and prevalent in the young USA that it’s mentioned in the Constitution. American leaders offered the opportunity, or at least the hope, to assimilate the Indians into the new civilization--the opportunity to rise out of savagery and join civilization. Civilization, as an ideal, is inclusive of all people. Tribal savagery accepts only one’s tribe. All other tribes are the enemy. 

There was no mass extermination of Native Americans. It was a battle between savagery and civilization. What got “exterminated” was savagery, not Native Americans as a group. Fortunately, civilization ultimately won. Yes, a primitive culture of savages disappeared from North America, as it did all over the civilized world. But that is not genocide. Native Americans descendants are still around. The vast majority, 78%, live outside of reservations. And they enjoy a better, peaceful life alongside descendants of many other cultures in this so-called “melting pot” called the United States of America. 

You don’t have to sanction the grave injustices committed against Native Americans to recognize the better world that followed the Indians tribalism. But nor should you brush aside injustices and brutality committed against Americans by some racist American Indians who resented the arrival of European settlers. What you should do is decide if replacing savagery with civilization is human progress and good. Rand does not defend genocide. She was a genuine progressive. She defended civilization, which meant peaceful coexistence, individual liberty, human dignity, justice, progress, broad prosperity, and for the first time in human history the abolition of violence except in defense of individual rights. Taking over a continent and replacing the primitive tribalism that didn’t respect individualism with a civilization that does not constitute genocide. 

Tribalism, which dominated humanity for some 90%+ of its history, was the most violent period in human history.  It was rife with perpetual tribal warfare, slavery, exterminations of entire opposing societies, barbarism, murder, and torture. American Indian culture was no different. [See Goldberg, Suicide of the West, Chapter 1--”Human Nature”, in which he cites numerous sources correcting the Rousseauian myth of the “Noble Savage.”] Civilization swept all of that aside. The battle between savagery and civilization is at root the battle of collectivism and individualism. If today’s so-called Progressives were true to their title, they would see Rand as a kindred spirit.

But they’re not. The question is, why? Why do Progressives ignore Rand’s defense of individual rights, the major point of her argument, while tortuously twisting her words into an alleged defense of “Native American genocide?” Because the so-called Progressives are, at heart, tribalists—viz., collectivists. 

The philosophy of the Progressives was, and is, collectivist and anti-American. Jonah Goldberg has done deep and well-documented work on the philosophical origins of Progressivism, which took root in America in the Early 20th Century. In Suicide of the West, Goldberg shows that in the battle between John Locke (individualism) and Jean-Jacques Rousseau (collectivism), the Progressives went with Rousseau. Rejecting the foundational American principle of “the sovereignty of the individual,” they went with Rousseau’s argument “that the group was more important than the individual and that the ‘general will’ was superior to the solitary conscience.” And what represents the “general will?” The state [page 120]. President Woodrow Wilson, an early Progressive pioneer, exhibited his (and Progressivism's) utter “contempt for the [checks-and-balances] system set up by the Founders” when he declared that “the inalienable rights of the individual” was “nonsense.” And Wilson’s views “were relatively tame compared to those of many of his peers,” which Goldberg goes on to quote at length [page 180].**

Why don’t Progressives understand Rand honestly and objectively? They’re fundamentally against individualism. By their own collectivist standards, they have to identify with tribal cultures. That’s why they have to believe in “Native American genocide.” That’s why they have to evade Rand’s individualist orientation on early New World history. By their own fundamental collectivist premises, they have to identify with the primitive tribal culture that the United States of America superseded. In short, they do not value American individualism. They are collectivists. Rand’s philosophy is fundamentally individualist. Her’s is the moral voice of the Founding Fathers. So, in comments made during a speech about philosophy that was a passionate defense of individualism over tribalism, Norton ignores the “elephant in the room” and reads into Rand’s words a racism that isn’t there. I identified only one line that can even be tortured into racist undertones, when Rand said:

Any white person who brings the elements of civilization had the right to take over this continent, and it is great that some people did, and discovered here what they couldn’t do anywhere else in the world and what the Indians, if there are any racist Indians today, do not believe to this day: respect for individual rights.

