Peter Schwartz on the Relationship of In Defense of Selfishness to Ayn Rand’s The Virtue of Selfishness
In Defense of Selfishness, a new book authored by Peter Schwartz, boldly challenges the idea that self-sacrifice is a virtue. Since its June 2 release, the book is, unsurprisingly, often discussed in relation to Ayn Rand’s The Virtue of Selfishness since the dominant theme is reminiscent of Rand’s earlier work. In light of this commentary, Schwartz addresses this comparison:
I’m often asked about the difference between my new book, In Defense of Selfishness (IDS), and Ayn Rand’s The Virtue of Selfishness (VOS). People wonder whether there is any reason to read the former if they have already read the latter.
To which my answer is: definitely yes. In VOS the opening chapter, “The Objectivist Ethics,” presents the philosophic foundation for a code of egoism. Most of the other chapters deal with other, narrower principles in ethics — e.g., the nature of compromise, the so-called conflict of men’s interests, the ethics of emergencies, collectivized ethics, etc.
My book, however, is more of a cultural analysis. Building on Ayn Rand’s theoretical foundation, IDS is a meticulous examination of the ways in which altruism pervades our culture. The book shows: how altruism shapes virtually everyone’s decisions, why people are so susceptible to a code that offers no justification for its demands, what the moral, psychological and political consequences are—and how a morality of egoism offers a rational alternative.
IDS fleshes out the ramifications of altruism. In showing a non-Objectivist audience that its conception of selfishness, and of altruism, is mistaken, it makes one better understand the power of philosophy in human life. From the man who was ready to give away his vital organs to the couple who declared their love for the person who had savagely raped and murdered their daughter to the hundreds of people at Jonestown who docilely followed orders to commit suicide, the book demonstrates, in concrete detail, the full injustice and destructiveness of altruism in today’s society.
In addition, there are theoretical points that will be new even to Objectivists. For example: altruism’s distorted interpretation of the meaning of “need”; why altruism is incompatible with moral principles as such; what defines a “public interest” (or: why you are considered a member of the public when you visit Yellowstone Park, but a member of the non-public when you visit Disney World); and why a welfare state must simultaneously be a regulatory state.
So to the readers of VOS who believe they already know everything in IDS,I hope this is enough to persuade you otherwise.
And to all who have read my book, let me thank those who have posted reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. And let me encourage others to do the same because as of now that’s the only public forum in which IDS is being reviewed. Unfortunately, despite numerous review copies having been sent out, no reviews have appeared yet in any other significant media.