Henrik Unné

Hitler was an altruist

41 posts in this topic

I have been writing debate pieces to Swedish newspapars and debate sites on the Internet for many years. Perhaps others on the Forum would like to see what kind of activities are going on in Sweden, to spread Objectivism? I have translated one of the debate pieces that I am most proud of into English. I would appreciate suggestions as to how I can improve my writing, my understanding of Objectivism and my "tactics" for spreading Objectivism.

When I got the following debate piece published, the reactions to it indicated that most of the readers just did not "get it". I thought that the logic was very clear, but of course it is a radical idea, the one that Hitler was an unusually consistent altruist, and that he was not at all an example of the opposite of altruism.

HITLER WAS AN ALTRUIST

Adolf Hitler was an altruist.

Yes, you read that correctly. The Holocaust that Hitler carried out was namely the final logical consequence of the moral code of altruism. Hitler carried out with ruthless consistency, the altruist moral code´s ideal in the only way that this “ideal” could be carried out. The difference between Hitler and, for example, Mother Theresa, was only that Hitler was a more consistent altruist than she was.

Let us first take a look at what altruism means in theory.

Altruism is the moral code that says that each individual should make sacrifices for others.

This is concretized in the Bible. There it is stated that if you have a shirt on your back, and you meet another man who lacks a shirt, then you should give him yours, and go without a shirt yourself.

But this example of altruism also concretizes a fundamental contradiction in the moral code of altruism.

If you yourself are moral when you give your shirt to someone else, is not that other person *im*moral, when he receives your shirt? If it is nobler to give than to take – then is not then the implication of altruism that you, when you try to be good, necessarily sacrifice yourself for someone who, according to altruism, is *evil* - if he accepts your sacrifice?

It lies in altruism´s nature that it necessarily entails that those who, according to altruism itself, are good, must sacrifice themselves to those who, according to itself, by implication are evil.

Altruism would be more consistent if everyone must be “unselfish”, and no one were permitted to be “selfish” – that is to say if everyone must sacrifice and nobody might collect these sacrifices, and thereby profit from them.

And it was exactly this logical implication of altruism that Hitler drew. Hitler was an unusually consistent practitioner of altruism. He brought about sacrifices on a scale that in history only has been surpassed by a couple of Communists (Stalin and Mao).

Millions of people lost their lives on the battlefields, and in the concentration camps, that Hitler brought about. And no one profited from that destruction. Hitler ended his days with a humiliating suicide. And those of his supporters who survived his world war had to toil for years in order to rebuild their devastated country.

And to bring about sacrifices that noone benefitted from was Hitler´s purpose. What other motive can explain the creation of Auschwitz and the other concentration camps than a desire to destroy for destruction´s own sake? It was in fact expensive to build and run the concentration camps. It took thousands of guards and other personnel. It took miles of barbed wire. It took hundreds of barracks and technically advanced ovens. Etc. The “income” from the death camps, in the form of, on the average, a few grams of dental gold and a few ounces of body fat per prisoner, cannot by far have covered the costs for the death camps. So the death camps were not “profitable”.

Contradictions cannot exist in reality. When someone tries to bring a self-contradictory theory, such as the moral code of altruism, into practice, the contradiction must by necessity be resolved. That is to say, in the case of altruism, the “selfish” component in the contradiction must be removed, like a kind of superfluous appendix. The benefitting of others must disappear, and only the sacrificing remains. Only the privation for privation´s own sake remains in the end, when someone tries to actualize altruism with full consistency.

If humanity wishes to avoid more Hitlers in the future, and survive, it must therefore reject the moral code of altruism lock, stock and barrel. And instead accept an ethics that says that it is every man´s own life that is his own end-in-itself. And that sacrifice is not a legitimate end at all, but is on the contrary an evil.

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Hitler wasn't an altruist for the six million Jews and millions of others that he slaughtered. An altruist doesn't sacrifice others for some selfish cause, he sacrifices himself for others' needs -- all others. Altruists aren't egomaniacal, racist, fascist butchers, they're whimpering, pathetic losers.

I think your heart is in the right place for wanting to make sense of massive injustices that confront you, but you keep appying the same fallacy of composition that Paul has pointed out to new, equally invalid cases. Hitler was altruistic in that he lived primarily to fulfill some insane nationalistic need of the Germans, but he rejected the needs of the majority of humanity, and instead sacrificed them to himself. That doesn't make him an altruist, just an apocalyptic genocidal animal.

You really should take another look at how you're rationalizing altruism. Consider just how impossible it is take a concept like altruism (living only for others), which is at war with human nature in every possible respect, and treat it as though it is possible for a human being to actually be altruisitic for more than five seconds. It leaves you with only two outcomes: either recognize that many people are altruistic in broad degrees, and only to the extent that they deny their own desires (something Hitler failed utterly to do!), or call a collectivist an altruist and commit the fallacy of composition.

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Nazi ethics is explained and documented in Chapter 4 of Leonard Peikoff's The Ominous Parallels.

