“eschewing self-interest in the name of compassion is immoral”

Dave Weigel writes about the interesting tensions between Cato Institute libertarians and Ayn Rand acolytes. What really caught my eye was this:

Since the war on terror broke out, Cato’s been a bunker for non-interventionists. Its foreign-policy shop is staffed with critics of the Iraq war.

Objectivists don’t see foreign policy that way. The Ayn Rand Institute, founded in 1985 by Rand’s intellectual/financial heir Leonard Peikoff, has spun off arguments for war rooted in a philosophy of self-preservation….

After the occupation of Iraq turned sour, the Ayn Rand Institute’s Yaron Brook… was arguing that the United States “embrace[d] compassion instead of the rational goal of victory, and that “such an immoral approach to war wantonly sacrifices the lives of soldiers and emboldens our enemies throughout the Middle East to mount further attacks against us.” This was pure Objectivism. “Eschewing self-interest in the name of compassion is immoral.”

Of course, what I find surprising is that someone who thinks the highest good in life is pursuing one’s own happiness, free of government coercion, should find any war in which soldiers fight on orders from the government to be moral. Or, to put it another way — I notice Yaron Brook wasn’t volunteering to go fight himself. He wasn’t saying, “Objectivists should form an all-volunteer brigade of self-actualized warriors to go and fight terrorism.” He wanted the government to organize some fighting, and to get other people to do it on his behalf. Parasitism, thy name is Brook….


(Now, of course, someone may chime in to argue that today’s army is all-volunteer, so that’s all right according to Objectivism — after all, perhaps the soldiers who contract with the military to fight are simply pursuing their own happiness. Three points to that. First, soldiers who sign up hoping to pursue their own happiness by defending their country from attack or invasion may not feel that their purposes are being served by fighting a war of choice advocated for by pale-bellied think-tank philosophers. Second, if citizen chooses to break his contract with another private citizen, he faces, at most, money damages; but if he breaks his contract with the military, he may face prison or, in some circumstances, the death penalty. These sorts of “contracts” thus have a strong smell of government coercion about them that ordinary private contracts do not. Finally, the government backs all its shows of military force with the implicit power of the draft. Although this power has not been used in forty years or so, there’s no reason to think another war-of-choice-turned-quagmire — Iran, perhaps — wouldn’t require it. So in a number of ways the idea of an “all-volunteer army” is not strictly accurate.)

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