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Is Trump a Howard Roark? – Article by Edward Hudgins

Is Trump a Howard Roark? – Article by Edward Hudgins

The New Renaissance HatEdward Hudgins
Roark vs. TrumpDonald Trump recently said he’s a fan of Ayn Rand’s novel The Fountainhead. Even if you haven’t read it, a reflection on the key characters in that excellent work will help you understand much of what’s wrong with The Donald. Not wishing to write a book-length treatment on the subject, I’ll focus on just one thing that’s relevant to the presidential election: how one treats others.

In an interview with Kristen Powers, Trump said of The Fountainhead, “It relates to business … beauty … life and inner emotions. That book relates to … everything.” (Here he’s right!) He identified with Howard Roark, the novel’s architect hero, loosely based on Frank Lloyd Wright. Trump builds buildings too, so no doubt a novel on the subject would interest him. But much of the resemblance between Roark and Trump ends there.

Roark treats people with respect
Howard Roark loves the creative work of designing buildings for the purpose of seeing them built just the way he designs them. His work is his source of pride. He doesn’t work for the approval of others.

Roark must struggle because in his world established architects simply want to imitate the styles of the past, mainly to impress other people who, for the most part, aren’t particularly impressed in any case.

Roark must find individuals and enterprises that want his buildings. But he is quite clear that “I don’t build in order to have clients. I have clients in order to build.” He does not bastardize his buildings—sticking columns or balconies on them just to make sales. He has his standards. He is honest with his prospective clients and tries to educate them. He respects them enough to treat them like intelligent individuals. If they can’t accept his style, that is unfortunate, but Roark will not pander. Roark has integrity.

Wynand panders to the lowest
Another major character in the novel is Gail Wynand, who rose from nothing to build a chain of “Banner” newspapers. Wynand is good at what he does but what he does is not good. He builds his empire by appealing to the lowest common denominator among his readers. He is a yellow journalist who feeds them scandal, sensation, and schlock. He sees his readers as basically stupid and irrational, and his idea of success is not to appeal to the best within them but, rather, the worst, assuming they deserve nothing better.

And that is how Trump approaches prospective voters in his political campaign. It’s all a sensationalist, headline-grabbing show. It’s saying the most outrageous things to appeal to emotions on the assumption that his audience can’t or doesn’t want to actually think.

Which works?
But there is a major difference between Wynand and Trump. Wynand wants power over others but his sense of self-worth is not dependent on the adulation of the mob he wants to rule. Trump, on the other hand, seems to drink up the applause of his audience, and if someone challenges him, it’s personal and rates the response of the most insecure playground bully.

By contrast, in The Fountainhead, when the novel’s most malicious villain who has tried to block Roark’s career approaches him and asks “What do you think of me?” Roark responds, “But I don’t think of you.” That’s true self-esteem!

Which approach works better: Roark’s career built on dealing with people based on reason, or Wynand’s career built on treating people like idiots? Read The Fountainhead to discover the intriguing answer you probably already suspect. In terms of Trump’s political career, it will depend on how many voters prefer to be treated like idiots rather than with respect.

Dr. Edward Hudgins directs advocacy and is a senior scholar for The Atlas Society, the center for Objectivism in Washington, D.C.

Copyright The Atlas Society. For more information, please visit

Can Toyota and Reason Overcome Blindness? – Article by Edward Hudgins

Can Toyota and Reason Overcome Blindness? – Article by Edward Hudgins

The New Renaissance HatEdward Hudgins

If you’ve shut your eyes at the ugly spectacle of political and cultural decline around you, look in the right direction and you’ll see what’s best in the world, including innovations from Toyota that are helping the visually impaired.

Technology helping the blind see

The research department at the world-class auto maker is doing more than designing Priuses. It recently unveiled Project BLAID, a shoulder and neck-worn device that can help guide visually-impaired folks through building interiors with cameras, speakers and other technology. This is just one nice bit of good news in a world where the media is ruled by “if it bleeds, it leads.” This is one of many innovations in a world that is being transformed by exponential technologies.

For example, in January an Australian research team at Monash University announced development of another system to help the blind that it will test soon. It bypasses the eyeball, which is often damaged beyond use in blind people, and uses a pair of glasses that feeds visual data directly into the brain. At this time that technology at best would give blind people very limited vision, only enough to let them maneuver around like the Toyota technology does. But it’s a start.

Technology helping the deaf hear

Let’s remember that in recent decades, some 190,000 deaf individuals have received cochlear implants. These devises do not simply amplify sound as do hearing aids. They translate sound into electrical impulses that directly stimulate the cochlear nerve in the ear so the individuals can hear. It is estimated that around 150,000 children are born each year with hearing impairment so serious that they could benefit from such implants.

So as the costs of these implants decrease, we will see the gradual elimination of the ago-old scourge of deafness just as the blight of blindness will gradually disappear from list of human woes as companies like Toyota continue their work.

Reason as the cure

The proximate cause of all this good news is the exponential increase in information processing capability, usually called “Moore’s law.” Since the mid-1960s the capacities of semiconductors have doubled every eighteen months. A capacity of 1,000 at that time is 2,000,000,000 today. That means not only the advent of laptops, tablets, and smart phones but also medical devises that would have been thought science fiction decades ago.

But what is really behind these achievements is a moral code that treats rationality as our highest virtue and human achievement as our highest purpose. It is a commitment by individuals to objective reasoning and to understanding the world so that they can control it to enhance human life and flourishing. And it is a joy that individuals take in the process of understanding and creating.

Ayn Rand called machines “the frozen form of living intelligence.” Do you want to live in a world from which blindness and other illnesses or physical defeats are banished? Then fight for this morality of reason.

Dr. Edward Hudgins directs advocacy and is a senior scholar for The Atlas Society, the center for Objectivism in Washington, D.C.

Copyright The Atlas Society. For more information, please visit

The Conservative Meltdown, Courtesy of Trump – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

The Conservative Meltdown, Courtesy of Trump – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

The New Renaissance HatJeffrey A. Tucker

Trumpflag2For 60 years, the conservative establishment has worked to overcome the biggest leftist lie of them all: that non-leftists are really Nazis in disguise. To wreck that view, conservatism reinvented itself after World War II.

William Buckley, editor of National Review, led the way. He purged the hard racists, dedicated segregationists, the Falangists, the anti-semites, the crypto-Nazis, the theocrats and ecclesiocrats, and the wildly paranoid conspiracy mongers.

Buckley was the one to do it too, because he was erudite and educated, with a subtle sense of things. It was a massive effort in social and political control, and it mostly worked. The culminating victory came with the election of Ronald Reagan.

