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by Free Market Duck

What is the Basic Issue in the World Today? -- Part 3 of 3

by Ayn Rand
annotated by FM Duck
Feb 03, 2011

"11.  Is "The Greatest Good for the Greatest Number" a moral principle?"

"12.  Does the motive change the nature of a dictatorship?"

11. Is "The Greatest Good For The Greatest Number" A Moral Principle?

“The greatest good for the greatest number" is one of the most vicious slogans ever foisted on humanity.

This slogan has no concrete, specific meaning. There is no way to interpret it benevolently, but a great many ways in which it can be used to justify the most vicious actions.

What is the definition of "the good" in this slogan? None, except: whatever is good for the greatest number. Who, in any particular issue, decides what is good for the greatest number? Why, the greatest number.

If you consider this moral, you would have to approve of the following examples, which are exact applications of this slogan in practice: fifty-one percent of humanity enslaving the other forty-nine; nine hungry cannibals eating the tenth one; a lynching mob murdering a man whom they consider dangerous to the community.

There were seventy million Germans in Germany and six hundred thousand Jews. The greatest number (the Germans) supported the Nazi government which told them that their greatest good would be served by exterminating the smaller number (the Jews) and grabbing their property. This was the horror achieved in practice by a vicious slogan accepted in theory. But, you might say, the majority in all these examples did not achieve any real good for itself either? No. It didn't, because "the good" is not determined by counting numbers and is not achieved by the sacrifice of anyone to anyone.

The unthinking assumes that every man who mouths this slogan places himself unselfishly with the smaller number to be sacrificed to the greatest number of others. Why should he? There is nothing in the slogan to make him do this. He is much more likely to try to get in with the greatest number, and start sacrificing others. What the slogan actually tells him is that he has no choice, except to rob or be robbed, to crush or get crushed.

The depravity of this slogan lies in the implication that "the good" of a majority must be achieved through the suffering of a minority; that the benefit of one man depends upon the sacrifice of another.

If we accept the Collectivist doctrine that man exists only for the sake of others, then it is true that every pleasure he enjoys (or every bite of food) is evil and immoral if two other men want it. But on this basis men cannot eat, breathe or love (all of that is selfish, and what if two other men want your wife?), men cannot live together at all, and can do nothing except end up by exterminating one another.

Only on the basis of individual rights can any good -- private or public -- be defined and achieved. Only when each man is free to exist for his own sake -- neither sacrificing others to himself nor being sacrificed to others -- only then is every man free to work for the greatest good he can achieve for himself by his own choice and by his own effort. And the sum total of such individual efforts is the only kind of general, social good possible.

Do not think that the opposite of "the greatest good for the greatest number" is "the greatest good for the smallest number." The real opposite is: the greatest good one can achieve by one’s own free effort, to everyone living.

If you are an Individualist and wish to preserve the American way of life, the greatest contribution you can make is to discard, once and for all, from your thinking, from your speeches, and from your sympathy, the empty slogan of, "the greatest good for the greatest number." Reject any argument, oppose any proposal, that has nothing but this slogan to justify it. It is a Booby-trap. It is a precept of pure Collectivism. You cannot accept it and call yourself an Individualist. Make your choice. It is either one or the other.

12. Does The Motive Change The Nature Of A Dictatorship?

The mark of an honest man, as distinguished from a Collectivist, is that he means what he says and knows what he means.

When we say that we hold individual rights to be inalienable, we must mean just that. Inalienable means that which we may not take away, suspend, infringe, restrict or violate, not ever, not at any time, not for any purpose whatsoever.

You cannot say that "man has inalienable rights except in cold weather and on every second Tuesday," just as you cannot say that "man has inalienable rights except in an emergency," or "man's rights cannot be violated except for a good purpose."

Either man's rights are inalienable, or they are not. You cannot say a thing such as "semi-inalienable" and consider yourself either honest or sane. When you begin making conditions, reservations and exceptions, you admit that there is something or someone above man's rights, who may violate them at his discretion. Who? Why, society-that is, the Collective. For what reason? For the good of the Collective. Who decides when rights should be violated? The Collective. If this is what you believe, move over to the side where you belong and admit that you are a Collectivist. Then take all the consequences which Collectivism implies. There is no middle ground here. You cannot have your cake and eat it, too. You are not fooling anyone but yourself.

Do not hide behind meaningless catch-phrases, such as "the middle of the road." Individualism and Collectivism are not two sides of the same road, with a safe rut for you in the middle. They are two roads going in opposite directions. One leads to freedom, justice and prosperity; the other-to slavery, horror and destruction. The choice is yours to make.

