Conservatism: An Obituary

by Ayn Rand
From Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal
Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal
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This essay, based on a lecture given at Princeton University in December 1960, was first published as a pamphlet in 1962 and later anthologized in Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal (1966 and 1967).

It was also presented in the form of a 53-minute radio address.

Both the “conservatives” and the “liberals” stress a fact with which everybody seems to agree: that the world is facing a deadly conflict and that we must fight to save civilization.

But what is the nature of that conflict? Both groups answer: it is a conflict between communism and . . . and what? — blank out. It is a conflict between two ways of life, they answer, the communist way and . . . what? — blank out. It is a conflict between two ideologies, they answer. What is our ideology? Blank out.

The truth which both groups refuse to face and to admit is that, politically, the world conflict of today is the last stage of the struggle between capitalism and statism.

We stand for freedom, say both groups — and proceed to declare what kind of controls, regulations, coercions, taxes, and “sacrifices” they would impose, what arbitrary powers they would demand, what “social gains” they would hand out to various groups, without specifying from what other groups these “gains” would be expropriated. Neither of them cares to admit that government control of a country’s economy — any kind or degree of such control, by any group, for any purpose whatsoever — rests on the basic principle of statism, the principle that man’s life belongs to the state. A mixed economy is merely a semi-socialized economy — which means: a semi-enslaved society — which means: a country torn by irreconcilable contradictions, in the process of gradual disintegration.

Freedom, in a political context, means freedom from government coercion. It does not mean freedom from the landlord, or freedom from the employer, or freedom from the laws of nature which do not provide men with automatic prosperity.

Freedom, in a political context, means freedom from government coercion. It does not mean freedom from the landlord, or freedom from the employer, or freedom from the laws of nature which do not provide men with automatic prosperity. It means freedom from the coercive power of the state — and nothing else.

The world conflict of today is the conflict of the individual against the state, the same conflict that has been fought throughout mankind’s history. The names change, but the essence — and the results — remain the same, whether it is the individual against feudalism, or against absolute monarchy, or against communism or fascism or Nazism or socialism or the welfare state.

If one upholds freedom, one must uphold man’s individual rights; if one upholds man’s individual rights, one must uphold his right to his own life, to his own liberty, to the pursuit of his own happiness — which means: one must uphold a political system that guarantees and protects these rights — which means: the politico-economic system of capitalism.

Individual rights, freedom, justice, progress were the philosophical values, the theoretical goals, and the practical results of capitalism. No other system can create them or maintain them; no other system ever has or will. For proof, consider the nature and function of basic principles; for evidence, consult history — and the present state of the different countries of Europe.

The issue is not slavery for a “good” cause versus slavery for a “bad” cause; the issue is not dictatorship by a “good” gang versus dictatorship by a “bad” gang. The issue is freedom versus dictatorship. It is only after men have chosen slavery and dictatorship that they can begin the usual gang warfare of socialized countries — today, it is called pressure-group warfare — over whose gang will rule, who will enslave whom, whose property will be plundered for whose benefit, who will be sacrificed“Sacrifice” is the surrender of a greater value for the sake of a lesser one or of a nonvalue. Thus, altruism gauges a man’s virtue by the degree to which he surrenders, renounces or betrays his values (since help to a stranger or an enemy is regarded as more virtuous, less “selfish,” than help to those one loves)...
The Ethics of Emergencies, 44View Full Lexicon Entry
to whose “noble” purpose. All such arguments come later and are, in fact, of no consequence: the results will always be the same. The first choice — and the only one that matters — is: freedom or dictatorship, capitalism or statism.

That is the choice which today’s political leaders are determined to evade. The “liberals” are trying to put statism over by stealth — statism of a semi-socialist, semi-fascist kind — without letting the country realize what road they are taking to what ultimate goal. And while such a policy is reprehensible, there is something more reprehensible still: the policy of the “conservatives,” who are trying to defend freedom by stealth.

If the “liberalsThe basic and crucial political issue of our age is: capitalism versus socialism, or freedom versus statism...
‘Extremism,’ or the Art of Smearing, 178View Full Lexicon Entry
” are afraid to identify their program by its proper name, if they advocate every specific step, measure, policy, and principle of statism, but squirm and twist themselves into semantic pretzels with such euphemisms as the “Welfare State,” the “New Deal,” the “New Frontier,” they still preserve a semblance of logic, if not of morality: it is the logic of a con man who cannot afford to let his victims discover his purpose. Besides, the majority of those who are loosely identified by the term “liberals” are afraid to let themselves discover that what they advocate is statism. They do not want to accept the full meaning of their goal; they want to keep all the advantages and effects of capitalism, while destroying the cause, and they want to establish statism without its necessary effects. They do not want to know or to admit that they are the champions of dictatorship and slavery. So they evade the issue, for fear of discovering that their goal is evil.

Immoral as this might be, what is one to think of men who evade the issue for fear of discovering that their goal is good? What is the moral stature of those who are afraid to proclaim that they are the champions of freedom? What is the integrity of those who outdo their enemies in smearing, misrepresenting, spitting at, and apologizing for their own ideal? What is the rationality of those who expect to trick people into freedom, cheat them into justice, fool them into progress, con them into preserving their rights, and, while indoctrinating them with statism, put one over on them and let them wake up in a perfect capitalist society some morning?

These are the “conservatives” — or most of their intellectual spokesmen.

One need not wonder why they are losing elections or why this country is stumbling anxiously, reluctantly toward statism. One need not wonder why any cause represented or upheld in such a manner, is doomed. One need not wonder why any group with such a policy does, in fact, declare its own bankruptcy, forfeiting any claim to moral, intellectual, or political leadership.

The meaning of the “liberals’” program is pretty clear by now. But what are theconservatives”? What is it that they are seeking to “conserve”?

It is generally understood that those who support the “conservatives,” expect them to uphold the system which has been camouflaged by the loose term of “the American way of life.” The moral treason of the “conservative” leaders lies in the fact that they are hiding behind that camouflage: they do not have the courage to admit that the American way of life was capitalism, that that was the politico-economic system born and established in the United States, the system which, in one brief century, achieved a level of freedom, of progress, of prosperity, of human happiness, unmatched in all the other systems and centuries combined — and that that is the system which they are now allowing to perish by silent default.

If the “conservatives” do not stand for capitalism, they stand for and are nothing; they have no goal, no direction, no political principles, no social ideals, no intellectual values, no leadership to offer anyone.

Yet capitalism is what the “conservatives” dare not advocate or defend. They are paralyzed by the profound conflict between capitalism and the moral code which dominates our culture: the morality of altruism.

Yet capitalism is what the “conservatives” dare not advocate or defend. They are paralyzed by the profound conflict between capitalism and the moral code which dominates our culture: the morality of altruism. Altruism holds that man has no right to exist for his own sake, that service to others is the only justification of his existence, and that self-sacrifice is his highest moral duty, virtue, and value. Capitalism and altruism are incompatible; they are philosophical opposites; they cannot co-exist in the same man or in the same society. The conflict between capitalism and altruism has been undercutting America from her start and, today, has reached its climax.

About the Author
Ayn Rand
Ayn Rand
Learn more about Ayn Rand’s life and writings at AynRand.org.