Those who reject the principle of selfishness will find in the history of ethics two main alternatives. One is the primordial and medieval theory that man should sacrifice himself to the supernatural. The second is the theory that man should sacrifice himself for the sake of other men. The second is known as “altruism,” which is not a synonym for kindness, generosity, or good will, but the doctrine that man should place others above self as the fundamental rule of life.
I shall not attempt in this book to identify the contradictions and evils of these two theories. Ayn Rand has covered this ground too well — in theory, in practice, in history, and from every aspect I can think of. If her works have not already convinced you that the morality of self-sacrifice is the morality of death, nothing I can add will do so, either.
I shall confine myself here to one polemical observation.
The advocates of self-sacrifice, in either version, have never demanded consistency. They have not asked men to sacrifice their goods, pleasures, goals, values, and ideas as a matter of principle. Even the saints had to eschew such a course, which would be tantamount to instant suicide. The moralists of self-lessness expect a man to go on functioning, working, achieving — else he would have no values to give up. They expect him to exercise his mind for his own sake and survival, and then to deny his judgment as the spirit moves them. They expect him to be ruled by whim, the whim of the relevant authority or beneficiary, whenever it injects itself into the process and demands to be paid off.
These moralists expect you to live your life on a part-time basis only, while trying to get away on the side with sundry acts of self-immolation, just as drug addicts pursue some regular nourishment while trying to get away with their periodic fixes.
Neither of these contradictions, however, is practicable. Man’s life does require adherence to principle. Nor is the above a distortion of the theory of self-sacrifice. It is what that theory actually means. Short of suicide, this is all that can be denoted in reality by the notion of a living entity practicing “anti-egoism.”…