In a monumental act of context-dropping, Norton leads off his piece with that paragraph. Yet the thrust of Rand’s monologue, and of Rand’s philosophy more broadly—individual rights—is brushed over, without recognition or analysis, throughout. Norton plays fast and loose with even the quotes he covers. But a careful reading of Rand’s comments is clear in her meaning. Starved for evidence of genuine proof of Rand’s “white supremacy,” Norton reposts the above comment later in the article. But imagine a different historical scenario. Civilization comes first to North America, not Western Europe. Explorers travel East across the Atlantic to discover a European continent inhabited by white savages. The red Americans spread civilization and liberty across Europe, sometimes peacefully, sometimes violently, but finally overtaking the tribal culture. Given Rand’s premises, one can easily imaging Rand writing:

Any red person who brings the elements of civilization had the right to take over this continent, and it is great that some people did, and discovered here what they couldn’t do anywhere else in the world and what the Europeans, if there are any racist Europeans today, do not believe to this day: respect for individual rights.

Rand was not an advocate of genocide of any race. She was a Jew, for God’s sake. She was an advocate of civilization and a free society based on universal individual rights regardless of race. That’s good for everyone, not just “white” Europeans. Norton’s title claim that Rand “enthusiastically defends extermination of Native Americans” is based on Rand’s exact remarks that refute his claim. The claim is blindly trumpeted elsewhere, without analysis, like at the History News Network. But I challenge anyone to find evidence in her remarks or her writing that confirms that she defended Native American genocide—which, in any case, didn’t happen*—or that she promoted racism or white supremacy. All that comes through is a powerful champion of a free society, individual rights, progress, universal human dignity, and civilization. What comes through from the article is that Progressives are, at heart, barbarians.

Related Reading

* [Norton’s sleight-of-hand doesn’t stop at misrepresentation of Rand. He misrepresents history, as well. Norton writes:

Rand's rosy portrayal of the colonization of the modern-day Americas is in direct conflict with historical reality. In his book American Holocaust: Columbus and the Conquest of the New World, American historian David Stannard estimates that approximately 95 percent of indigenous Americans died after the beginning of European settler colonialism. "The destruction of the Indians of the Americas was, far and away, the most massive act of genocide in the history of the world," writes Prof. Stannard. "Within no more than a handful of generations following their first encounters with Europeans, the vast majority of the Western Hemisphere's native peoples had been exterminated."

[But is Stannard right? The implication is that Europeans murdered 95% of the American Indians. But that is not even close to the truth. What killed all of those American Indians? PBS reports in The Story Of... Smallpox – and other Deadly Eurasian Germs:

When the Europeans arrived, carrying germs which thrived in dense, semi-urban populations, the indigenous people of the Americas were effectively doomed. They had never experienced smallpox, measles or flu before, and the viruses tore through the continent, killing an estimated 90% of Native Americans.

[My emphasis. This can hardly be called genocide, if by genocide we mean mass murder. Where is the murder? In the 1500s and 1600s, no one even knew what germs were. And these diseases had been wreaking havoc on Europeans for centuries. PBS reports: 

These epidemic Eurasian diseases flourished in dense communities and tended to explode in sudden, overwhelming spates of infection and death. Transmitted via coughing, sneezing and tactile infection, they wreaked devastation throughout Eurasian history – and in the era before antibiotics, thousands died.

[PBS observes that superior weaponry was not the main reason European settlers conquered the America’s: 

Within just a few generations, the continents of the Americas were virtually emptied of their native inhabitants – some academics estimate that approximately 20 million people may have died in the years following the European invasion – up to 95% of the population of the Americas.

No medieval force, no matter how bloodthirsty, could have achieved such enormous levels of genocide. Instead, Europeans were aided by a deadly secret weapon they weren't even aware they were carrying: Smallpox. 