So sensitive was Buckley to the charge of Nazi sympathies that he lost his composure completely, on live television, when in 1968 Gore Vidal charged him with being a crypto-Nazi. It was enough to cause Buckley, again on live television, to threaten Vidal with a punch in the face.

And Buckley never stopped the purges even through the 2000s. To be in the Buckley circle, you had to be housebroken. You had to avoid the fever swamps.

Many of these purges were wholly justified, but there was also collateral damage. He also purged the libertarians and the Randians too, for different reasons. Libertarians weren’t on board with the Cold War, so that was enough for him. As for Rand, perhaps it was the atheism above all else, since by this time, a firm defense of religious faith had become essential to the package of this new thing called conservatism.

If Buckley was so worried about the impression that the only alternative to leftism was Nazism, he might have cooled it a bit on suggesting nuclear war against the North Vietnamese and the Russians. If a distinguishing mark of Nazism is the use of mass violence to serve political ends, an ideological change would have been more effective than purges in countering the smears against the right. He might also have shown less affection for police-state tactics against antiwar protestors. After all, these smears from the left have the whiff of credibility for a reason.

And now in 2015 enters Donald Trump. He is not a marginal candidate. His rise and persistent dominance of the Republican field has establishment conservatives panicked, simply because it’s proof that their ideology is not dominant among GOP voters. Every demographic analysis of his supporters shows that they do not get their news from magazines or the internet. These people (middle age, middle income, white) are TV watchers and mostly haven’t been to college. What the intelligentsia says doesn’t impact their lives at all.

And yet their voices have a plurality in the Republican party. We haven’t heard from them that much in recent years because they’ve not had a standard bearer and the establishment has exercised such tight control. Now with Trump, we have the perfect storm: a person who is the caricature of the ugly American. He pushes patriotism to the point of nativism, energy in the executive to the point of fascism, police power as a solution without limits, and military strength to the point of outright worship of war as the only suitable means.

The latent statism of the right reaches its apotheosis in Trump, and it is driving the conservative establishment crazy. He is the painting in the attic, and they want it to remain hidden.

As for populism generally, both conservatives and libertarians have variously toyed with it in the past. Surely the people want liberty. Surely the only real problem is the ruling class and its power. If the people get their way, through an assertive wresting of control from the elites, the result would be a freer America. The real problem traces to the people controlling the party, not the voters as such.

But look at what’s happening. The establishment is losing control, but the result is not a movement that favors freedom but something more like the right-wing version of the Red Guard. The Trump movement is unleashing unguided hate: it was Mexicans, then Syrians, then all Muslims, and now he can stand in front of audiences ridiculing free speech and elicit cheers from the frothing masses.

H.L. Mencken is making much more sense to me today. This is a change for me. I’ve always appreciated Mencken’s love of freedom, his suspicion of the state, his appreciation for high culture, his disdain for the age-old superstitions. All that I could grasp and share. What I could not entirely share was his dread of the common man, and his absolute loathing of the political system that puts the hoi polloi in charge of choosing political leadership. He found the system preposterous.

I’ve always understood the intellectual arguments against democracy and agreed more or less. But I could never muster Mencken’s passion concerning the topic. I’ve never fully understood his intense conviction that democracy is the single biggest threat to liberty.

Trump has changed all that. Now I see it fully. The common man is gold as a consumer, worker, family member, church goer. As a voter and political influencer, the common man is a disaster waiting to happen.

What effect does this have on conservative ideology? It makes the job of seeming intelligent and responsible ever more difficult. If I were a leftist, I would be laughing out loud at all these upheavals. Trump as the only alternative to Sanders/Hillary is not a world I want to inhabit.

My prediction is this. Whether or not Trump snags the nomination, his dominance of the polls in 2015 has given the biggest boost the left has received in half a century. It also calls on conservatives to clean up their act: get more libertarian or prepare for the full Trumpization of your movement.

Read more:
Trumpism: The Ideology
Why We Should Talk About Fascism
The Eff Word Goes Mainstream
Has Donald Trump Unleashed the Neo-Nazis?
How Carly Fiorina and a Boring Debate Took Out Trump
The Rand Paul Campaign: A Retrospective

The featured image was taken by Michael Vadon (CC BY-SA 2.0 — photoshopped).

Jeffrey Tucker is Chief Liberty Officer of (, a subscription-based, action-focused social and publishing platform for the liberty-minded. He is also distinguished fellow of the Foundation for Economic Education (, executive editor of Laissez-Faire Books, research fellow of the Acton Institute, founder of the CryptoCurrency Conference, and author of six books. He is available for speaking and interviews via

Being Good for Goodness’ Sake – Article by Bradley Doucet

Being Good for Goodness’ Sake – Article by Bradley Doucet

The New Renaissance HatBradley Doucet

“Dear Santa,” begins an Internet meme that’s been making the rounds, accompanied by some innocent-looking drawing of a small child or a woman decorating a tree, “I’m writing to tell you I’ve been naughty and it was worth it, you fat, judgmental bastard.”

Fair enough, I say. Who died and made Jolly Old Saint Nick the arbiter of all things good and bad, anyway? And frankly, the extensive surveillance that’s he’s gotta have going on 24/7, 365 days a year, is more than a little bit creepy.

But if I reject the authority of the guy in red to tell me what to do, does that mean I can do whatever I please? Just gather as many resources and as much power over my fellows as I can, by whatever means I choose, fair or foul, even becoming top ape of the tribe if possible?

Such a life, no matter where you end up in the pecking order, is frankly impoverished. I don’t have anything against material riches per se, but we humans are not merely animals; we are rational animals. This doesn’t mean we are always or automatically rational, but rather that we have the ability to reason instead of being swept along exclusively by impulse and instinct.

Yet reason is not merely a tool, our particular means of getting what we need to survive, akin to another animal’s claws or teeth or brute strength. It is that, but it is also much more. Having the faculty of reason, we also have a psychological need to use it not only to better our lives, but to determine what constitutes a good life. It may be going too far to say that the unexamined life is not worth living at all, but the unexamined life is surely less than optimally satisfying.

So, what makes a good life? Physical pleasure is one good thing, to be sure, but only one, and its pursuit can distract us from the more subtle and deeper satisfactions of being human. Acquiring knowledge and learning skills, making and appreciating art, and cultivating relationships with others all take us beyond the simple pleasures we have in common with the beasts.

