Is Altruism Immoral?

With Paul Ryan now Mitt Romney’s running mate, many people are busily trying to discover what Ryan is all about. If you follow the news, you know about Ryan’s budget plan. But what is his basic philosophy? As it turns out, he has expressed his admiration for a writer named Ayn Rand.

According to this video, which contains an interview of Ayn Rand (as well as several politicians praising her and her philosophy), Rand believed that altruism is immoral if it is placed above selfishness (see her book, The Virtue of Selfishness, and other writings). Rand preached that selfishness must be the basis of capitalism (“rational self-interest”), and scorned any belief system or social institution that was altruistic, including churches. She was an atheist who admits her “disdain” for churches in the video.

A number of Republicans, including Paul Ryan, Ron Paul, Rand Paul , Sean Hannity, and Justice Clarence Thomas, have cited Rand as their philosophical teacher and guide. Their statements are on record in the above video. Of course, some have recently repudiated Rand, especially her atheism. But is the repudiation a real change in viewpoint, or is political expediency?

I believe that each person is responsible for themselves and must look after themselves first. However, I don’t believe that I should put my needs above the needs of others to the extent that I am willing to step on other people to get what I need and want, which seems to be what Rand is advocating. I don’t see altruism — defined by Rand as living for the sake of others — as immoral. I believe that most things are best in moderation and the same is true for altruism and Rand’s objectivism or egoism.

Altruism and objectivism/egoism are opposites, according to Rand. I believe that if these opposing concepts are kept in balance, both the individual and the community will benefit. Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as your self.” That one profound instruction tells us that we should love ourselves (contrary to what some churches teach), but that self-love must be balanced by other-love, which Jesus illustrated in the parable of the Good Samaritan.

If you’d like to read one person’s story of how Ayn Rand’s philosophy “ruined” her childhood, click here.

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One thought on “Is Altruism Immoral?

  1. That’s interesting. I don’t know much about her as a person. I did enjoy her books, Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead. I know they were political books, but for me I enjoyed the stories. Not sure I understand her theory on altruism, but I’m a giving person.

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