Capitalism and Its Antithesis
I originally wrote this article in 2011 for another publication. I republish it here (lightly edited) to preserve the information that is surely more vital today than ever.
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“Laissez-faire capitalism is the only social system based on the recognition of individual rights and, therefore, the only system that bans force from social relationships. By the nature of its basic principles and interests, it is the only system fundamentally opposed to war.”
- Ayn Rand, “Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal”
To speak of capitalism is to speak to individual liberty and fundamental human rights. In doing so one must also speak of the United States of America, for there as nowhere else in the world has capitalism, and therefore individual liberty, been allowed such expression.
Capitalism is an objective moral imperative. To best illustrate this fact, it is effective to examine capitalism in contrast to the ideal that is antithetical to individual rights, to liberty, and to the objective morality that requires them. The antithetical ideal I’m referring to is altruism and its political expression, collectivism. We’ll get to that shortly.
I’m writing this essay because I find that few people have any significant grasp of what capitalism is, what it means, what it assumes and requires, and how it works. Many who hold capitalism in high esteem and often repeat the notion that capitalism is the best system will falter when asked to defend it or explain it. Unfortunately, few supporters of capitalism recognize lies about and misrepresentations of capitalism. This, in part, explains why capitalism even in the U.S. has ever been corrupted by collectivist ideals. In this ongoing corruption, ignorance and outright malevolence play as equal partners. I’d like to help address the ignorance component here.
Contrary to what you might have heard or might believe, capitalism is neither an economic system nor a political system. It is a social system that—according to its fundamental morality—defines the moral basis of social relationships (of all kinds, including economics and governance)…and the only system conceived by man that can preserve individual liberty and the singular human right of a man to his own life.
Capitalism is the direct expression of the moral absolute of human life.
What are Individual Rights?
“A “right” is a moral principle defining and sanctioning a man’s freedom of action in a social context.”
- Ayn Rand, “Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal”
To understand the morality of capitalism, you have to understand individual rights. Despite the seeming simplicity and likely familiarity of the term, I find that few understand individual rights and the morality associated with them. Clear evidence of this fact is found in the way that so many who claim to be champions of rights routinely support efforts that destroy them (and later in this essay I’ll explain why this happens).
There is, in fact, only one fundamental right: the right of a man to his own life. This is the basis of capitalist morality. All other true rights flow from this singular right and all are mutually dependent and supportive. The example rights cited in the U.S. Declaration of Independence—to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness—require this fundamental right as their basis. What’s more, they require others not explicitly cited: an individual’s right to think, to work (no, not to be employed), and to keep and dispense with the product of his work and his genius as he sees fit, unencumbered by force or compulsion. This moral concept, as I will make clear in this essay, is one that only capitalism can uphold and protect.
A real right is one that places no obligation or limitation on anyone else’s rights. A “right” that places a limitation on another’s rights or compels an action from another person is tyranny and a violation of individual rights. Remember this, as every system and ideology other than capitalism will work to deceive you with a dizzying array of false rights as justification for the tyranny that they require.
As is deliberately stated in our nation’s Declaration of Independence, the reason our founders established a government was to protect and defend individual liberty. This is, in fact, the only moral purpose of a government: to preserve and protect individual liberties from attacks; foreign and domestic. Remember this, too, as it will help you to recognize the many tyrannies that you and your fellow citizens have been subjected to your entire lives.
Tyranny directed toward individuals comes by way of one system: collectivism. Based on the morality of altruism (the morality of death), the ideological basis of collectivism is expressed in many variants, including communism, socialism, liberalism, fascism, progressivism, and other forms of statism. There are some significant differences and conflicting qualities among some of these variants, but these are all articulations of collectivism, which requires the individual submit to the collective.
To better appreciate the moral imperatives of capitalism, we should examine how its morality differs from that of other social systems. As I mentioned earlier, the antithesis to capitalism is altruism, and its political expression is collectivism. Let’s get to know this deceptive philosophy and the ideology that forms its subjective morality.
In contrast to the capitalist morality of a man’s right to his own life (and all that flows from that), the morality of altruism is that of self-destruction. Altruism dictates that a man exists to sacrifice to others and has an immutable obligation to selflessness. That which he produces according to altruism morally belongs to someone other than himself. You might recognize this subjective morality as something given broad expression around the world and at one time in the United: slavery.
