Monday, December 11, 2017

The Meaning of Sacrifice and the Staying Power of Statism

Why does statism and its collectivist progeny, communism, socialism, fascism, and, especially, democratic socialism, still attract followers?

The answer is still Ayn Rand’s. You can argue the impracticality of statism until you are blue in the face, but unless you reject the moral ideal on which statism rests—altruism, the doctrine of self-sacrifice—your listener will respond by saying the failures of the USSR or Mao’s China or today’s Venezuela were caused by the selfish dictators who usurped power and destroyed the ideal.

In our present cultural, historical, and epistemological ignorance and chaos, discussion of ideas is rare and discussion in terms of fundamental principles even rarer. Let’s see if we can find some fundamentals.

Altruism, as I have written before, does not mean kindness or gentleness or helping little old ladies across the street (1, 2). Immanuel Kant, though he did not know the word “altruism,” clarified its essence when he said moral behavior means always acting from duty, never from inclination.

And coiner of the term, Auguste Comte, as cited by George Smith, makes it clear that altruism has nothing to do with individual rights or individualism, but with living for the collective of “humanity.”

Which is to say that morality is not supposed to be fun. It means obedience to authority . . . of God, society, or some group. Pleasure and fun lead to selfishness and that is bad.

Self-sacrifice, then, is meant to be painful. The word, in fact, means to kill, destroy, or abnegate, which means sacrifice is supposed to hurt and you especially should not get anything in return for your pain.*

Sacrifice means giving up something that you value highly to something or someone you value less highly or not at all.

For example, a sacrifice from pre-historic times meant throwing your child into the fire to pay homage to the gods. Now that may be rationalized as giving up a lesser value for the sake of a higher one, and some usage and dictionary definitions of the word “sacrifice” tend to support this notion, but the correct meaning of self-sacrifice in religion and ethics remains the act of giving up a higher value to a lower- or non-value.

Sacrifice, in other words, is not a commercial trade in which a buyer gives up money (the lesser value) for a product (the higher value), and vice versa for the seller. Religious and ethical sacrifices are painful and are meant to be painful.

To further illustrate, it is not a sacrifice to spend extra years of your life, perhaps working at multiple part-time jobs, to acquire an advanced college degree in order to pursue a more personally rewarding career.

Nor is it a sacrifice to have children and raise a family. The parents, after all, have made a choice—they signed a twenty-plus year contract—to start a family and presumably they value the children more than the childless life they used to enjoy. (I have to admit that this last is not always obvious when observing the behavior of some young couples.)

Self-sacrifice means the pursuit of a career to please your parents instead of the career you truly love and want. It means marrying a person you do not love—again, to please those “significant others” who may disapprove of your choice’s religion, social class, race, or ethnicity.

Sacrifice means doing your job because it’s your duty—not because you enjoy it.

“Moral purification through suffering” is how the ascetic life is sometimes described. It is the motto of altruism. This is why young women who get pregnant are punished—for a lifetime, as it often turns out—by preventing them from aborting the pregnancy.** This is why small business owners are coerced, in flagrant violation of property rights, to provide services to customers they do not willingly choose to serve.

Your duty is to suffer and, if necessary, die for your country. This is why involuntary servitude in the form of a military draft or “national service” is justified.

You are immoral if you think you have a right to pursue your own self-interest.

Why does statism continue to thrive? Continued support of the doctrine of self-sacrifice and hesitancy or outright refusal to defend a morality of self-interest.

Capitalism and the free society rest on and require a foundation of rational egoism. Altruism and its statist political manifestations are acts of enslavement and destruction.

Thus, if we continue to allow the state to claim authority to coerce us in any way other than self-defensive, retaliatory force against those who initiate its use, we compromise our principles and yield the high ground to the statists.

These compromises include the acceptance or tolerance of coerced prohibition of abortion, coerced business service to unwanted customers, coerced military service, coerced removal of money from our wallets (through taxation and the depreciation of the value of money) . . . and on and on, including the thousands of coerced rules, regulations, and laws passed by the deep state and legislatures to control our business and personal lives.

Democratic socialism? The vote, somehow, since at least Marx’s time, and on all sides of the political spectrum, has become the panacea for all kinds of decisions, including the initiated coercion of socialism.

If it has been voted on, so goes the thought and argument, then it must be okay.

Democracy unrestrained by individual rights is a form of dictatorship. Anyone who advocates the vote without the rights qualification—or without making it clear that there is a rights qualification—is supporting and endorsing statism.

This worshipful blather over democracy, of course, in just another indication of our cultural, historical, and epistemological ignorance and chaos.


* From the Oxford English Dictionary (OED online), self-sacrifice means “the giving up of one’s own interests, happiness, and desires, for the sake of duty or the welfare of others.”

** “An embryo,” as Ayn Rand vigorously argued, “has no rights. Rights do not pertain to a potential, only to an actual being. A child cannot acquire any rights until it is born. The living take precedence over the not-yet-living (or the unborn). . . . One may argue about the later stages of a pregnancy, but the essential issue concerns only the first three months. To equate a potential with an actual . . . is to advocate the sacrifice of the latter to the former.” (Emphasis in original.) If both pro- and anti-abortionists were sincere about women’s liberty and rights, they would promote above all else the removal of bureaucratic obstacles to child adoption and the governmental encouragements (entitlements, welfare, incompetent government schools, etc.) of unwed teenage pregnancies. Instead, both sides would rather punish, that is, coerce sacrifice of, those who violate their arbitrary rules.


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