One of the main premises of this site is that self interest is not greed. A message that often finds a hostile audience in some circles. The response is often that those that promote self-interest believe that “Greed is good.” This is often followed up with accusations about how all Conservatives are hypocrites because Christianity is anti-capitalism.
Is this warranted? This post takes at look into that question. The sad truth is that this debate has been oversimplified. The result is that greedy anarchist label is starting to stick to the so called “Right”. Is that good for society? I would say no if it is distorting the truth. The truth seems to be that some conservative and libertarian types are greedy and others are anarchists but the vast majority are not. Personally, as a Conservative Christian that believes that self-interest checked by a love for your neighbor is the right path, I have grown weary of being falsely labeled.
That is when I began to write some posts to disassociate myself from libertarianism in regards to the topic of self interest vs. greed. In doing so, I invoked John Locke’s famous saying, “liberty not license.” I got a lot of backlash to say the least from libertarians! When I engaged discussions in Libertarian Party Facebook groups and on Twitter, I began to realize that many libertarians actually agree with me and reject the notion that greed is good. In fact, many distanced themselves from the teachings of Ayn Rand in the process. Others stood by Rand and said she was misunderstood. Much of this discussion was in response to an article I often posted entitled Ayn Rand vs. Jesus. Here is an excerpt from the post on Ayn Rand and Jesus mentioned above with a few thoughts of my own below:
In Rand’s Manichaean world, it is not God vs. Satan, but individualism vs. collectivism. While Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor,” she sings Hosannas to the rich. The heroes of Atlas Shrugged (which, alas, is only slightly shorter than the Bible) are captains of industry such as John Galt. The villains are the “looters” and “moochers” — people who by hook (guilt) or by crook (government coercion) steal from the hard-won earnings of others. Turning the tables on traditional Christian morality, Rand argues that altruism is immoral and selfishness is good. Moreover, there isn’t a problem in the world that laissez-faire capitalism can’t solve if left alone to perform its miracles. I first read Atlas Shrugged and her other popular novel, The Fountainhead, while festival-hopping in Spain after graduating from college, so I can attest to the appeal of this philosophy to late adolescents of a certain gender. As an adult, however, Rand’s work reads to me like a vulgar rationalization for greed lying on top of a perverse myth of the right relationship between individual and community. So when Ryan says that, “Ayn Rand, more than anyone else, did a fantastic job of explaining the morality of capitalism, the morality of individualism,” I have to question his use of the word “explaining.” “Duping” seems like the more appropriate verb. As someone who has written extensively on the religious illiteracy of the American public, I am not surprised that few Republicans today seem to understand that marrying Ayn Rand to Jesus Christ is like trying to interest Lady Gaga in Donny Osmond. But there is nothing Christian about Rand’s Objectivism. In fact, it is farther from Christianity than the Marxism that Rand so abhorred. Despite the attempt of the advertising executive Bruce Barton to turn Jesus into a CEO in his novel The Man Nobody Knows (1925), Jesus was a first-class, grade-A “moocher.”
This post pretty much speaks for itself. Nonetheless, I would like to add a thought or two. The first thing that comes to mind is that this author is conflating Conservatism, Libertarianism, and Objectivism needlessly. In doing so, the author scores a cheap political point but in the process turns the truth on its head. All three groups may look the same to a biased person who has possibly been tainted by the snare of Marxism. However, all one has to do is tune into an internet debate between these groups and the major differences and bad blood become instantly evident.
The second issue I have with this post is that I am not totally convinced that it accurately reflects the teachings of Rand. I am no expert on Objectivism but have been privy to some discussions with those that seem to be. Many adamantly deny that Rand believed that greed was good and state emphatically that her teachings have been misrepresented. From my limited readings of Randian Thought, and commentary about it, I think there is a possibility that that her ideas may in fact be misrepresented.
I think the only way to even begin to get to the bottom of this is to re explore the Lockean idea of “liberty not license” that was important to our founders. To a man, they were all well versed in the teachings of John Locke on inalienable rights. They knew that just doing what ever you want is not liberty. it is license.
I think debating Ayn Rand vs. Jesus if a good debate. However, I think we can all agree that it is best to debate this in a logical way. Setting up false dichotomies is a logical fallacy. With that in mind, is it possible that the post cited above is a complete fail?
The entire self interest not greed topic cited in the introduction is attached to a larger question that this blog exists to ask:
Is capitalism morally superior to socialism?
Tell me what you think in the comments section. You can also hear my take on this question by registering below:
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