The growing spread of Collectivism throughout the world is not due to any cleverness of the Collectivists, but to the fact that most people who oppose them, actually believe in Collectivism themselves. Once a principle is accepted, it is not the man who is half-hearted about it, but the man who is whole-hearted, that's going to win; not the man who is least consistent in applying it, but the man who is most consistent. If you enter a race, saying, "I only intend to run the first ten yards," the man who says, "I'll run to the finish line," is going to beat you. When you say, "I only want to violate human rights just a tiny little bit," the Communist or Fascist who says, "I'm going to destroy all human rights," will beat you and win. You've opened the way for him.  [And this half-heartedness – or sloppy intellectualism -- is why the Republican Party in America will always lose, in the long run, to the collectivist Democrats.  For example, the Republicans accept collectivist central banking, collectivist public education, collectivist train systems, a collectivist Post Office, and a whole host of other collectivist government programs and ideas.  Why?  Because they do not know how to argue the difference between the philosophy of Individualism – which they purport to support – and Collectivism – which they don’t comprehend.  It’s a sad commentary that in America, the two major political parties that claim to oppose each other, are actually sleeping in the same ideological bed.]

By permitting themselves this initial dishonesty and evasion, men have now fallen into a Collectivist trap, on the question of whether a dictatorship is proper or not. Most people give lip-service to denunciations of dictatorship. But very few take a clear-cut stand and recognize dictatorship for what it is:  an absolute evil, in any form, by anyone, for anyone, anywhere, at any time and for any purpose whatsoever.

A great many people now enter into an obscene kind of bargaining about differences between "a good dictatorship" and a "bad dictatorship," about motives, causes or reasons that make dictatorship proper. For the question, "Do you want a dictatorship?", the Collectivists have substituted the question, "What kind of dictatorship do you want?" They can afford to let you argue from then on; they have won their point.

A great many people believe that a dictatorship is terrible if it's "for a bad motive," but quite all right and even desirable if it's "for a good motive." Those leaning toward Communism (they usually consider themselves "humanitarians") claim that concentration camps and torture chambers are evil when used "selfishly," "for the sake of one race," as Hitler did, but quite noble when used "unselfishly," "for the sake of the masses," as Stalin did. Those leaning toward Fascism (they usually consider themselves hard-boiled "realists") claim that whips and slave-drivers are impractical when used "inefficiently," as in Russia, but quite practical when used "efficiently," as in Germany.

(And just as an example of where the wrong principle will lead you in practice, observe that the "humanitarians," who are so concerned with relieving the suffering of the masses, endorse, in Russia, a state of misery for a whole population such as no masses have ever had to endure anywhere in history. And the hard-boiled "realists." who are so boastfully eager to be practical, endorse, in Germany, the spectacle of a devastated country in total ruin [after WW II], the end result of an "efficient" NAZI dictatorship.)

When you argue about what is a "good" or a "bad" dictatorship, you have accepted and endorsed the principle of dictatorship. You have accepted a premise of total evil, of your right to enslave others for the sake of what you think is good. From then on, it's only a question of who will run the Gestapo. You will never be able to reach an agreement with your fellow Collectivists on what is a "good" cause for brutality and what is a "bad" one. Your particular pet definition may not be theirs. You might claim that it is good to slaughter men only for the sake of the poor; somebody else might claim that it is good to slaughter men only for the sake of the rich; you might claim that it is immoral to slaughter anyone except members of a certain class; somebody else might claim that it is immoral to slaughter anyone except members of a certain race. All you will agree on is the slaughter. And that is all you will achieve.

Once you advocate the principle of dictatorship, you invite all men to do the same. If they do not want your particular kind or do not like your particular "good motive," they have no choice but to rush to beat you to it and establish their own kind for their own "good motive," to enslave you before you enslave them. A "good dictatorship" is a contradiction in terms.  [Just like “rights to receive” is a contradiction in terms since your “right to receive” must simultaneously violate someone else’s Individual rights to retain his private property, rights that ultimately come from the private property of your own mind and body, the denial of which means nobody has any rights whatsoever, hence a contradiction in terms.]

The issue is not: for what purpose is it proper to enslave men? The issue is: is it proper to enslave men or not? 

There is an unspeakable moral corruption in saying that a dictatorship can be justified by "a good motive" or "an unselfish motive." All the brutal and criminal tendencies which mankind -- through centuries of slowly climbing out of savagery -- has learned to recognize as evil and impractical, have now taken refuge under a "social" cover. [Or, as America’s President Obama and his collectivist thugs and those initially “benign” Collectivists in the past -- such as Adolph Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, Mao-Tse-Tung, Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, Hugo Chavez, today’s Islamist Terrorists, and a thousand others -- like to call it, “social justice.”]  Many men now believe that it is evil to rob, murder and torture for one's own sake, but virtuous to do so for the sake of others. You may not indulge in brutality for your own gain, they say, but go right ahead if it's for the gain of others. Perhaps the most revolting statement one can ever hear is: "Sure, Stalin has butchered millions, but it's justifiable, since it's for the benefit of the masses." Collectivism is the last stand of savagery in men's minds.

Do not ever consider Collectivists as "sincere but deluded idealists." The proposal to enslave some men for the sake of others is not an ideal; brutality is not "idealistic," no matter what its purpose. Do not ever say that the desire to "do good" by force is a good motive. Neither power-lust nor stupidity are good motives. – FM Duck

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