[Again, my emphasis. Though PBS also uses the word “genocide,” it’s obvious it uses the term much more expansively than the dictionary definition. The fact remains that the 95% death rate was caused by disease, not murder. Norton uses this historical sleight-of-hand--a term he falsely accuses Rand of--to great effect in smearing Rand. But a reading of Rand’s comments in context of her full philosophy enables the reader to see right through Norton’s falsehoods.] 

** [Goldberg is also the author of another insightful book, Liberal Fascism. I recommend both books.]

Related Reading:

QUORA: 'Why aren't Native Americans taking back their country, The United States of America?'

Is America Based on a "Land Grab From the Native American People?"

The Enemies of Christopher Columbus: Answers to Critical Questions About the Spread of Western Civilization—Thomas A. Bowden

Was America 'made possible by stealing Indian land and the labor of slaves?'

The Dakota Access Pipeline Controversy, American Indians, and American History

The American Dream


The following transcript was posted after the article Libertarian superstar Ayn Rand defended Native American genocide: "Racism didn't exist in this country until the liberals brought it up" by Ben Norton for Salon. The subheading reads: “EXCLUSIVE: New transcript of Rand at West Point in '74 enthusiastically defends extermination of Native Americans.”

You can read Norton’s article, and then the transcript. Did Rand “enthusiastically defend the extermination of Native Americans?” Or did she defend the victory of civilization over savagery? It’s clear that the latter is the honest interpretation, and that Norton is wrong.

Ayn Rand speaking about racism, slavery, and Native Americans, at West Point in 1974 (TRANSCRIPT)

To begin with, there is much more to America than the issue of racism. I do not believe that the issue of racism, or even the persecution of a particular race, is as important as the persecution of individuals, because when you deprive individuals of rights, if you deprive any small group, all individuals lose their rights. Therefore, look at this fundamentally: If you are concerned with minorities, the smallest minority on Earth is an individual. If you do not respect individual rights, you will sacrifice or persecute all minorities, and then you get the same treatment given to a majority, which you can observe today in Soviet Russia.

But if you ask me well, now, should America have tolerated slavery? I would say certainly not. And why did they? Well, at the time of the Constitutional Convention, or the debates about the Constitution, the best theoreticians at the time wanted to abolish slavery right then and there—and they should have. The fact is that they compromised with other members of the debate and their compromise has caused this country a dreadful catastrophe which had to happen, and that is the Civil War. You could not have slavery existing in a country which proclaims the inalienable rights of Man. If you believe in the rights and the institution of slavery, it’s an enormous contradiction. It is to the honor of this country, which the haters of America never mention, that people died giving their lives in order to abolish slavery. There was that much strong philosophical feeling about it.

Certainly slavery was a contradiction. But before you criticize this country, remember that that is a remnant of the politics and the philosophies of Europe and of the rest of the world. The black slaves were sold into slavery, in many cases, by other black tribes. Slavery is something which only the United States of America abolished. Historically, there was no such concept as the right of the individual. The United States is based on that concept. So that so as long as men held to the American political philosophy, they had to come to the point, even of a civil war, but of eliminating the contradiction with which they could not live—namely, the institution of slavery.

Incidentally, if you study history following America’s example, slavery or serfdom was abolished in the whole civilized world during the 19th century. What abolished it? Not altruism. Not any kind of collectivism. Capitalism. The world of free trade could not coexist with slave labor. And countries like Russia, which was the most backward and had serfs liberated them, without any pressure from anyone, by economic necessity. Nobody could compete with America economically so long as they attempted to use slave labor. Now that was the liberating influence of America.

That’s in regard to the slavery of Black people. But as to the example of the Japanese people—you mean the labor camps in California? Well, that was certainly not put over by any sort of defender of capitalism or Americanism. That was done by the left-wing progressive liberal Democrats of Franklin D. Roosevelt.

