This viewpoint would seem to go against the more commonly held view (at least among political realists) that “altruism” does not figure prominently in either the motivations of politicians or in the voting public. Politicians and voters give lip service to altruism, but their primary motivation is usually some form of self-interest.
This view was well expressed by Pareto in the following observation:
A politician is inspired to champion the theory of "solidarity" [a 19th century variant of altruism] by an ambition to obtain money, power, distinctions. Analysis of that theory would reveal but scant trace of his motives, which are, after all, the motives of virtually all politicians, whether they preach white or black. [Politicians make use of principles] that are effective in influencing others. If the politician were to say, "Believe in solidarity because if you do it means money for me," they would get many laughs and few votes. He therefore has to take his stand on principles that are acceptable to his prospective constituents…. [Mind and Society, §854]
In other words, politicians say what they think their listeners want to hear. So they speak in vague generalities that are calculated to appeal to common sentiments. They talk of “change,” of “service” to one’s country, of need for “accountability.” Sometimes they are even, on a conscious level, sincere. They may believe in the vague ideologies that these expressions represent superficially—that is, they may have a sentimental connection to the rhetoric in which these ideologies are expressed. But their behavior is primarily motivated by concerns of self-interest (particularly status concerns). After all, politics is a rough, competitive sport; if the politician doesn’t look after his interests, he will lose his position to a less scrupulous rival. Political survival, in most (though not all) instances, easily trumps any “altruistic” principles that the politician may harbor.
What about the supporters of the politician? If, in order to get elected, the politician must appeal to the altruistic sentiments of the electorate, doesn’t this suggest that altruism still plays a major role in the political farce? Again, we must be careful not to be taken in by superficial appearances. As I will explain in more detail in the next post, the primary motivation for the electoral class in a democracy usually revolves around self-interest. Individuals may wax eloquent about altruism and service to strangers all they like; but at the end of the day, their own needs, along with the needs of their loved ones, are going to occupy most of their attention. Admiration of “altruism” is, in most people, a kind of literary indulgence. One admires it in others and occasionally puts it in practice in the form of a bit of charity toward others; but the sort of "self-sacrificial," live-entirely-for-others" behavior denounced by Rand and her disciples is an exceptional occurrence. Rand is denouncing what is almost a phantom.
The Objectivist scapegoating of altruism is connected to another strange doctrine: what could be called the “transperancy of motives” principle:
[The motives that drive history] are not hidden; they scream out at you [writes Peikoff]. People do not disguise their actions, not in essence and not on a historical scale; rather, in a real sense, people have integrity: nations practice what they preach. In this sense, I do not believe that hypocrisy is a factor in history. [“Philosophy and Psychology in History”]
Peikoff, however, in his contributions to this subject, is guilty of confirmation bias. He focuses solely on those instances in which politicians appeal to altruistic sentiments, while ignoring the very many appeals politicians make to self-interest. This is so obvious that one wonders how it is that Objectivists don’t notice it. Politicians are constantly promising things: more jobs, lower inflation, lower taxes, less corruption in government, assistance for those in need, bailouts for wealthy investors, subsidies for the medical care of the elderly, etc. etc. Appeals to altruism are merely added to these appeals to self-interest in order to make the whole business seem less sordid and mercenary. It is odd that Objectivists seem incapable of understanding this.
Early American settlers found what worked was the freedom for each individual to think, imagine, create, build and change the environment with their sweat, even disturbing the established and accepted way things are done without fear of punishment, exemplified in Ayn Rand’s writings, a libertarian belief. That was America, and what set her apart from all other nations, as cited in Save Pebble Droppers & Prosperity at Amazon and claysamerica.com. Individual freedom caused local government, close to the governed within a day’s horseback ride. The governed ruled, and they could change government in Town Halls, voting or by vigilante movements, much like the Tea Party movement today. It is our tradition. Claysamerica.com
So why did Americans choose altruism then over all of that? There in lies the rub...
"...The governed ruled, and they could change government in Town Halls, voting..."
Given, that after the American Revolution less than 1 in 33 Americans over the age of 18 were allowed to vote, that statement does seem a bit odd. I mean, no blacks, Indians, women, men with less than a fixed amount of capital and/or owned land and others were allowed to vote it's not suprise that the colonists moved away from all this.
"Early American settlers found what worked was the freedom for each individual to think, imagine, create, build and change the environment with their sweat, even disturbing the established and accepted way things are done without fear of punishment, exemplified in Ayn Rand’s writings, a libertarian belief. That was America, and what set her apart from all other nations, as cited in Save Pebble Droppers & Prosperity at Amazon and claysamerica.com."
Thank you for telling us all about your childhood Clay and for plugging your book. I'm sure it's a classic, but, meanwhile bakc that the ranch, lets talk about what modern Americans want and why they want it, ok?
Also another problem with Rand's thinking when she blamed tyranny on altruism is that the American Founding Fathers where pretty much altruists themselves,
Thomas Jefferson wrote,
"Self-interest, or rather self-love, or egoism, has been more plausibly substituted as the basis of morality. But I consider our relations with others as constituting the boundaries of morality. With ourselves, we stand on the ground of identity, not of relation, which last, requiring two subjects, excludes self-love confined to a single one. To ourselves, in strict language, we can owe no duties, obligation requiring also two parties. Self-love, therefore, is no part of morality. Indeed, it is exactly its counterpart."
Now let's keep in mind that, that was Thomas Jefferson, the Thomas Jefferson of all people, not some evil tyrant like Joseph Stalin, or even Rand's favorite scape goat, Emanuel Kant. If Altruism is really the cause of tyranny, how could the founding fathers have been altruists and at the same time founded the most free Society on Earth? Yes there was slavery at the time and the did not get rid of it until the civil war, but it was something that clearly went agianst the ideals that the founders were fighting for. They were genuine freedom fighters. While there maybe reasons to think that Altruism and rights have some compatibility issues, there's no good reason to think that altruism in and of its caused things like the massive expansion of government in America in the middle of the twentieth century. Beyond that there's even reason to think Egoism is also incompatible with individual rights as well.
Another good Rand article:
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