Even this does not quite capture what it means to live a fully human life, though, because it ignores the issue of dealing with others. Given that other human beings, like me, tend to want pleasure and knowledge and art and relationships, I am more likely to get these good things for myself if I treat other people with respect, cooperating and trading with them. To say the same thing another way, there are instrumental reasons for acting in an ethical manner in one’s dealings with other people.

These reasons do carry a certain weight. But it’s conceivable that one could lie, cheat, manipulate, and force others to give one what one wants, or some close enough facsimile, especially if one is smarter or stronger or richer or otherwise more resourceful than the norm. Are there any deeper reasons, besides the instrumental ones, not to trample the rights of others if one has a fairly good chance of getting away with it?

The answer, of course, is yes. For one thing, like most humans, I care about other people and their interests. Admittedly I don’t care equally about all 7.3 billion of you. Some of you, I don’t even know. Still, I don’t want to do you harm if I can avoid it—and lying to you, cheating you, manipulating you, or initiating force against you are themselves harms, however I may try to disguise this fact and keep anyone, myself included, from recognizing it.

And even more fundamentally, from a certain perspective, it’s also a matter of self-respect. Using deception, manipulation, or force to get what I want from other human beings—instead of treating them as the rational animals they are, with interests and goals and plans of their own—is quite simply beneath me. Respecting others’ rights is intrinsically valuable to me because of what it does to me if I violate them: I become less fully human.¹ I lose face with myself, and all of my pleasures become shadows of themselves: sour when they should be sweet; pale instead of bright and bold; a little out of tune.

Living a fully human life does not mean foregoing the animal pleasures. It does not mean sacrificing your interests to those of others. But it does mean striving to live a rational life, which implies living with honour and recognizing the basic humanity of your fellow human beings—whether or not some dude at the North Pole, or anywhere else, is watching.

1. This idea, and indeed the inspiration for the present short article, is from the second half of Roderick T. Long’s “Reason and Value: Aristotle versus Rand,” Objectivist Studies, No. 3, The Atlas Society, 2000, p. 51: “To violate the rights of others, then, is to lessen one’s own humanity.”

Bradley Doucet is a writer living in Montreal. He has studied philosophy and economics, and is currently completing a novel on the pursuit of happiness. He also is QL’s English Editor.
Refuting Ayn Rand’s “Immortal Robot” Argument – Article by G. Stolyarov II

Refuting Ayn Rand’s “Immortal Robot” Argument – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance HatG. Stolyarov II


Here I refute an argument that has been leveled against proponents of indefinite human longevity from a surprising direction – those sympathetic to the Objectivist philosophy of Ayn Rand. Some advocates of Ayn Rand’s philosophy believe that indefinite life would turn human beings into “immortal, indestructible robots” that, according to Ayn Rand, would have no genuine values. Both of these claims are false. Indefinite life would not turn humans into indestructible robots, nor would an indestructible robot with human abilities lack values or motivation for doing great things. In Ayn Rand’s own words, “Achieving life is not the equivalent of avoiding death.” (John Galt’s speech in For the New Intellectual, p. 135)

Rand’s “immortal robot” argument is found in “The Objectivist Ethics” (The Virtue of Selfishness, p. 15): “To make this point fully clear, try to imagine an immortal, indestructible robot, an entity which moves and acts, but which cannot be affected by anything, which cannot be changed in any respect, which cannot be damaged, injured or destroyed. Such an entity would not be able to have any values; it would have nothing to gain or to lose; it could not regard anything as for or against it, as serving or threatening its welfare, as fulfilling or frustrating its interests. It could have no interests and no goals.”

The “immortal robot” argument needs to be challenged because it originates from Ayn Rand, who otherwise espouses numerous rational ideas. I myself agree with most of the fundamental principles that Ayn Rand advocates. However, in some of her particular reasoning – at least, if applied to the wrong context – she can be off-target in such a way as to retard further progress. The often-leveled argument, derived by contemporary non-transhumanist Objectivists from the above-quoted passage, is that achieving indefinite longevity would turn human beings into Ayn Rand’s description of the “immortal, indestructible robot”.

In responding to Rand’s argument, several points can be made in relation to prolonging human life indefinitely and lifting the death sentence that hangs over all of us. First, at no point in time will human beings become the “immortal, indestructible robots” that Ayn Rand describes. The simple reason for this is that our existence is physical and contingent on certain physical prerequisites being fulfilled. The moment one of these physical prerequisites is lacking, our existence ceases. This will always be the case, even if we no longer have a necessary upper limit on our lifespans. For instance, biomedical advances that would greatly expand human lifespans – allowing periodic reversions to a more youthful biological state and therefore the possibility of an indefinite existence – would not turn humans into indestructible robots. There would still be the need to actively turn back biological processes of decay, and the active choice to pursue such treatments or not. People who live longer by successfully combating senescence could still get run over by a car or experience a plane crash. They would retain potential vulnerability to certain perils – such as death from accidents – although, as I have explained in “Life Extension and Risk Aversion”, they may be more diligent in seeking to greatly reduce the probability of such outcomes. If it is ever the case that death by senescence and the myriad diseases which kill many human beings today can be averted, then human beings will try to avert the other possibilities of death – for instance, by developing safer modes of transportation or engaging in fewer wars.

It is possible to significantly reduce the likelihood that one can be destroyed, without ever eliminating the theoretical potential of such destruction. Furthermore, because human beings have free will, they always have at least the hypothetical option of choosing to undermine the physical prerequisites of their own lives. In my view, no sane, rational being would actually choose to pursue that option, but the option is there nonetheless. For anybody who seeks to commit suicide by immediate or gradual means, or by refusing to take advantage of life-prolonging techniques once they become available, there is virtually nothing in the world that could prevent this, apart from rational persuasion (which may or may not be successful).

Even with indefinite longevity, human beings will always be vulnerable to some actual or hypothetical perils or poor choices. Moreover, when we manage to avoid one kind of peril, other kinds of perils may become more pressing as they come into the frame of awareness of longer-lived beings. If we do manage to live for hundreds of thousands of years, we will be far more subject to long-term geological changes and fluctuations of the Earth’s climate, such as the cycle of ice ages, whereas today humans do not live long enough to experience these massive shifts. Most of us today do not worry about the consequences of huge glaciers advancing over the continents, but humans who live for millennia will see this as a pressing problem for their own lifetimes. Likewise, the longer we live, the greater the likelihood that we will experience a global cataclysm, such as a supervolcano or an asteroid hitting the Earth. Human ingenuity and resources would need to be devoted toward confronting and even preventing these perils – a highly desirable outcome in general, since the perils exist irrespective of our individual lifespans, but most humans currently lack the long-term vision or orientation to combat them.