If you study reliable history, and not liberal, racist newspapers, racism didn’t exist in this country until the liberals brought it up—racism in the sense of self-consciousness and separation about races. Yes, slavery existed as a very evil institution, and there certainly was prejudice against some minorities, including the Negroes after they were liberated. But those prejudices were dying out under the pressure of free economics, because racism, in the prejudicial sense, doesn’t pay. Then, if anyone wants to be a racist, he suffers, the workings of the system is against him.

Today, it is to everyone’s advantage to form some kind of ethnic collective. The people who share your viewpoint or from whose philosophy those catchphrases come, are the ones who are institutionalizing racism today. What about the quotas in employment? The quotas in education? And I hope to God—so I am not religious, but just to express my feeling—that the Supreme Court will rule against those quotas. But if you can understand the vicious contradiction and injustice of a state establishing racism by law. Whether it’s in favor of a minority or a majority doesn’t matter. It’s more offensive when it’s in the name of a minority because it can only be done in order to disarm and destroy the majority and the whole country. It can only create more racist divisions, and backlashes, and racist feelings.

If you are opposed to racism, you should support individualism. You cannot oppose racism on one hand and want collectivism on the other.

But now, as to the Indians, I don’t even care to discuss that kind of alleged complaints that they have against this country. I do believe with serious, scientific reasons the worst kind of movie that you have probably seen—worst from the Indian viewpoint—as to what they did to the white man.

I do not think that they have any right to live in a country merely because they were born here and acted and lived like savages. Americans didn’t conquer; Americans did not conquer that country.

Whoever is making sounds there, I think is hissing, he is right, but please be consistent: you are a racist if you object to that [laughter and applause]. You are that because you believe that anything can be given to Man by his biological birth or for biological reasons.

If you are born in a magnificent country which you don’t know what to do with, you believe that it is a property right; it is not. And, since the Indians did not have any property rights—they didn’t have the concept of property; they didn’t even have a settled, society, they were predominantly nomadic tribes; they were a primitive tribal culture, if you want to call it that—if so, they didn’t have any rights to the land, and there was no reason for anyone to grant them rights which they had not conceived and were not using.

It would be wrong to attack any country which does respect—or try, for that matter, to respect—individual rights, because if they do, you are an aggressor and you are morally wrong to attack them. But if a country does not protect rights—if a given tribe is the slave of its own tribal chief—why should you respect the rights they do not have?

Or any country which has a dictatorship. Government—the citizens still have individual rights—but the country does not have any rights. Anyone has the right to invade it, because rights are not recognized in this country and neither you nor a country nor anyone can have your cake and eat it too.

In other words, want respect for the rights of Indians, who, incidentally, for most cases of their tribal history, made agreements with the white man, and then when they had used up whichever they got through agreement of giving, selling certain territory, then came back and broke the agreement, and attacked white settlements.

I will go further. Let’s suppose they were all beautifully innocent savages, which they certainly were not. What was it that they were fighting for, if they opposed white men on this continent? For their wish to continue a primitive existence, their right to keep part of the earth untouched, unused, and not even as property, but just keep everybody out so that you will live practically like an animal, or maybe a few caves about.

Any white person who brings the elements of civilization had the right to take over this continent, and it is great that some people did, and discovered here what they couldn’t do anywhere else in the world and what the Indians, if there are any racist Indians today, do not believe to this day: respect for individual rights.

I am, incidentally, in favor of Israel against the Arabs for the very same reason. There you have the same issue in reverse. Israel is not a good country politically; it’s a mixed economy, leaning strongly to socialism. But why do the Arabs resent it? Because it is a wedge of civilization—an industrial wedge—in part of a continent which is totally primitive and nomadic.

Israel is being attacked for being civilized, and being specifically a technological society. It’s for that very reason that they should be supported—that they are morally right because they represent the progress of Man’s mind, just as the white settlers of America represented the progress of the mind, not centuries of brute stagnation and superstition. They represented the banner of the mind and they were in the right.

Thursday, June 10, 2021

QUORA: ‘What were those new ideas from which led to the rise of capitalism?’

 QUORA: ‘What were those new ideas from which led to the rise of capitalism?

