My Vigilant Ethical Egoism
Tibor R. Machan
When I was in my late teens I discovered Ayn Rand, in particular her novel The Fountainhead. Actually I ran across her when I appeared in a theater group’s rendition of her play, The Night of January 16th, at Andrews Air Force Base, but her significance hadn’t dawned on me at that point.
What was most striking about Rand novel and much of her subsequent writing for me, both personally and intellectually, is her rejection of the widespread misanthrope that surrounded my life. I was raised a Roman Catholic and the doctrine of original sin didn’t sit well with me from the time I first encountered it. I took that doctrine to mean that human beings had in them a fundamental evil streak, from which Jesus rescued them if only they accepted him as their savior. Made no sense to me but who was I to take issue with such a powerfully propagated viewpoint? But I never quite bought it.
Rand’s ideas in The Fountainhead went clearly against this Roman Catholic, indeed Christian tradition and her reasoning for rejecting it struck a chord with me. It mattered somewhat, also, that my own parents were fiercely misanthropic and drove this home to me very violently at every chance they could get. Especially my father! He was an avid anti-Semite and even championed Hitler’s ideas–on top of which I got a solid dosage of Soviet indoctrination in communist Hungary, where I was raised until my early teens–that pretty much took the misanthropic theme as far as it could go. Individuals had no value as such was the steady message thrust at me!
To this day when I encounter echoes of this point of view, my blood starts to boil. Now and then I find some support for what I mostly felt and thought only in primitive terms but each time I witness the propaganda against individualism, against egoism and self-interest, I recover my resolve to combat the ideas with which it is expressed, be that in a simple sitcom or a movie or a piece of classical literature or a vicious political speech. In other words, I have internalized the view that human beings are not evil but very capable of doing and being good in all their endeavors, even if they do often go astray and betray their better nature.
And on every front I find occasion to reaffirm this idea, namely, that human nature hasn’t anything inherently evil about it and those who claim that it does are not just misguided but promoting what really is evil. Why would the self of a being like us deserve such treatment when everywhere evidence shows that human beings not just can be but actually are admirable? How can human beings as such be viewed so negatively by very prominent figures throughout history? Sure, some people are indeed vicious but that is not because of human nature but because of their own bad choices and conduct. By declaring us all inherently bad those who really are such are given an easy excuse, unjustly exculpated in fact!
I didn’t need anyone to alert me to how misguided misanthropy is but it was very encouraging to find a few people, such as Rand, who didn’t fall in line with that kind of perverse thinking. I will always be proud of having joined their ranks, in my various efforts, to point out that humanity is very much a plus in the total known scheme of things instead of complying with the hatefulness of those, like extreme environmentalists in our day and many on the political Left and Right, who demean it so recklessly and unjustly.