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 . . .

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. When, however, men attempt to rush into politics without such a base, the result is that embarrassing conglomeration of impotence, futility, inconsistency and superficiality which is loosely designated today as “conservatism.” . . .

Today’s culture is dominated by the philosophy of mysticism (irrationalism)—altruism—collectivism, the base from which only statism can be derived; the statists (of any brand: communist, fascist or welfare) are merely cashing in on it—while the “conservatives” are scurrying to ride on the enemy’s premises and, somehow, to achieve political freedom by stealth. It can’t be done.

What are the “conservatives”? 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 . . . Capitalism and altruism are incompatible; they are philosophical opposites; they cannot co-exist in the same man or in the same society.

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.

There are three interrelated arguments used by today’s “conservatives” to justify capitalism, which can best be designated as: the argument from faith—the argument from tradition—the argument from depravity.

Sensing their need of a moral base, many “conservatives” decided to choose religion as their moral justification; they claim that America and capitalism are based on faith in God. Politically, such a claim contradicts the fundamental principles of the United States: in America, religion is a private matter which cannot and must not be brought into political issues.

Intellectually, to rest one’s case on faith means to concede that reason is on the side of one’s enemies—that one has no rational arguments to offer. The “conservatives’” claim that their case rests on faith, means that there are no rational arguments to support the American system, no rational justification for freedom, justice, property, individual rights, that these rest on a mystic revelation and can be accepted only on faith—that in reason and logic the enemy is right, but men must hold faith as superior to reason.

Consider the implications of that theory. While the communists claim that they are the representatives of reason and science, the “conservatives” concede it and retreat into the realm of mysticism, of faith, of the supernatural, into another world, surrendering this world to communism. It is the kind of victory that the communists’ irrational ideology could never have won on its own merits . . . .

Now consider the second argument: the attempt to justify capitalism on the ground of tradition. Certain groups are trying to switch the word “conservative” into the exact opposite of its modern American usage, to switch it back to its nineteenth-century meaning, and to put this over on the public. These groups declare that to be a “conservative” means to uphold the status quo, the given, the established, regardless of what it might be, regardless of whether it is good or bad, right or wrong, defensible or indefensible. They declare that we must defend the American political system not because it is right, but because our ancestors chose it, not because it is good, but because it is old . . . .

The argument that we must respect “tradition” as such, respect it merely because it is a “tradition,” means that we must accept the values other men have chosen, merely because other men have chosen them—with the necessary implication of: who are we to change them? The affront to a man’s self-esteem, in such an argument, and the profound contempt for man’s nature are obvious.

This leads us to the third—and the worst—argument, used by some “conservatives”: the attempt to defend capitalism on the ground of man’s depravity.

This argument runs as follows: since men are weak, fallible, non-omniscient and innately depraved, no man may be entrusted with the responsibility of being a dictator and of ruling everybody else; therefore, a free society is the proper way of life for imperfect creatures. Please grasp fully the implications of this argument: since men are depraved, they are not good enough for a dictatorship; freedom is all that they deserve; if they were perfect, they would be worthy of a totalitarian state.

Dictatorship—this theory asserts—believe it or not, is the result of faith in man and in man’s goodness; if people believed that man is depraved by nature, they would not entrust a dictator with power. This means that a belief in human depravity protects human freedom—that it is wrong to enslave the depraved, but would be right to enslave the virtuous. And more: dictatorships—this theory declares—and all the other disasters of the modern world are man’s punishment for the sin of relying on his intellect and of attempting to improve his life on earth by seeking to devise a perfect political system and to establish a rational society. This means that humility, passivity, lethargic resignation and a belief in Original Sin are the bulwarks of capitalism. One could not go farther than this in historical, political, and psychological ignorance or subversion. This is truly the voice of the Dark Ages rising again—in the midst of our industrial civilization.