According to altruism, virtue is found only in self-sacrifice. Therefore, the individual has no virtue in and of himself: the self as a standard of evil, the selfless as a standard of the good . Logically, virtue lies only in the utter destruction of one’s own life, as altruism’s morality allows for no other conclusion.
Many think of the term altruism and mistakenly imagine generosity. In fact, there are many who routinely describe acts of kindness or generosity as “altruism.” This is a mistake that results only from either shallow thinking or malevolent activism toward the destruction of individual rights. If you have made this mistake in the past let us hope that it is because you once fell into the former category (as I certainly did at one time).
Altruism, in fact, renders impossible and negates generosity. Kindness and generosity are not acts of self-sacrifice, but of free will. Free will cannot coexist with altruism, where the individual has no right to himself, his thoughts, his work, or the property that it produces…any of which generosity would employ. Generosity is sharing; a voluntary act. Altruism demands the redistribution of possessions and as such is wholly involuntary.
The several political expressions of altruism all have one goal: the subordination and subjugation of the individual to the collective. “The collective” is what one has when slaves are bound together by externally-imposed purpose or when groups are said to have rights and thus impose demands upon individuals. Now, ask yourself: what is the logical result of a group having rights and what must be ignored or destroyed for this to happen?
For instance, the U.S. Constitution rightly describes only individual rights and makes no allowances for group rights. Its primary purpose, in fact, is to subordinate the group (government) to the individual. Group “rights” are wholly unconstitutional and yet every year that passes sees more and more groups given rights that supersede those of individuals. Collectivism grows every year in the United States while the defense of individual rights shrinks. Is this something you morally agree with?
A violation of individual rights is easy to recognize in most cases, as it typically comes in the form of a requirement for serving “the common good.” In order for “the common good” to be served, individual liberty and rights must be destroyed along with the morality that supports them. Else, how can individuals logically be required to give up their property (earned income, land, etc…)? “The common good” comes only with the death of objective morality and the destruction of the right of a man to his own life.
When any group is said to have rights, the individual and all of his industry becomes the property of the group or the state; to be used and disposed of according to the whim of the collective’s needs. As an individual under a collectivist system, one is a slave. The only thing that has any moral virtue under such a system is the result of one’s effort as sacrifice to the black hole of need personified by “the greater good.”
Collectivism receives its mandate from the mere existence of need and the lack of comprehensive equality of results. Collectivism requires, therefore, that “until this need is sated, we all have to sacrifice.” Collectivism is prettified by the deceptively noble goal of “equality” among members of society. Yet even this seeming high ideal is bastardized to obtuse and evil purposes under a collectivist morality (altruism).
The idea of foundational equality among men is something that enlightened people and enlightened nations hold in high esteem. The relevant reference is found in the U.S. Declaration of Independence, with the recognition of the idea that all men are created equal. Collectivists in their many forms have corrupted this notion as a component of their effort to make tyranny palatable with the idea that everyone should remain or become equal, meaning no individual should exceed any other individual. Therefore, all activities that are not devoted to bringing all men into social and economic equality are deemed evil.
Capitalism recognizes that though we are all created equal, we each aspire and will ourselves in different endeavors, toward different levels of effort, and thus each realize different levels of achievement and reward. Only capitalism holds as inviolate the right of each individual to the results of his efforts and genius. According to the moral imperative of individual rights, there can never be any equality of result among individuals in a society. In short, equality is impossible where men enjoy liberty.
Those who have any grasp of individual rights and free will understand that equality of result requires a corruption of morality and is impossible so long as rational men are free to live their lives as they choose.
Corruption of Capitalism
For those of us who do not live under an overt dictatorship or in a communist, fascist, or socialist country, such issues of state-mandated slavery and self-destructive morality might seem foreign or even unthinkable. While this idea might seem unthinkable for many, it exists in every nation on earth. In fact it has always been a significant component in the social mechanisms of the United States, ever expanding in scope and impact.
Surprised? You might think that this idea contravenes reason. How could such a destructive and evil system have a fastness in the capitalist bastion of the United States of America? In fact, your reason is one of the many things that collectivists of all stripes seek to destroy. They must, in fact. To do this, collectivists must destroy definitions of important concepts and redefine ideas toward their opposites while compelling you to act not upon reason, but emotion. In doing so, they render your reason useless.
