The Virtue Of Selfishness by Ayn Rand
Anyone unfamiliar with Ayn Rand’s philosophy may be thinking “Is this some kind of joke? Can selfishness really be a virtue?” If you have read any of Ayn Rand’s novels you will know not only can selfishness be a virtue – but is something to strive for as selfishness is a prelude to a happy successful fulfilled life.
The Virtue of Selfishness begins with the traditional Webster’s Dictionary definition “selfishness – the quality or state of being selfish… excessive regard to one’s own interest or happiness… the supreme self love or self-preference which leads a person to direct his purposes to the advancement of his own interest, power, or happiness, without regard for others.”
I imagine it’s the words “without regard for others” that really upsets society. After all, we all have to strive to live civilly amongst our peers. But as Ayn Rand points out, in today’s world the popular use of the word “selfishness” would be synonymous with the word “EVIL”. But by who’s authority?
Rand does not condone evil – she simply stresses the theory of Objectivist Ethics – the good of reason, purpose and self-esteem, productiveness, pride and rationality, and establishing values. In the book’s 19 essays she talks about the importance of choosing the right goals and values, emphasizes that all actions should be rational and “a rational man sees his interests in terms of a lifetime and selects his goals accordingly….. he does not become his own destroyer by pursuing a desire today which wipes out all his values tomorrow.” …. not “I want it because it feels good” but “I want it because it is RIGHT” – In other words selfish personal well thought out long range planning. Ayn Rand’s philosophy requires holding one-self to the highest standards -and if that is selfish – so be it.
She used this as a starting-point in The Virtue of Selfishness to discuss altruism, compromise, argument from intimidation, ethics, social norms, morality, man’s rights, racism, justice, the nature of government ( and what it’s function should be), and socialism versus capitalism.
There are many wonderful quotes:
On Love – Love and friendship are profoundly personal, selfish values. Love is an expression and assertion of self-esteem, a response to one’s own values in the person of another. One gains a profoundly personal, selfish joy from the mere existence of the person one loves. It is one’s own personal, selfish happiness that one seeks, earns, and deserves from love.
On Pride and Humility – Pride has to be earned; it is the reward of effort and achievement; but to gain virtue of humility, one has only to abstain from thinking – nothing else is demanded – and one will feel humble quickly enough.
On Happiness – Happiness is the state of noncontradictory joy – a joy without penalty or guilt, a joy that does not clash with any of your values and does not work for your destruction.
On irrational behavior and random actions – Neither life nor happiness can be achieved by the pursuit of irrational whims. Just as man is free to attempt to survive by any random means, as a parasite, a moocher or a looter, but not free to succeed at it beyond the range of the moment, – so he is free to seek his happiness in any irrational fraud, any whim, any delusion, and mindless escape from reality, but not free to succeed at it beyond the range of the moment nor to escape the consequences.
On Hedonists and altruist doctrines – the “moral cannibalism” of all hedonists and altruist doctrines lies in the premise that the happiness of one man necessitates the injury of another.
Ayn Rand’s philosophy is controversial – especially in this modern 21st century anything goes society because to live by her ideal lifestyle would require a tremendous amount of self discipline and a reversal of the “herd mentality” so prevalent today.
However, The Virtue of Selfishness is thought provoking and inspirational. A good book for book club discussions. But then again, depending on your own life philosophy – it may induce some very heated debates.
Rated 5 Stars December 16, 2016
All contents © 2016 Lois Weisberg. All rights reserved.