The cynical, man-hating advocates of this theory sneer at all ideals, scoff at all human aspirations and deride all attempts to improve men’s existence. “You can’t change human nature,” is their stock answer to the socialists. Thus they concede that socialism is the ideal, but human nature is unworthy of it; after which, they invite men to crusade for capitalism—a crusade one would have to start by spitting in one’s own face. Who will fight and die to defend his status as a miserable sinner? If, as a result of such theories, people become contemptuous of “conservatism,” do not wonder and do not ascribe it to the cleverness of the socialists.

Today’s “conservatives” are futile, impotent and, culturally, dead. They have nothing to offer and can achieve nothing. They can only help to destroy intellectual standards, to disintegrate thought, to discredit capitalism, and to accelerate this country’s uncontested collapse into despair and dictatorship.

The most immoral contradiction—in the chaos of today’s anti-ideological groups—is that of the so-called “conservatives,” who posture as defenders of individual rights, particularly property rights, but uphold and advocate the draft. By what infernal evasion can they hope to justify the proposition that creatures who have no right to life, have the right to a bank account?

The Antitrust laws—an unenforceable, uncompliable, unjudicable mess of contradictions—have for decades kept American businessmen under a silent, growing reign of terror. Yet these laws were created and, to this day, are upheld by the “conservatives,” as a grim monument to their lack of political philosophy, of economic knowledge and of any concern with principles.

It was the so-called “conservatives” . . . who ran to the government for regulations and controls [over the broadcasting industry], and who cheered the notion of “public property” and service to the “public interest.”

Escalation of controls has been the policy of conservatives in regard to antitrust laws, labor legislation, the military draft, taxation, the “negative income tax,” etc.

If the religionist wing of conservatism is futile, the secular one is, perhaps, worse. The religionists preach the morality of altruism, knowing that the liberals and the extreme left are its much more consistent practitioners, but hoping—since consistency is a requirement of reason, not of faith—that a miracle will wipe out that fact. The secular conservatives solve the contradiction by discarding morality altogether, by surrendering it to the enemy and declaring that social-political-economic problems are amoral.

Capitalism is not the system of the past; it is the system of the future—if mankind is to have a future. Those who wish to fight for it, must discard the title of “conservatives.” “Conservatism” has always been a misleading name, inappropriate to America. Today, there is nothing left to “conserve”: the established political philosophy, the intellectual orthodoxy, and the status quo are collectivism. Those who reject all the basic premises of collectivism are radicals in the proper sense of the word: “radical” means “fundamental.” Today, the fighters for capitalism have to be, not bankrupt “conservatives,” but new radicals, new intellectuals and, above all, new, dedicated moralists.

Copyright © 1986 by Harry Binswanger. Introduction copyright © 1986 by Leonard Peikoff. All rights reserved. For information address New American Library.


Excerpts from The Ominous Parallels, by Leonard Peikoff. Copyright © 1982 by Leonard Peikoff. Reprinted with permission of Stein and Day Publishers. Excerpts from The Romantic Manifesto, by Ayn Rand. Copyright © 1971, by The Objectivist. Reprinted with permission of Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc. Excerpts from Atlas Shrugged, copyright © 1957 by Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead, copyright © 1943 by Ayn Rand, and For the New Intellectual, copyright © 1961 by Ayn Rand. Reprinted by permission of the Estate of Ayn Rand. Excerpts from Philosophy: Who Needs It, by Ayn Rand. Copyright © 1982 by Leonard Peikoff, Executor, Estate of Ayn Rand. Reprinted by permission of the Estate of Ayn Rand. Excerpts from “The Philosophy of Objectivism” lecture series. Copyright © 1976 by Leonard Peikoff. Reprinted by permission. Excerpts from Alvin Toffler’s interview with Ayn Rand, which first appeared in Playboy magazine. Copyright © 1964. Reprinted by permission of Alvin Toffler. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Plume, a member of Penguin Group (USA), Inc.