Moreover, the need to reject the “immortal robot” argument when discussing indefinite life extension does not stem solely from a desire to achieve philosophical correctness. Rather, we should recognize the potential for actually achieving meaningful, unprecedented longevity increases within our own lifetimes. For instance, the SENS Research Foundation is a nonprofit biogerontological research organization whose founder, Dr. Aubrey de Grey, has outlined an engineering-based approach to reversing the seven principal types of damage that accumulate in the human body with age. (SENS stands for “Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence”.) Dr. de Grey has stated that, with proper funding, there is approximately a 50 percent probability of these rejuvenation treatments being developed 20-25 years from now. (The 20-year figure is presented in this transcript from a recent NPR interview of Aubrey de Grey – quoted in “Discussing Science and Aging: Aubrey de Grey and Cynthia Kenyon at NPR” by Reason at The SENS Research Foundation is not the only entity pursuing radical life extension. Major commercial efforts toward research into reversing biological aging – such as Calico, created and funded by Google (now Alphabet, Inc.) – have been launched already. Thus, it is premature to conclude that death is a certainty for those who are alive today. Medical advances on the horizon could indeed turn many humans into beings who are still potentially vulnerable to death, but no longer subject to any upper limit on their lifespans.

It is therefore ill-advised to pin any ethical justifications for the ultimate value of human life to the current contingent situation, where it just so happens that human lifespans are finite because we have not achieved the level of technological advancement to overcome senescence yet. If such advances are achieved, common interpretations of the “immortal robot” argument and its derivative claims would suggest that life for human beings would transform from an ultimate value to some lesser value or to no value at all. This implication reveals a flaw in arguments that rely on the finitude of life and the inevitability of death. How is it that, by making life longer, healthier, and of higher quality (with less suffering due to the diseases of old age), humans would, in so doing, deprive life of its status as an ultimate value? If life is improved, it does not thereby lose a moral status that it previously possessed.

Yet another important recognition is that some animals have already attained negligible senescence. Their lifespans are de facto finite, but without a necessary upper limit. Suppose that evolution had taken a different course and rational beings had descended from tortoises rather than from primates. Then these rational beings would have negligible senescence without the need for medical intervention to achieve it. Would their lives thereby lack a type of value which the proponents of the “immortal robot” argument attribute to human lives today? Again, a conclusion of this sort illustrates a flaw in the underlying argument.

But suppose that a true immortal, indestructible robot could exist and be identical to human beings in every other respect. It would possess human biological processes and ways of thinking but be made of extremely strong materials that did not deteriorate or that automatically renewed themselves so as to rapidly, automatically repair any injury. Ayn Rand’s argument would still be mistaken. Even if death were not a possibility for such a being, it could still pursue and enjoy art, music, inventions, games – any activity that is appealing from the perspective of the senses, the intellect, or the general civilizing project of transforming chaos into order and transforming simpler orders into more complex ones.

The fear of death is not the sole motivator for human actions by far. Indeed, most great human accomplishments are a result of positive, not negative motivations. Rand acknowledged this when she wrote that “Achieving life is not the equivalent of avoiding death.” At least in the short term, you do not need to do much to avoid death. You could just sit there, stay out of trouble, eat, drink, keep warm, sleep – and you survive to the next day. But that is not a full life, according to Rand. Obviously, one needs to avoid death to have a full life. Survival is necessary, but it is not sufficient. Many thinkers sympathetic to the Objectivist school, such as Edward Younkins, Tara Smith, Douglas Den Uyl, Douglas Rasmussen, Tibor Machan, George Reisman, and Lester Hunt, have extended this insight to conclude that survival is not enough; one should also pursue flourishing. (Younkins provides an excellent overview of this perspective in “Flourishing and Happiness in a Nutshell”.)

I concur fully with the goal of flourishing and recognize the existence of numerous positive motivations besides mere survival. For example, the desire to see oneself create something, to witness a product of one’s mind become embodied in the physical reality, is a powerful motivation indeed. One can furthermore seek to take esthetic pleasure from a particular object or activity. This does not require even a thought of death. Moreover, to appreciate certain kinds of patterns in existence, which are present in art, in technology, and even in games, does not require any thought of death. Many people play games, even if those games do not contribute anything to their survival. This does not mean, however, that doing so is irrational; rather, it is another creative way to channel the activities of the human mind. Via games, the human mind essentially creates its own field of endeavor, a rule system within which it operates. By operating within that rule system, the mind exercises its full potential, whereas just by sitting there and only doing what is absolutely necessary to survive, the mind would have missed some essential part of its functioning.

Creating art and music, undertaking scientific discoveries, envisioning new worlds – actual and fictional – does not rely on having to die in the future. None of these activities even rely on the threat of death. The immortal, indestructible robot, of course, might not engage in precisely the same activities as we do today. It would probably not need to worry about earning its next meal by working for somebody else, but it could still paint a painting, just because it would like to see its mental processes – in this scenario, processes greatly resembling our own – have some kind of external consequence and embodiment in the external reality. Such external embodiment is a vital component of flourishing.

Fear of death is not the sole motivator for human action, nor the sole prerequisite for value, as Ayn Rand acknowledged. There is more to life than that. Life is not merely about survival and should be about the pursuit of individual flourishing as well. Survival is a necessary prerequisite, but, once it is achieved, an individual is free to pursue higher-order values, such as self-actualization. The individual would only be further empowered in the quest for flourishing and self-actualization in a hypothetical environment where no threats to survival existed.

While we will never be true immortal robots, such immortal robots could nonetheless flourish and truly achieve life. As a result, the “immortal robot” argument fails on multiple counts and is not a valid challenge to indefinite life extension.

This essay may be freely reproduced using the Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike International 4.0 License, which requires that credit be given to the author, G. Stolyarov II. Find out about Mr. Stolyarov here.

Life Today – Article by Kyrel Zantonavitch

Life Today – Article by Kyrel Zantonavitch

The New Renaissance Hat
Kyrel Zantonavitch
November 22, 2015

Altho’ it’s true that we in the early 21st century all live in a notably illiberal Dark Age culture of considerable sadness, sickness, ignorance, irrationality, malevolence, and tyranny, nevertheless: it’s still quite possible for those of us in the West to gain great knowledge about, and then practice, a highly liberal philosophy and lifestyle. And this intellectual system of reason and science in epistemology, individualism and self-interest in ethics, and dynamism and heroism in aesthetics and spirituality, can still easily foster a mostly good, great, magnificent, and happy life.

