This book is not a treatise on economics. It is a collection of essays on the moral aspects of capitalism.
Our approach can best be summarized by my statement in the first issue of The Objectivist Newsletter (January 1962):
“Objectivism is a philosophical movement; since politics is a branch of philosophy, Objectivism advocates certain political principles—specifically, those of laissez-faire capitalism—as the consequence and the ultimate practical application of its fundamental philosophical principles. It does not regard politics as a separate or primary goal, that is: as a goal that can be achieved without a wider ideological context
“Politics is based on three other philosophical disciplines: metaphysics, epistemology and ethics—on a theory of man’s nature and of man’s relationship to existence. It is only on such a base that one can formulate a consistent political theory and achieve it in practice. . . . Objectivists are not ‘conservatives.’ We are radicals for capitalism; we are fighting for that philosophical base which capitalism did not have and without which it was doomed to perish.”
I want to stress that our primary interest is not politics or economics as such, but “man’s nature and man’s relationship to existence”—and that we advocate capitalism because it is the only system geared to the life of a rational being.
In this respect, there is a fundamental difference between our approach and that of capitalism’s classical defenders and modern apologists. With very few exceptions, they are responsible—by default—for capitalism’s destruction. The default consisted of their inability or unwillingness to fight the battle where it had to be fought: on moral-philosophical grounds.
No politico-economic system in history has ever proved its value so eloquently or has benefited mankind so greatly as capitalism—and none has ever been attacked so savagely, viciously, and blindly. The flood of misinformation, misrepresentation, distortion, and outright falsehood about capitalism is such that the young people of today have no idea (and virtually no way of discovering any idea) of its actual nature. While archeologists are rummaging through the ruins of millennia for scraps of pottery and bits of bones, from which to reconstruct some information about prehistorical existence—the events of less than a century ago are hidden under a mound more impenetrable than the geological debris of winds, floods, and earthquakes: a mound of silence.
To obliterate the truth on such a large scale, to hide an open secret from the world, to hide—without any power of censorship, yet without any significant sound of protest—the fact that an ideal social system had once been almost within men’s reach, cannot be done by any conspiracy of evildoers; it cannot be done except with the tacit compliance of those who know better.
By their silence—by their evasion of the clash between capitalism and altruism—it is capitalism’s alleged champions who are responsible for the fact that capitalism is being destroyed without a hearing, without a trial, without any public knowledge of its principles, its nature, its history, or its moral meaning. It is being destroyed in the manner of a nightmare lynching—as if a blind, despair-crazed mob were burning a straw man, not knowing that the grotesquely deformed bundle of straw is hiding the living body of the ideal.
The method of capitalism’s destruction rests on never letting the world discover what it is that is being destroyed—on never allowing it to be identified within the hearing of the young.
The purpose of this book is to identify it
The guilt for the present state of the world rests on the shoulders of those who are over forty years old today (with a very few exceptions)—those who, when they spoke, said less than they knew and said it less clearly than the subject demanded.
This book is addressed to the young—in years or in spirit— who are not afraid to know and are not ready to give up.
What they have to discover, what all the efforts of capitalism’s enemies are frantically aimed at hiding, is the fact that capitalism is not merely the “practical,” but the only moral system in history. (See Atlas Shrugged.)
The political aspects of Atlas Shrugged are not its theme. Its theme is primarily ethical-epistemologjcal: the role of the mind in man’s existence—and politics, necessarily, is one of the theme’s consequences. But the epistemological chaos of our age, fostered by modern philosophy, is such that many young readers find it difficult to translate abstractions into political principles and apply them to the evaluation of today’s events. This present book may help them. It is a nonfiction footnote to Atlas Shrugged.
Since every political system rests on some theory of ethics, I suggest to those readers who are actually interested in understanding the nature of capitalism, that they read first The Virtue of Selfishness, a collection of essays on the Objec-tivist ethics, which is a necessary foundation for this present book. Since no political discussion can be meaningful or intelligible without a clear understanding of two crucial concepts: “rights” and “government”—yet these are the two most strenuously evaded in today’s technique of obfuscation:— I suggest that you begin this book by reading (or rereading) two essays from that earlier collection, which you will find here reprinted in the appendix: “Man’s Rights” and “The Nature of Government.”
Most of the essays in this book appeared originally in The Objectivist Newsletter (now, in magazine format, The Objectivist); others are based on lectures or papers, as indicated. Some of the essays cover, in brief summary, the answers to the most widely spread fallacies about the economics of capitalism. These essays appeared in the “Intellectual Ammunition Department” of The Objectivist Newsletter and were written in answer to questions from our readers. Those who are interested in studying political economy, will find, in the appendix, a recommended bibliography on that subject.
Now a word about the contributors to this book. Robert Hessen is presently completing his doctorate in history at Columbia University, and is teaching in Columbia’s Graduate School of Business. Alan Greenspan is president of Town-send-Greenspan & Co., Inc., economic consultants.
New York, July 1966
P.S. Nathaniel Branden is no longer associated with me, with my philosophy or with The Objectivist.
New York, November 1970
THEORY AND HISTORY
1. WHAT IS CAPITALISM?
BY AYN RAND
The disintegration of philosophy in the nineteenth century and its collapse in the twentieth have led to a similar, though much slower and less obvious, process in the course of modern science.
Today’s frantic development in the field of technology has a quality reminiscent of the days preceding the economic crash of 1929: riding on the momentum of the past, on the unacknowledged remnants of an Aristotelian epistemology, it is a hectic, feverish expansion, heedless of the fact that its theoretical account is long since overdrawn—that in the field of scientific theory, unable to integrate or interpret their own data, scientists are abetting the resurgence of a primitive mysticism. In the humanities, however, the crash is past, the depression has set in, and the collapse of science is all but complete.
The clearest evidence of it may be seen in such comparatively young sciences as psychology and political economy. In psychology, one may observe the attempt to study human behavior without reference to the fact that man is conscious. In political economy, one may observe the attempt to study and to devise social systems without reference to man.
It is philosophy that defines and establishes the epistemolog-ical criteria to guide human knowledge in general and specific sciences in particular. Political economy came into prominence in the nineteenth century, in the era of philosophy’s post-Kantian disintegration, and no one rose to check its premises or to challenge its base. Implicitly, uncritically, and by default, political economy accepted as its axioms the fundamental tenets of collectivism.
The Objectivist Newsletter, November and December 1965.
Political economists—including tne aavocaies 01 p ism—defined their science as the study of the management or direction or organization or manipulation of a “community’s” or a nation’s “resources.” The nature of these “resources” was not defined; their communal ownership was taken for granted—and the goal of political economy was assumed to be the study of how to utilize these “resources” for “the common good.”
The fact that the principal “resource” involved was man himself, that he was an entity of a specific nature with specific capacities and requirements, was given the most superficial attention, if any. Man was regarded simply as one of the factors of production, along with land, forests, or mines—as one of the less significant factors, since more study was devoted to the influence and quality of these others than to his role or quality.
Political economy was, in effect, a science starting in midstream: it observed that men were producing and trading, it took for granted that they had always done so and always would—it accepted this fact as the given, requiring no further consideration—and it addressed itself to the problem of how to devise the best way for the “community” to dispose of human effort.