Randianism can beat a strawman – Is that a surprise?

Does everyone who doesn’t identify themselves as a “conservative” favor confiscatory taxes, and an enforced flat distribution of income and wealth. Are the only viable alternatives the the US minus its social safety net or the Soviet Union? I don’t think so.

I read an interesting post by a new convert to Conservatism, of I think the Ann Rand variety. She makes a number of interesting point, but felt it boils down to this:

…conservatism is founded on the reality that every individual has an unlimited inner reservoir of creativity and intelligence that is the source of their ability to succeed. However, this inner ability does require external conditions for its full expression and these are individual liberty and the right to keep the majority of the fruits of one’s labors because that right harnesses the power of human ambition and rewards it.

This means that fiscal conservatism has morality on its side because it creates the system for the largest number of individuals to flourish, while not abandoning the truly needy to their deaths and assisting the temporarily unlucky back to productivity and self-reliance.

I see two main issues. First, I don’t think this present anything other than a grotesque caricature of Progressives or those in the center (non-conservatives for short). It seems to presume only conservatives want a “…right to keep the majority of the fruits of one’s labors” for individuals. While some on the broadly speaking “left” may favor confiscatory taxation that this assumes, I don’t think it is a widespread belief among progressives or moderates. Favoring raising tax rates back to where they were under Bill Clinton is hardly favoring confiscatory taxes. In other words, in this post, the left are straw-men defending some crazy polar case that almost no non-conservative would defend or advocate.

The second issue is that most non-conservatives also favor: “not abandoning the truly needy to their deaths and assisting the temporarily unlucky back to productivity and self-reliance”. That many on the right favor this same thing is more debatable.

I may be presenting a straw-man in suggesting some on right are devoid of simple altruism, but the “left” in the post is also a straw-man. And is this just straw-man? Later in the comment this appears from a true Randian:

The real problem is that conservatives by and large agree with the left’s moral premise, which is altruism. Altruism is the morality that denies our right to exist for our own sake and demands self-sacrifice for the sake of others. According to altruism, working strictly or primarily for one’s own benefit is selfish and therefore evil.

I challenge you to find a conservative willing to denounce altruism and uphold it’s opposite — the individualist morality of egoism, which holds that all men are ends in themselves with the right to exist for their own sake, by means of their own honest effort, without being required to sacrifice for anyone one else.

With the clear implication that the “truly needy” at least may be on their own – and good luck to them!

Altruism is the normal human impulse I think. Altruism originating in compassion not guilt is healthy, and the case against Altruism generally has always left me unmoved, and in my opinion is totally impossible to reconcile with with Christian Gospel that I also believe in.

It seems to me that most of the left and the center, where I’d put myself favor a safety net to protect those in society who are the most vulnerable, the poor, sick and disadvantaged, consistent with allowing the productive to keep the bulk of the fruits of their labors. This post is nicely written but mostly stomps the guts out of a straw-man, not the views of most non-conservatives in the US in 2010.

Protecting the rights of the productive, and those in need through no fault of their own is not owned by the right, the widely made claims to the contrary not withstanding. I think the debate is just about what legitimately belong in the social safety net, and what share of goods produced (well below the majority) should go to that safety net. Is health care a part of such a social safety net for example?


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