Today’s philosophical liberalism – massively influenced by the pure genius of Ayn Rand – can create a way of life which is deeply meaningful, purposeful, satisfying, enjoyable, and even ecstatic. Yes, some people around us are hugely irrational, illiberal, corrupt, hypocritical, foolish, and depraved. And yes, the political system around us is remarkably powerful, malicious, and authoritarian. But in the West you can still minimize contact with such people, and such a system. Life today is still potentially beautiful, wonderful, and almost unbelievably pleasurable.

Liberals who are relatively mature experienced, educated, smart, clever, and slick can mostly keep the forces of evil at bay. The illiberals haven’t ruined everything on this planet — or even come close. Aristotle, Epicurus, Cicero, Horace, Bacon, Locke, Smith, Voltaire, and Jefferson still have a lot of power and influence. Even Hayek and Rand.

There’s still plenty of good stuff in the world to enjoy: movies, t’v’ shows, music, dance, paintings, video games, comics, classic novels, sports, conversation, family, friends, and other sources of enjoyment. Properly understood and practiced, liberalism doesn’t just show the way to an outstanding, wondrous, and exalted lifestyle. It also provides a great shield against the Bad Guys. Soon enough, it’ll provide a great sword.

Kyrel Zantonavitch is the founder of The Liberal Institute  ( and author of Pure Liberal Fire: Brief Essays on the New, General, and Perfected Philosophy of Western Liberalism.

Ayn Rand and Friedrich A. Hayek: A Side-by-Side Comparison – Article by Edward W. Younkins

Ayn Rand and Friedrich A. Hayek: A Side-by-Side Comparison – Article by Edward W. Younkins

The New Renaissance HatEdward W. Younkins
August 1, 2015

Ayn Rand and Friedrich A. Hayek did more than any other writers in the Twentieth Century to turn intellectual opinion away from statism and toward a free society. Although they are opposed on many philosophical and social issues, they generally agree on the superiority of a free market. Rand’s defense of capitalism differs dramatically from Hayek’s explanation of the extended order. In addition, Hayek approves of state activity that violates Rand’s ideas of rights and freedom. The purpose of this brief essay is to describe, explain, and compare the ideas of these two influential thinkers. To do this, I present and explain an exhibit that provides a side-by-side summary of the differences between Rand and Hayek on a number of issues.

In their early years of writing, both Hayek and Rand were dismissed by intellectuals, but they were heralded by businessmen. Hayek began to gain some respect from intellectuals when he published The Road to Serfdom in 1944. He wrote a number of scholarly books, attained formal academic positions, and earned the Nobel Prize for economics in 1974. Rand never did write scholarly works or hold a formal academic position. Her philosophy must be extracted from her essays and her fiction.

Hayek was read in college classes sooner, and to a much greater extent, than was Rand. He was viewed by intellectuals as a responsible and respected scholar, and Rand was not. His vision of anti-statism was more acceptable to intellectuals because he called for some exceptions to laissez-faire capitalism. In his writings he permitted concessions for some state interventions. In his immense and varied body of work, he touched upon a great many fields, including anthropology, evolutionary biology, cognitive science, philosophy, economics, linguistics, political science, and intellectual history. During the last 25 years or so, Rand’s works have been increasingly studied by scholars. There is now an Ayn Rand Society affiliated with the American Philosophical Association and a scholarly publication devoted to the study of her ideas—The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies. In addition, her writings are now being covered in college classes.

A Summary Comparison

Exhibit I provides a summary comparison of Rand and Hayek based on a variety of factors and dimensions. With respect to metaphysics and epistemology, Rand holds that “A is A” and that reality is knowable. Contrariwise, Hayek argues that reality is unknowable and that what men see are distorted representations or reproductions of objects existing in the world. The skeptic Hayek goes so far as to state that the notion of things in themselves (i.e., the noumenal world) can be dismissed. Whereas Rand’s foundation is reality, the best that Hayek can offer as a foundation is words and language.

Hayek supports the view that the human mind must have a priori categories that are prior to, and responsible for the ability to perceive and interpret the external world. He adds to this Kantian view by making the case that each individual mind’s categories are restructured according to the distinct experiences of each particular person.   Each person’s neural connections can therefore be seen as semi-permanent and affected by his or her environment and experiences. The mind’s categories evolve as each specific person experiences the world. According to Hayek, there is pre-sensory knowledge embedded in the structure of the mind and the nervous system’s synaptic connections which can be further created and modified over time. For the neo-Kantian Hayek, knowledge always has a subjective quality.

Reason for Rand is active, volitional, and efficacious. It follows that she sees rationality as man’s primary virtue. She sees progress through science and technology as the result of the human ability to think conceptually and to analyze logically through induction and deduction. Rand also contends that people can develop objective concepts that correspond with reality.

In his philosophy, Hayek relegates reason to a minor role. He argues for a modest perspective of people’s reasoning capabilities. He contends that reason is passive and that it is a social product. Hayek’s message of intellectual humility is primarily aimed at constructivist rationalism rather than critical rationalism. As an “anti-rationalist,” he explained that the world is too complex for any government planner to intentionally design and construct society’s institutions. However, he is a proponent of the limited potential of critical rationalism through which individuals use local and tacit knowledge in their everyday decisions. Hayek views progress as a product of an ongoing dynamic evolutionary process. He said that we cannot know reality but we can analyze evolving words and language. Linguistic analysis and some limited empirical verification provide Hayek with somewhat of an analytical foundation. His coherence theory of concepts is based on agreement among minds. For Hayek, concepts happen to the mind. Of course, his overall theory of knowledge is that individuals know much more than can be expressed in words.

Rand makes a positive case for freedom based on the nature of man and the world. She explains that man’s distinctive nature is exhibited in his rational thinking and free will. Each person has the ability to think his own thoughts and control his own energies in his efforts to act according to those thoughts. People are rational beings with free wills who have the ability to fulfill their own life purposes, aims, and intentions. Rand holds that each individual person has moral significance. He or she exists, perceives, experiences, thinks and acts in and through his or her own body and therefore from unique points in time and space. It follows that the distinct individual person is the subject of value and the unit of social analysis. Each individual is responsible for thinking for himself, for acting on his own thoughts, and for achieving his own happiness.