In the end, he who controls the definitions of words controls ideas. He who controls ideas controls reality as perceived by that most-important thing collectivists must corrupt in order to succeed: your mind.
Reason and Capitalism
“From every aspect, the theory of collectivism points to the same conclusion: collectivism and the advocacy of reason are philosophically antithetical; it is one or the other.
- Leonard Peikoff
Capitalism is founded in and requires man’s fundamental survival tool: rational cognition. With the foundational moral absolute being the right of a man to his own life, reason must be employed to uphold and defend that right. Therefore, every idea and action must be measured according to its rational consistency with this morality.
So long as reason prevails, the ideals of liberalism, socialism, progressivism, fascism, and communism cannot find a foothold in society. So long as reason prevails, capitalism is allowed full expression and individual liberty is absolutely defended. But capitalism has never been allowed unfettered expression, even in the United States. Why?
The quest for power requires that others be subjugated to that power. Totalitarianism aside, the only political system on earth that allows for this is collectivism. Collectivists have ever assailed the morality and ideals of capitalism with appeals toward emotion rather than reason. After continually working to destroy then redefine key words and core concepts, the resulting application of these redefined words and concepts very obviously contradicts reason and introduces a vertigo of rationality. Collectivists inject into that chaos the notion that emotion then is the most relevant tool of cognition. Since emotion is not a cognitive tool and with emotion being the antithesis of reason, you have your answer to the question posed above.
Lies and misrepresentations are the calling cards of anti-capitalist rhetoric. As a result, common references to capitalism paint a distorted picture. For instance, as Ayn Rand pointed out…
“Capitalism has been called a system of greed—yet it is the system that raised the standard of living of its poorest citizens to heights no collectivist system has ever begun to equal, and no tribal gang can conceive of.
“Capitalism has been called nationalistic—yet it is the only system that banished ethnicity, and made it possible, in the United States, for men of various, formerly antagonistic nationalities to live together in peace.
“Capitalism has been called cruel—yet it brought such hope, progress and general good will that the young people of today, who have not seen it, find it hard to believe.
“As to pride, dignity, self-confidence, self-esteem—these are characteristics that mark a man for martyrdom in a tribal society and under any social system except capitalism.” 
Where there is capitalism there must be reason. Where there is collectivism, reason cannot exist.
Fundamental Comparisons and Conclusion
You may note that while the various collectivist ideologies demand that every individual sacrifice for the good of the collective, these systems exempt one special group: the elite rulers of the collective. Collectivist governments do not sacrifice, but instead collect. They are not subject to the same morality as the members of the collective but exist above it. In fact, the government of every system on earth exists, according to its laws, above the morality imposed by the system…all except for one built upon capitalism. But many in the U.S. are working (successfully!) to change that system.
Individual rights are the means of subordinating society (a group or groups) to moral law.  This point is important, because until the Constitution of the United States was adopted, no nation in the history of the world had ever subordinated society to moral law. Before that, only individual citizens were subject to that morality. This subordination of the government and of groups to the individual, as Ayn Rand astutely points out, was the most profound revolutionary achievement of the United States of America.
As a morally-sound document, the U.S. Declaration of Independence deliberately recognizes the idea that individual rights come not from men or groups or government, but from our Creator—and thus cannot be taken or negated by men, groups, or government (this is one reason that many collectivist governments work to destroy the idea of God).
Finally, acknowledging the idea that most of us associate with capitalism, where individuals have supreme liberty, free men may pursue their dreams and realize the result and profit of their ingenuity without limits. This is otherwise known as The American Dream. Such men may then freely trade with other men according to mutual agreement and without interference or compulsion from any uninvolved entity. The result of this simple, logical, and moral exchange is the most powerful, wealth-creating system in the history of mankind: capitalism.
Capitalism created the highest standard of living on earth and has never been equaled or exceeded in any positive respect, measure, or manner by any other system. Capitalism is, in fact, the only system ever conceived of by man that creates wealth. Every other system cannibalizes and destroys wealth.
It should be no surprise that the only objectively moral system known to mankind is also the most positive and powerful system known to mankind. I sincerely hope that you have learned something in this shallow examination of capitalism and are better able to recognize threats to your liberty, your rights, and your reason.
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