I left this answer:

For once, a question on Capitalism is properly framed. Unlike virtually all other political/economic social systems, Capitalism as it is understood today was not “created” or in any way imposed. Capitalism arose organically and naturally as a consequence of a specific set of ideas--the ideas of The Enlightenment. 

The Enlightenment taught that man can be guided by reason; that reason is the attribute of the individual; that each has free will; that therefor the individual must be free to act in pursuit if his own interest according to his own judgement; that every individual human being possesses the same freedom; that inalienable individual rights are the principles that sanction the individual’s freedom in a social context; That rights are guarantees to freedom of action only, not an entitlement to other people’s lives, property, or labor; that these rights are deduced from man’s nature, not as grants, privileges, or gifts of some “higher authority”; that all men are equal in their rights; that rights, being natural in origin, precede government; that therefore governments are created specifically, and only, to secure these rights through objective law. Summed up, this is individualism.


These ideas spell the end of systems of rulers and subjects, masters and slaves, or any other kind of tyranny by man over man. In practice, this led to voluntarism in human relations, in which people deal with each other only by mutual agreement. The natural result of these ideas is laissez-faire Capitalism. It should be noted that laissez-faire Capitalism was never fully achieved. Vestiges of pre-Enlightenment society, with its statism and collectivism, remained. Failures to implement the full, universal practice of individual rights included slavery and unequal recognition of rights for women, among other failings. The full, undiluted implementation of Enlightenment theory has never been achieved. But to the extent that these ideals are observed is the extent to which Capitalism happens.

Of course, elements of markets and business and ideas of liberty have popped up here and there throughout history. But it was never explained systematically and philosophically until The Enlightenment, roughly the late 17th through the 18th Centuries. But once the principles of individual rights, including property rights, government as protector of rights, and equality of liberty under the rule of law were formally expressed and implemented (however unevenly), the ordinary individual was finally liberated to pursue personal happiness, unleashing innovation and entrepreneurship that ignited the Great Enrichment that still has not run its course.

Once again, let me express my appreciation for the accuracy of the question. Unlike all other social systems—statisms like fascism, communism, and other forms of socialism, monarchy, theocracy, military dictatorships, one-man authoritarianisms, et al—Capitalism was not and by its nature cannot be imposed from the top down. As the question implies, Capitalism arises as a result of ideas. It arises from the grass roots. The Founders of America, to cite the most notable example, didn’t set out to create Capitalism. To my knowledge, they never even used the word capitalism to describe what they were creating. They set out to liberate all men (“men” generically understood), and ended up creating the world’s leading Capitalist nation. All that was needed for “the rise of capitalism” is the liberation of the ordinary man through the legal and moral guarantee of his inalienable rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness.

Related Reading:

The Capitalist Manifesto -- Andrew Bernstein

Leave Me Alone and I'll Make You Rich: How the Bourgeois Deal Enriched the World First Edition -- Deirdre Nansen McCloskey and Art Carden 


Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress -- Steven Pinker

The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves -- Matt Ridley

Suicide of the West: How the Rebirth of Tribalism, Nationalism, and Socialism Is Destroying American Democracy -- Jonah Goldberg, Appendix pages 353 - 379, in which Goldberg summarizes “The Miracle”; the explosion of prosperity of the last 250 years after thousands of years of stagnation.

Monday, June 7, 2021

Conflating Altruism with Generosity — and Selfishness with Collectivism — Undermines Liberty

 Ronald Bailey has an article in Reason titled More Individualism Means More Altruism . He cites studies “proving” that "There may be no inherent conflict between doing well and doing good". 

If “doing well” means the self-interested pursuit of one’s own happiness, and “doing good” means engaging in occasional philanthropic goals that fit one’s values, then this is certainly true. But following in a long line of pro-capitalist liberty champions, Bailey refuses to embrace Ayn Rand’s moral incites, and inadvertently accepts that there actually is an inherent conflict between doing well and altruism. Let’s examine: 

The countries with more individualistic values are also the countries with higher levels of altruism, according to an upcoming study in the journal Psychological Science. A team of psychologists from Georgetown and Harvard reached this conclusion after parsing data from around the world on subjective well-being, individualist versus collectivist cultural values, and various measures of altruism, ranging from charitable giving to helping strangers to living organ donations to the humane treatment of animals.