Hayek denies the existence of free will. However, he explains that people act as if they have free will because they are never able to know how they are determined to act by various biological, cultural, and environmental factors. His negative case for freedom is based on the idea that no one person or government agency is able to master the complex multiplicity of elements needed to do so. Such relevant knowledge is never totally possessed by any one individual. There are too many circumstances and variables affecting a situation to take them all into account. His solution to this major problem is to permit people the “freedom” to pursue and employ the information they judge to be the most relevant to their chosen goals. For Hayek, freedom is good because it best promotes the growth of knowledge in society. Hayek explains that in ordering society we should depend as much as possible on spontaneous forces such as market prices and as little as possible on force. Acknowledging man’s socially-constructed nature, he does not view individuals as independent agents but rather as creatures of society.

According to Rand, the principle of man’s rights can be logically derived from man’s nature and needs. Rights are a moral concept. For Rand, the one fundamental right is a person’s right to his own life. She explains that rights are objective conceptual identifications of the factual requirements of a person’s life in a social context. A right is a moral principle that defines and sanctions one’s freedom of action in a social context. Discussion of individual rights are largely absent from Hayek’s writings. At most he says that rights are created by society through the mechanism of law.

Whereas Rand speaks of Objective Law, Hayek speaks of the Rule of Law. Objective laws must be clearly expressed in terms of essential principles. They must be objectively justifiable, impartial, consistent, and intelligible. Rand explains that objective law is derived from the rational principle of individual rights. Objective Law deals with the specific requirements of a man’s life. Individuals must know in advance what the law forbids them from doing, what constitutes a violation, and what penalty would be incurred if they break the law. Hayek says that the Rule of Law is the opposite of arbitrary government. The Rule of Law holds that government coercion must be limited by known, general, and abstract rules. According to Hayek certain abstract rules of conduct came into being because groups who adopted them became better able to survive and prosper. These rules are universally applicable to everyone and maintain a sphere of responsibility.

Rand espouses a rational objective morality based on reason and egoism. In her biocentric ethics, moral behavior is judged in relation to achieving specific ends with the final end being an individual’s life, flourishing, and happiness. For Hayek, ethics is based on evolution and emotions. Ethics for Hayek are functions of biology and socialization. They are formed through habits and imitation.

Rand advocates a social system of laissez-faire capitalism in which the sole function of the state is the protection of individual rights. Hayek, or the other hand, allows for certain exceptions and interventions to make things work. He holds that it is acceptable for the government to supply public goods and a safety net.

For Rand, the consciousness of the individual human person is the highest level of mental functioning. For Hayek, it is a supra-conscious framework of neural connections through which conscious mental activity gains meaning. He states that this meta-conscious mechanism is taken for granted by human beings. The set of a person’s physiological impulses forms what Hayek calls the sensory order. Perception and pattern recognition follow one’s sensory order which is altered by a person’s own perception and history of experiences

Aristotle is Rand’s only acknowledged philosophical influence. They both contend that to make life fully human (i.e., to flourish), an individual must acquire virtues and make use of his reason as fully as he is capable. Hayek was influenced by Kant and Popper in epistemology, Ferguson and Smith in evolutionary theory, Hume in ethics, and Wittgenstein in linguistics.

Although Rand and Hayek are opposed on many philosophical questions, they generally agree on the desirability of a free market and are among the most well-known defenders of capitalism in the twentieth century. The works of both of these intellectual giants are highly recommended for any student of liberty.

 Exhibit I

A Summary Comparison





Foundation Reality Words and Language
Knowledge Reality is knowable. Skepticism – The idea of things in themselves can be dismissed.
Reason Reason is active, volitional, and efficacious. Reason is passive and a social product.
Progress Based on power of human reason and conscious thought Evolution and social selection
Analytic Method Logical analysis, including induction and deduction Linguistic analysis and empiricism
Theory of Concepts Objective concepts that correspond with reality Coherence or agreement among minds
Freedom Positive case for freedom Negative case for “freedom”
Free Will Man has free will. Man is determined but acts as if he has free will.
Subject of value and unit of social analysis Individual happiness Perpetuation of society (i.e., the group)
The Individual Independent Dependent—man is socially constituted
Rights Based on the nature of the human person Created by society through law
Law Objective Law Rule of Law
Ethics and Morality Rational objective morality based on reason and egoism Evolutionary and emotive ethics based on altruism which is noble but cannot be implemented because of ignorance. Established through habits and imitation
Desired Social System Laissez-faire capitalism Minimal welfare state that supplies public goods and safety net
Highest level of understanding and mental functioning Consciousness of the Individual Meta-conscious framework—neural connections
Philosophical influences Aristotle Ferguson, Smith, Kant, Hume, Popper, Wittgenstein
Universal Physical and Moral Laws, With No Lawgiver – Video by G. Stolyarov II

Universal Physical and Moral Laws, With No Lawgiver – Video by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
May 20, 2015

Mr. Stolyarov endeavors to refute the common argument that any law, be it a physical law or a law of morality or justice, requires a lawgiver – an intelligent entity that brought the law into being. While some laws (termed manmade or positive laws) do indeed have human lawmakers, a much more fundamental class of laws (termed universal or natural laws) arise not due to promulgation by any intelligent being, but rather due to the basic properties of the entities these laws concern, and the relations of those entities to one another. To the extent that positive laws are enacted by humans, the purpose of such positive laws should be reflect and effectuate the beneficial consequences of objectively valid natural laws.


– “Universal Physical and Moral Laws, With No Lawgiver” – Article by G. Stolyarov II –

– Formula for the Universal Law of Gravitation: F = G*m1*m2/r2, with F being the force between two masses, m1 and m2 being the two masses, r being the distance between the centers of the two masses, and G being the universal gravitational constant.

– “Commonly Misunderstood Concepts: Happiness” – Essay by G. Stolyarov II

– “Commonly Misunderstood Concepts: Happiness” – Video by G. Stolyarov II

– “Indiana Pi Bill” – Wikipedia

Universal Physical and Moral Laws, With No Lawgiver – Article by G. Stolyarov II

Universal Physical and Moral Laws, With No Lawgiver – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
May 13, 2015

Here I endeavor to refute the common argument that any law, be it a physical law or a law of morality or justice, requires a lawgiver – an intelligent entity that brought the law into being. While some laws (termed manmade or positive laws) do indeed have human lawmakers, a much more fundamental class of laws (termed universal or natural laws) arise not due to promulgation by any intelligent being, but rather due to the basic properties of the entities these laws concern, and the relations of those entities to one another. To the extent that positive laws are enacted by humans, the purpose of such positive laws should be to reflect and effectuate the beneficial consequences of objectively valid natural laws. For instance, it is a natural law that each human being possesses a right to life. A positive law that prohibits and punishes murder of one human being by another would reflect the natural law and therefore be desirable. On the other hand, if any positive law were to mandate murder (as various edicts by tyrannical regimes throughout history, targeting political dissidents or disfavored minority groups, have done), then that positive law would be contrary to the natural law and therefore illegitimate and harmful.

