QuickPoint 2: Altruism Supports Coercion…

…or “A Problem With Libertarianism”

Under altruism, (the morality of self-sacrifice,) an act of self-sacrifice can be good, even if the person sacrificing doesn’t choose to do it.

If someone’s interests are sacrificed by government force, the person committing an unwilling sacrifice doesn’t get moral credit for the act, because it was unchosen. But the act itself can still be considered “good”, apart from the choices of the “self” being sacrificed. A sacrifice is a sacrifice, regardless of whether it was freely chosen or imposed by a legal authority. Thus, under altruism, any sacrifice can be good, so long as it “benefits those in need.”

In practice, the forced imposition of sacrifice is justified on dual grounds: it will benefit those in need, while simultaneously punishing those who violate morality by being selfish. Since everyone, according to the altruist morality, really should be self-sacrificial anyway, who can object to the overall project of forced charity? We can quibble about the practical details, say the altruists, but if we want a moral society, how can we leave the needy at the mercy of other individuals’ choices?

Under the morality of altruism, the advocates of government coercion are right: A moral society requires forced charity, because without it, those who don’t sacrifice for the welfare of others will be rewarded and encouraged, and those “noble altruists” who are in need will be “left at the mercy of the selfish.”

The only way to fight this thinking is to fight for the morality of rational egoism, as established and advocated by Ayn Rand. For rational egoism, an act can only be good if it is freely chosen by the acting individual.

I highly recommend this book on how to fight for a free market: Free Market Revolution: How Ayn Rand’s Ideas Can End Big Government.


Related Posts:

Atlas Shrugged, Altruism and Egoism

The Morality of Rational Egoism: Short Notes

Link Highlight: Introduction to Objectivism Playlist

2 thoughts on “QuickPoint 2: Altruism Supports Coercion…

  1. So, it’s either this or that? Or am I dreaming of a false dilemma? Could it not be that sometimes this and sometimes that? (I was actually going to write a lot more since I think you have forgotten all other moral theories, but then realized may be off topic considering you are criticizing the big government).

    Hypothetical example: I am a crazy terrorist, (say the Joker) who has access to a nuclear weapon. The crazy sadistic bastard that I am, I decide to play a game: I kidnap Batman and Ayn Rand, and put them in a room. I clearly explain with my hysterical laughter that if Batman kills Rand, I will not detonate the bomb, but if he does not, I will. Which means 3 million people dead.

    Say, that Rand says no. Let those three million die, but I choose to live.

    Assuming ceteris paribus, meaning there is no third way out: Either Rand is killed by Batman, or 3 million people die. What is the moral action for Batman?


    Instead of Ayn Rand, put a 1 week old baby boy. He “cannot” choose to die or not, What now?

    • In practice, theories like deontology, utilitarianism and virtue ethics reduce to a mixture of egoism and altruism. Every action is either some semblance of a pursuit of rational values, or is an act of sacrificing those values. By the nature of human life, every choice has some effect on the agent. (The potential effect is proportional to the moral significance of the act–by definition of “moral significance” in Objectivism.)

      Self-sacrifice cannot be practiced consistently without bringing about rapid death, so it is mixed with self-interested pursuits. All three of those theories tell an individual that there are times when it is moral to sacrifice his own interests for the sake of something or someone else (or for the sake of nothing but “duty”.) Thus, I include the self-sacrifice implied by these theories with the conventional, aphilosophical notion of altruistic morality. (“It’s noble to be selfless,” etc.)

      Any morality that tells me that self-sacrifice is proper at all, is supporting government coercion as I explained in the post.

      Your hypothetical is a digression from the point of the post, but I will answer briefly:
      The guidance Objectivism would give in lifeboat scenarios, situations of pervasive coercion, and other emergency situations is: choose whatever option is available that does the least damage to your own life (rational values) by your best judgment at the time. That’s typically all that’s possible to morality in those situations. The Objectivist virtues are derived in a context where one is not facing imminent physical destruction, or pervasive coercion. They do not–and aren’t intended to–apply to such situations.

      Any hope of a full set of rational moral principles that applies in every conceivable situation is a false one. Any set of moral principles worth caring about has a goal as its aim, and there can be times when progress toward that goal is impossible.
      See: Emergencies at Ayn Rand Lexicon–and the book from which it is taken–for more on this issue.

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