The researchers include the latest data (from 2019) in the Charities Aid Foundation's annual World Giving Index, which surveys people across the globe asking them if in the past month they had helped a stranger, donated money to a charity, or volunteered time to an organization. "The United States of America is the world's most generous country over the last 10 years," the 2019 report notes. Others in the top 10 include are Myanmar, New Zealand, Ireland, Australia, the United Kingdom, and Canada.

China ranks as the world's least generous country. Others in the bottom 10 include Greece, Yemen, Serbia, Bulgaria, and Russia. [My emphasis]

Note that self-sacrifice is not mentioned, only generosity. But self-sacrifice, not generosity, is the essence of altruism. Any of those “do-good” efforts can easily be motivated by generosity. If "doing well" means achieving one's own self-interested values, then "doing good" can be among those values. (I’m a self-interested regular blood donor to my local medical center.) Altruism, in fact, is incompatible with "doing well" because altruism demands the sacrifice--the giving up, the renunciation--of the very values that doing well demands. Individualism begins with self-value. Individualism doesn't generate altruism. It clashes with altruism.

Altruism must be properly defined, which here it is not. Altruism means self-sacrificial service to others as the standard of moral good. The dirty little secret of altruism is that altruism leads to predation. If morality demands living for others, then it logically means demanding that others live for me. Collectivism is the genuinely altruistic society, with everyone living for the group, thus expecting to live off of the group. Individualism is the self-interested society--that is, capitalism, the system of individual rights. When people are secure in their lives, liberties, and property, generosity logically follows. When they are not, as in collectivist societies, generosity is stupid and in fact impossible. Why care about others when everyone else already has a greedy claim on one's life, liberty, and property? If one considers this type of living as selfish, then collectivism certainly promotes selfishness. But this type of “selfishness,” as we can see, is really just the flip side of the altruist coin. 

It's true that individualistic societies generate generosity. But that's because individualism is not altruistic, properly defined. The point of this article is correct only insofar as altruism is misinterpreted as generosity.

Not surprisingly, Bailey also fails to properly conceptualize selfishness. Both he and the study he cites assume only negative connotations, failing to distinguish between bad "selfishness"--narcissism, self-centeredness--and rational selfishness, the respectful pursuit of one's own self-interest. The article notes "the common conflation of individualism with selfishness," and tries to debunk it. But no one is ever going to believe that individualism does not promote selfishness, and no one ever has, which is why it is so important to get the definitions and concepts right.

It’s true that people don’t understand altruism as self-sacrificial. Or they do, but think of self-sacrifice as simply the giving up of short-term satisfaction or indulgence for the sake of a long-term and/or other goal that you value more. But if anyone suggested that you donate your food to a soup kitchen at the expense of the hunger of your own child, people would rightly see that suggestion as monstrous. Yet, people equate the mere giving of food as altruistic. People have mixed premises about altruism, and that’s a problem. But the same problem of mixed premises afflicts selfishness, such as lumping together the pursuit of “pure” self-interest through predatory practices with rational self-interest through mutual respect and mutually beneficial trade, such as making money, or giving money to a cause for self-interested reasons, into the same package deal. If liberty advocates insist on avoiding dealing with the true nature of altruism by equating it with generosity, they can at least start using the term rational self-interest to give the term “doing well” the moral backing it needs to save individualism from the onslaught of the collectivists. Put another way, it is good -- morally good -- to do well for yourself.

Related Reading:

Altruism—the Ayn Rand Lexicon

The Virtue of Selfishness—Ayn Rand

QUORA: Is Ayn Rand's 'Selfishness' 'the middle between altruism and selfism?'

Books to Aid in Understanding Ayn Rand's Rational Selfishness