The physical laws of nature pertain to all entities, including humans, and describe the regularities with which these entities will behave within applicable situations. Examples of physical laws include Newton’s Three Laws of Motion, the law of gravitation, the law of conservation of matter and energy, and the law of conservation of momentum. If it is asserted that these laws require a lawgiver, then the lawgiver would hypothetically be able to alter these laws on a whim at any time, thereby depriving them of their universality and predictable application. Such a state of affairs would not only be highly inconvenient (to say the least), but also completely incompatible with the reality that these laws are derived from the nature of entities as they are.

We can draw upon ubiquitous observation and the fact that these laws of nature can indeed be harnessed so precisely that every functional technology ever invented works because it takes advantage of them. The argument that the laws of nature could change tomorrow depends on a false perception of what those laws are – a kind of Platonic view that the laws of nature are superimposed upon the world of objects. In reality, however, objects (entities) and their qualities and relationships are all that exist at the most basic level. The laws of nature are relationships that are derived from the very properties inherent to objects themselves; they are not some higher layer of reality on top of the objects that leads the objects to behave in a certain way. That is, the laws of nature are what they are because the things whose behavior they describe are what they are.

The truth that the laws of nature are a function of the objects whose behavior they describe pertains to fundamental physical laws, such as the law of gravitation. While the law of gravitation and the equation [1] describing that law apply universally, the very existence of the law is dependent on the existence of entities that have mass and therefore exhibit gravitational attraction. Were there no entities or no entities with mass (incidentally, both logically impossible scenarios), then the concept of gravity would not have any relevance or applicability. Likewise, the amount of mass of particular entities and their distance of separation from one another will determine the extent of the gravitational force exerted by those entities upon one another. The gravitational force arises because the entities are as massive as they are and located where they are relative to one another; it does not arise because a supernatural lawgiver imposed it upon entities who would otherwise be completely static or random in their behavior in relation to one another.

The key parallel with the laws of morality is that, as the laws of gravitation stem from the objective properties of entities themselves (i.e., that they have mass – which is a universal property of all entities), so do the laws of morality stem from the objective properties of human beings themselves – namely, the biological and physical prerequisites of human survival and flourishing. Different specific decisions may be the appropriate moral decisions in different contexts, but because of the essential similarities of humans along many key dimensions, certain general moral truths will hold universally for all humans.  But again, were there no humans (or similar rational, sentient, volitional beings) with these essential attributes, the concept of morality would have no relevance.

Neither morality nor gravitation require the existence of entities outside of those exhibiting moral behavior or gravitational attraction. A system of physical or moral laws is not dependent on an outside “lawgiver” but rather on the objective natures of the entities partaking in the system. Objective moral laws include the principles of ethics, which address how a person should behave to maximize possible well-being, as well as the principles of justice, which address how people should relate to one another in respecting one another’s spheres of legitimate action, rewarding meritorious conduct, and punishing destructive conduct against others. There is a natural harmony between adherence to objective moral laws and the attainment of beneficial consequences for one’s own life, material prosperity, and happiness – provided that one adheres to a view of long-term, enlightened, rational self-interest, which does not allow one to sacrifice the lives, liberty, or property of others to achieve a short-term gain.

Some would assert that principles of behavior that tend to maximize well-being and serve one’s rational self-interest may be part of prudent or practical conduct, but are not the same as morality. In the minds of these individuals, morality (typically, in their view, willed by an external lawgiver) is independent of practical means or consequences and often (as, for instance, in Immanuel Kant’s outlook on morality) inherently divorced from actions conducive to self-interest. I, however, strongly reject any notion that there might be a dichotomy between morality and practicality, happiness, or prosperity – when a long-term, enlightened, and multifaceted outlook on the latter conditions is considered. Some might be so short-sighted as to mistake some temporary advantage or fleeting pleasure for true fulfillment or happiness, but the objective cause-and-effect relationships within our physical reality will eventually disappoint them (if they live long enough – and if not, their punishment – death – will be even greater). If some or even many humans might be drawn toward certain pleasurable feelings for their own sake (which is an evolutionary relic of a very different primeval environment inhabited by our ancestors – but a tendency ill-adapted to our current environment), this is not the same as achieving truly sustainable prosperity and happiness by using reason to thrive in our current environment (or to create a better environment for human flourishing). One of the objectives of a good moral system is to guide people toward the latter outcome. My essay and video “Commonly Misunderstood Concepts: Happiness” offer more detailed thoughts on key elements of a life of flourishing and the concept of eudaemonia – the actualization of one’s full potential, as Aristotle and later virtue-oriented philosophers described it.

Objective moral law, derived from the fundamental value of every innocent rational, sentient being’s life, posits an essential harmony of the long-term, enlightened self-interests of all who earnestly pursue truth and goodness. Unlike many proponents of an externally legislated moral framework (for which the alleged lawgiver might be a supernatural being, a single human ruler, or a collective of humans), I would not consider self-sacrifice to be a component of morality. I align more with Ayn Rand’s view of sacrifice as a surrender of a greater value (e.g., one’s life) to a lesser value (e.g., abstractions such as nation-states, religions, or perceived slights from another nation-state or religious or cultural group). A person can behave morally – promoting his own life, respecting the rights of others, and contributing to human flourishing – without ever surrendering anything he values (except as an instrument for obtaining outcomes he might justifiably value more). Morality should therefore not be seen as the subordination of the individual to some higher ideal, be it a divine order or a manmade one. Rather, the individual is the ideal for which moral behavior is the path to fulfillment.

A person who behaves morally advances himself while fully respecting the legitimate prerogatives of others. He improves his own life without damaging anybody else’s. In the process of pursuing enlightened self-interest, he also benefits the lives of others through value-adding interactions. Indeed, he may enter into an extensive network of both formal and informal reciprocal obligations with others that result in his actions being a constant, sustainable source of improvement in others’ lives. The virtue of honesty is part of objective ethics and impels a moral individual to strive to honor all commitments once they have been made. The key to a morality based on objective, natural law, however, is that these obligations be entered into freely and not as a result of the self being compromised in favor of an alleged higher ideal. Consequently, a key component of natural law is the liberty of an individual to evaluate the world in accordance with his rational faculty and to decide which undertakings are consistent with his enlightened self-interest. When positive laws are crafted so as to interfere with that liberty, positive law becomes at odds with natural law, leading to warped incentives, institutionalized sacrifices, and painful tradeoffs that many individuals must make if they seek to abide by both natural and positive laws.

