Monday, May 16, 2005

Cue Card Libertarianism -- Altruism

ALTRUISM: Not to be confused with simple kindness and benevolence, as in common usage, but defined literally as “other-ism” or “living for others,” precisely as the term’s originator, Auguste Comte the founder of sociology, conceived it. (See David Kelley’s article, 'Capitalism and Altruism' .)

The ethic of subordinating one’s own interests as a matter of principle to those of others in particular and to ‘society’ in general has been the lifeblood of tyrannies throughout history. All tyrants have invoked “the common good” and extolled (and forcibly imposed) the “virtue” of self-subordination and self-sacrifice as a means of ensuring a docile, acquiescent population.

Altruism is the ethical foundation of collectivism in politics.

Said Joseph Goebbels (approvingly),

“To be a socialist is to submit the I to the Thou; socialism is sacrificing the individual to the whole.”
One Volk, with one neck.

Libertarianism deems altruism to be incompatible with individual self-ownership, and upholds instead an ethic of rational self-interest (see Objectivism). As David Kelly argues in his book Unrugged Individualism, an ethic of rational self-interest does not exclude benevolence towards others, it simply recognises that this may only come about once the acting party has secured his own flourishing. "Is it better to give or to receive?" asks Kelley rhetorically, answering, "It is better to produce," without which neither giving nor receiving nor even basic survival are actually possible.

FURTHER READING: See David Kelley's article 'Two Strains of Altruism,' and for a concrete example of how altruism undermines freedom, see Lindsay Perigo's 1996 presentation discussing New Zealand's market reforms and the consequent need for an ethical revolution, 'Antipodean Altruism,' and particularly 'The Foundations of a Revolution.'

Part of a continuing series explaining the concepts and terms used by libertarians. Originally published in The Free Radical. The 'Introduction' to the series is here.

7 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The article is bull. It says: "Libertarianism deems altruism to be inccompatible with individual self-ownership..." Libertarianism says no such thing. It merely says people are free to be altruistic if they wish to do so. Once again the Free Radical is redefining libertarianism into it's own brand of Objectivism. If they were honest they would call themselves the Objectivist Party and leave libertarianism out of it. BTW: only in NZ do you have this problem. Everywhere else people are honest and admit the two are not the same thing. You can not be an Objectgivist and an altruist but you can be a libertarian and an altruist.

5/16/2005 10:25:00 am  
Blogger PC said...

'Anonymous', you said: "You can not be an Objectivist and an altruist but you can be a libertarian and an altruist."

You can be a libertarian and an altruist, I grant you, but you would find that the latter makes nonsense of the former.

Your problem is this: The principle of self-ownership can not be reconciled with a principle that you must put others before self. It's utterly irreconcilable, and should you try to hold both posiitons at once the ethical position, ie, altruism, will undermine the political position, ie., libertarianism.

Libertarians -- or anyone -- who think it's possible to reconcile the two are looking to eat their cake and have it to.

It can't be done.

"Everywhere else people are honest and admit the two are not the same thing."

So much the worse for them then.

5/16/2005 10:39:00 am  
Blogger Richard said...

You're doing it again - confusing libertarianism with objectivism.

LIBERTARIANISM != OBJECTIVISM

Insisting on using a word (in this case, 'altruism') in a technical or literal sense which is at odds with common parlance is asking for big trouble. Auguste Comte is wrong, and Joseph Goebbels is right, as I argue here.

5/16/2005 11:52:00 am  
Blogger PC said...

Richard, you said: "Auguste Comte is wrong, and Joseph Goebbels is right, as I argue here."

It's often said that if you ask two libertarians for an opinion you'll get three different opinions. And here we go. :-)

Lots of things wrong with that sentence, Richard! And I'm sorry to say with your tsuanami piece. For one thing, I expect the bloke who coined the word 'altruism' had some idea of what it meant. For another, Goebbels statement is simply the political application of the morality of altruism -- you say that's 'right'? I'm not sure I'm sure of your meaning.

Yes, as you say the ARI piece was tremendously mean-spirited and quite literally 'uncharitable.' Being mean-spirited is just reason the ARI doesn't get my support. But in any case your article doesn't address the essential difference between benevolence and altruism at all.

Altruism is literally recognising a 'duty' that you are your brother's keeper; putting others before self if you like. 'Otherism' as Comte coined it.

A practical if trivial demonstration that such an ethic is impractical is seen during airline travel: the instruction is always given that if you see oxygen masks drop from the ceiling you should put your own on first before trying to help others. Basically, this is a recognition that if you don't look after yourself first then you're dead and of no use to anyone else or to you.

Altruism demands that in one's daily life one look first to the welfare of others, and that looking after yourself does not represent a moral act; socialism is the consistent political expression of that ethic. Benevolence on the other hand demands only that one has first produced something with which to be benevolent, which requires some prior moral action, ie., looking after onself, and recognising that you have the right to live and produce for your own sake.

And as far as "confusing libertarianism with [O]bjectivism," as I'll no doubt be saying many times, libertarianism is a political philosophy only and consequently 'bare libertarianism' has nothing to say on many issues outside of the immediate field of politics. It needs a philosophical base. Objectivism is one such base and in my view, the only one that offers a consistent base from which to argue and defend human liberty and to explain its necessity.

Other libertarians can argue in their own way, as they do, but in arguing for altruism they're arguing against their own best interests.

5/17/2005 11:01:00 am  
Blogger PC said...

Just to clarify further, Richard you said in your article: "They then go on to define altruism as 'the moral view that need entitles a person to the values of others, whose corresponding duty is to sacrifice their values for that person's sake.' Wrong again. That's socialism, not altruism."

Actually, I think the problem here is that you're conflating ethics and politics. In fact what you quote above is an excellent definition of altruism as a principle of ethics.

When it come to politics we find that socialism is as you say "moral view that need entitles a person to the values of others."

The political view follows from the ethical principle, you see.

5/17/2005 11:07:00 am  
Blogger Comrade MOT said...

You are reading too much into the meaning of the word, it means doing somthing for anothers benifit that is no your own. It is used in biology to explain behaviours animals do that are of no advantage to themselves as an indevidual but are of benifit to their species/group. These evolve due to the fact that the recipient of the altruism is related enough for the benifits of saving them in terms of continuing the genes, to outway the risk

"The principle of self-ownership can not be reconciled with a principle that you must put others before self."
This makes no sense. Putting others before your self does not require one not believe that people own their own life. To be altruistic, one doesnt have to force others to be the same, it is their own choice.

"living for others" means living to help others, not making choices on behalf of others, or forcing anything on others.

"The ethic of subordinating one’s own interests as a matter of principle to those of others in particular and to ‘society’ in general has been the lifeblood of tyrannies throughout history."

This is only true if the subordination of ones own interests is forced rather than voluntary.
If they were succesful altruist they wouldnt by tyranical. Altruism may be used to justify tryany and removal of freedom, but it does not require it. Name one Tyrant who is/was altruistic towards all people. By definition only a failed altruist would not benifit others. Therefore if an alturist beleives that a libertarian society would benifit others they would support it.

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