Observe what this beneficiary-criterion of [the altruist] morality does to a man’s life. The first thing he learns is that morality is his enemy: he has nothing to gain from it, he can only lose; self-inflicted loss, self-inflicted pain and the gray, debilitating pall of an incomprehensible duty is all that he can expect. He may hope that others might occasionally sacrifice themselves for his benefit, as he grudgingly sacrifices himself for theirs, but he knows that the relationship will bring mutual resentment, not pleasure-and that, morally, their pursuit of values will be like an exchange of unwanted, unchosen Christmas presents, which neither is morally permitted to buy for himself. Apart from such times as he manages to perform some act of self-sacrifice, he possesses no moral significance: morality takes no cognizance of him and has nothing to say to him for guidance in the crucial issues of his life; it is only his own personal, private, “selfish” life and, as such, it is regarded either as evil or, at best, amoral.
In Rand’s analysis, the practical effects of altruism are logically derived from her rather extreme definition of the term (i.e., that altruism means “ man has no right to exist for his own sake”). Since (as I noted in the previous post) few if any humanitarian/altruists would accept Rand’s definition, her analysis is of little value. It tries to determine matters of fact almost exclusively on the basis of logical deductions from principles hardly anyone holds, and which very few ever follow in practice. A more detailed examination of the actual facts will show that the practical effects of altruistic and other so-called “humanitarian” doctrines tend to run along somewhat different lines. If we examine what happens in the real world of fact when humanitarians dominate the ruling class of a society, we discover that the principle danger of humanitarianism arises, not necessarily from the “self-sacrificial” rationalizations expressed in extreme forms of the doctrine, but often from the cowardice of the typical humanitarian. For it would appear that humanitarianism holds a particular appeal to the pusillanimous type of individual. Humanitarian doctrines serve as a kind of cover or fig leaf for cowardice, as if the humanitarian is trying to convince himself and others that he appeases violent criminals and his nation’s most dangerous enemies not out of cowardice, but out of love and pity for mankind.
Pareto explains how these humanitarian sentiments can lead to violent overthrow of a ruling class:
Let us imagine a country where the governing class, A, is inclining more and more in the direction of humanitarianism…. Such a country is on its way to utter ruin. But lo, the subject class, B, revolts against the class A. In fighting A it uses the humanitarian derivations so dear to the A’s, but underlying them are quite different sentiments, and they soon find expression in deeds. The B’s apply force on a far-reaching scale, and not only overthrow the A’s but kill large numbers of them—and, in so doing, to tell the truth, they are performing a useful public service, something like ridding the country of a baneful animal pest…. The country is saved from ruin and is reborn to a new life….
If the class governing in France [under Louis XVI] had had the faith that counsels use of force and the will to use force, it would never have been overthrown [in the French Revolution]…. Had Louis XVI not been a man of little sense and less courage, letting himself be floored without fighting, and preferring to lose his head on the guillotine to dying weapon in hand like a man of sinew, he might have been the one to do the destroying. If the victims of the September massacres, their kinsman and their friends, had not for the most part been spineless humanitarians without a particle of courage or energy, they would have annihilated their enemies instead of waiting to be annihilated themselves. [§2191]
While Pareto might be criticized for seeming a bit too eager to see humanitarians exterminated, this does little to effect his main point. Nor should we let Pareto’s focus on revolutions cause us to think that the cowardice of humanitarians does not pose a threat to the West. In America there is little chance of a violent revolution. But this does not mean that the dominance of humanitarians in America’s ruling elite does not pose a threat to the social order. For external threats still exist and must be faced resolutely. And humanitarianism, even when it doesn’t completely oppose defending the country against its enemies, nevertheless cannot help undermining and demoralizing the will to fight.
In her political writings, Rand tended to focus almost exclusively on the “social legislation” effects of the humanitarian/altruist sensibility. While there exists an obvious and significant nuisance value to much of the laws and social programs favored by our dear humanitarians, the more serious threat stems from the squeamishness many of these humanitarians experience when it comes to using force to defend the social order from enemies both foreign and domestic. As James Burnham put it:
Most liberals [i.e., humanitarians] … are foxes rather than lions. They belong to the types, professions and classes who seek their ends by shrewdness, manipulations and verbal skills. What tends to happen, therefore, when liberals become influential or dominant in the conduct of a nation’s affairs, is that the government tries to handle the difficulties, dangers, issues and threats it faces by those same methods … and to shy away as much as possible and as long as possible from the use of force. In fact, liberals tend to employ the social agencies of force—police and army—as above all instruments of bluff. Their actual use of force, which will always be necessary no matter what the theory, becomes erratic and unpredictable, the result not of a prudent estimate of the objective situation but of their own impatience, panic or despair. [Suicide of the West, 293]
Now while Objectivists such as Peikoff seem to share Burnham’s disdain of the liberal humanitarian’s squeamishness about using force, Rand’s conviction that all social pathologies stem from abstract “premises” once again darkens rather than enlightening the understanding. Believing that liberal humanitarianism is caused by the acceptance of the premise of altruism (as defined by Rand), Objectivists think they can combat its pernicious effects by demonstrating the absurd and immoral consequences of the premise of extreme self-sacrifice. Unfortunately, humanitarian cowardice is not caused by the premise of self-sacrifice. On the contrary, cowardice, to the extent that it is not innate, is primarily caused by soft living. Cowardice can only be cured, if it can be cured at all, by strenuous discipline and experience in battle. Trying to change it by arguing against it’s so-called premises is silly and a waste of time.