Objective natural laws – both physical and moral – do not require a lawgiver and antecede manmade, positive laws. Some natural laws, however, may require positive laws – such as prohibitions on murder, theft, and slavery – in order for the desirable outcome brought about by the natural laws to be reflected in actual (rather than simply hoped-for) human behavior. In order to improve human well-being, positive laws should be developed to advance and effectuate natural laws, instead of attempting to resist them or contravene them. Just as a law that redefines the value of pi as 3.2 (one actually unsuccessfully attempted in Indiana in 1897) is rightly seen as absurd on its face, even if a majority votes to enact it, and would result in many failed constructions if implemented by engineers and designers of machines, so would a law that abrogates the natural liberty of individuals to peacefully pursue their own flourishing result in damage to good human beings and increases in physical harm, suffering, and injustice. A good human lawmaker should respect pre-existing objective natural laws and not attempt to contradict them.

[1] F = G*m1*m2/r2, with F being the force between two masses, m1 and m2 being the two masses, r being the distance between the centers of the two masses, and G being the universal gravitational constant.

This article may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which requires that credit be given to the author. See Mr. Stolyarov’s biographical information here.

Illiberal Belief #15: Everyone Is Selfish – And That’s Bad – Article by Bradley Doucet

Illiberal Belief #15: Everyone Is Selfish – And That’s Bad – Article by Bradley Doucet

The New Renaissance Hat
Bradley Doucet
March 11, 2015

Liberty is won and preserved not primarily with guns, but with ideas. Spreading freedom requires that we spread an understanding of the benefits freedom brings, that we explain to whomever will listen how freedom is really in everyone’s best interest. In making the case for a truly free society, however, we will inevitably come up against a wide array of illiberal beliefs that keep others from embracing our vision of a better world. The more we seek to understand those beliefs, the better we will be able to counter them and address the concerns that underlie them. In this ongoing series, I address some of the issues we can expect to face, along with brief outlines of the kinds of responses I think can be helpful.


Is it true, as cynics believe, with some backup from certain schools of economics, that everybody is selfish? Well, no. But even if it were true, is being selfish really such a bad thing anyway? The answer to this question depends on what you mean by “selfish.”

The traditional view of selfishness, promoted by religion but maintained by many secular thinkers as well, is that it is bad. According to this view, a selfish person thinks only of his own interests, disregarding the interests of others. Such a person might steal from, lie to, betray, or at the extreme even go so far as to murder others in order to get his way.

But is this really a selfish way of acting? It’s a petty, criminal, malevolent way of acting, to be sure—but does a person really serve his own interests by stealing, lying, betraying, or murdering? It might serve one’s immediate interests to have more money, avoid responsibility for something, or do away with someone who stands in one’s way, but what about the longer-term consequences? Embracing a life of crime, aside from eating away at your soul, for lack of a better word, will very likely come back to bite you, landing you in jail or in an early grave. It’s not a great way to make friends, either.

A person who is selfish and rational takes the longer-term consequences of his actions into account when deciding how to act, what kind of life to lead, what kind of person to be. A rationally selfish person doesn’t cheat or steal, but instead works hard, learns about the world, respects the rights of others, and builds lasting, fulfilling relationships—the kinds of things that are actually in a person’s best long-term interests. This is the kind of view taken by philosopher and novelist Ayn Rand, who titled one of her collections of essays The Virtue of Selfishness. This kind of rational self-interest is not something to be lamented, but something to be celebrated, leading to greater wealth and happiness for all.

Those who moan that everyone is selfish have the first kind of selfishness in mind, the bad kind, but clearly not everyone is a thug or a cheat. True criminals are a tiny minority in any civilization. Most people follow some kind of moral code, however mixed up and unexamined it may be. They feel the need, not only to enjoy lives full of rewards, but also to deserve those rewards. They want not merely to have good lives, but to be good people. This simple, basic truth flies in the face of what the cynics out there would have us believe.

The economists who inadvertently lend some support to the cynics have the other kind of selfishness in mind, the good kind. Economists since at least Adam Smith have been unable to deny the beneficial side-effects of lawful self-interested action—though they have not, as a rule, been as unapologetically enthusiastic about it as Rand.

In an article entitled “The Denial of Virtue” published in the January/February 2008 edition of Society, sociology professor Amitai Etzioni takes on economists and other social scientists who are quick to explain away charitable behaviour as a way to get tax deductions, volunteer work as a way to meet other singles, or heroic acts as the result of “hard-wiring.” Etzioni tells us about experiments suggesting that many people do not “free ride” even when they think they can get away with it. He also points out that many people vote, even though they know the chances that their vote will make a difference are close to nil. In these and other cases, people plausibly report that their actions are motivated not by self-interest but by what they think is right, by what they think they ought to do.

I think Etzioni is correct, as far as this goes. The claims of economists and social scientists that all actions are self-interested—that whatever people choose to do necessarily reflects their calculations of costs and benefits for themselves—is belied by clear cases of people acting out of a sense of duty, either to god or society or their parents.

Where I part company with Etzioni is in believing that this sense of duty is a good thing. Etzioni can point to people doing good out of a sense of duty, but I can point to people disowning their natural desires for pleasure out of a sense of religious duty; sacrificing their rights out of a sense of national duty; abandoning a career or a mate out of a sense of duty to their parents. I do believe in virtue, but I believe that duty is its enemy. Duty ethics ask you to adhere to a set of rules, whereas virtue ethics ask you to live up to an ideal, which is a very different focus.

It is a good thing people are not all selfish in the narrow, petty way the cynics imagine them to be, but it is actually unfortunate that people are not all rationally self-interested in the way social scientists suppose. This kind of rational self-interest not only has beneficial spill-over effects, but is in fact a virtue—it leads people to act virtuously, to live fulfilling lives, and to be good people. As Dr. Nathaniel Branden wrote in “Isn’t Everyone Selfish?” published in the Rand book mentioned above, this rhetorical question, though intended as a cynical jab, actually “pays mankind a compliment it does not deserve.” Hopefully, more and more of mankind will deserve it as they increasingly embrace the virtue of rational self-interest and reject not only petty, narrow selfishness but also the heavy hand of duty.

Bradley Doucet is Le Québécois Libre‘s English Editor and the author of the blog Spark This: Musings on Reason, Liberty, and Joy. A writer living in Montreal, he has studied philosophy and economics, and is currently completing a novel on the pursuit of happiness.