Hitler WAS an advocate of altruism. He advocated human sacrifice, and implemented it on a massive scale. I remember a Jewish socialist acting offended when Dr. Peikoff pointed this out during a debate, many years ago; but Peikoff was correct. So is Henrik.

Hitler was not pursuing his self-interest. Becoming a dictator is hardly in one's own interest. The devastation he wrought in the external world was mirrored by the devastation he wrought on his own mind. He ended literally insane.

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Nazi ethics is explained and documented in Chapter 4 of Leonard Peikoff's The Ominous Parallels.

Hitler WAS an advocate of altruism. He advocated human sacrifice, and implemented it on a massive scale. I remember a Jewish socialist acting offended when Dr. Peikoff pointed this out during a debate, many years ago; but Peikoff was correct. So is Henrik.

Hitler was not pursuing his self-interest. Becoming a dictator is hardly in one's own interest. The devastation he wrought in the external world was mirrored by the devastation he wrought on his own mind. He ended literally insane.

Bill, I haven't read TOP, but can you explain how my formulation is inconsistent with altruism, or how your description above is consistent with it? Specifically, how can someone who selfishly seeks power over men and who grinds everyone in his way into dust be considered an altruist? How can you wage open war against most of humanity, crushing their needs, to elevate a certain small group (das Deutsche Volk), and still be an altruist? If that's an altruist, how is that concept to be integrated with the concept of someone who is truly self-sacrificial, who wouldn't cause harm to anyone, and who only thinks of what others -- any others -- need?

You don't have to be an altruist to advocate human sacrifice. You only have to view other men as a means to your ends.

No, Hitler wasn't acting in his self-interest, but he was definitely subordinating the majority of the world's values to his own. I can't fathom how that can be considered altruism.

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You don't have to be an altruist to advocate human sacrifice. You only have to view other men as a means to your ends.

No, Hitler wasn't acting in his self-interest, but he was definitely subordinating the majority of the world's values to his own. I can't fathom how that can be considered altruism.

I thought an altruist is one who subordinates his own interests to the interests of others as a general principle. Did Hitler do this?

Bob Kolker

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I thought an altruist is one who subordinates his own interests to the interests of others as a general principle. Did Hitler do this?

Bob Kolker

Yes. Hitler subordinated his own rational self-interest to he interests of what he would call the Aryan race and the Third Reich. He in fact died at around the age of 55 sacrificing his life for the pathetic ideas of pathetic men before him like Kant, Hegel, and St. Augustine. Anyone who puts himself in a position to be justly killed by others is a self-sacrificing altruist by nature.

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Specifically, how can someone who selfishly seeks power over men and who grinds everyone in his way into dust be considered an altruist?

At some level, everyone must necessarily act in what he considers to be his own interest. If you resolve to be 100% altruistic, the moment you make that resolution, it becomes your interest to act altruistically, and--as long as you stick to this resolution--whatever you do will be governed by this interest of yours. So altruism does not mean "not acting in what you perceive to be your self-interest" ; rather, it means a code of ethics that sees the subordination of the self as the good. And analogously, an altruist is not one who does not act in his perceived self-interest, but rather someone who believes in or demands others to act according to a code of ethics based on the subordination of the self.

Thus, the answer to your next question...

How can you wage open war against most of humanity, crushing their needs, to elevate a certain small group (das Deutsche Volk), and still be an altruist?

...is: by basing your open war against humanity on the idea that the good lies in the subordination of the self. Altruism does not mean being concerned with the welfare of others; it means wanting to forbid anyone from being concerned with his own welfare.

If that's an altruist, how is that concept to be integrated with the concept of someone who is truly self-sacrificial, who wouldn't cause harm to anyone, and who only thinks of what others -- any others -- need?

The two are different manifestations of the same anti-self idea. The difference between them is that Hitler wanted to "bring justice" to egoists himself, while Mother Theresa trusted God to take care of that.

You don't have to be an altruist to advocate human sacrifice. You only have to view other men as a means to your ends.

I view my landlord as a means to my end of having a roof above my head, I view Kiefer Sutherland as a means to my end of seeing an exciting TV show, and I view Betsy Speicher as a means to my end of having online discussions with fellow Objectivists--yet I am anything but an advocate of human sacrifice. Clearly, something essential is missing from your criteria there!

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Hitler wasn't an altruist for the six million Jews and millions of others that he slaughtered. An altruist doesn't sacrifice others for some selfish cause, he sacrifices himself for others' needs -- all others. Altruists aren't egomaniacal, racist, fascist butchers, they're whimpering, pathetic losers.

I think your heart is in the right place for wanting to make sense of massive injustices that confront you, but you keep appying the same fallacy of composition that Paul has pointed out to new, equally invalid cases. Hitler was altruistic in that he lived primarily to fulfill some insane nationalistic need of the Germans, but he rejected the needs of the majority of humanity, and instead sacrificed them to himself. That doesn't make him an altruist, just an apocalyptic genocidal animal.

You really should take another look at how you're rationalizing altruism. Consider just how impossible it is take a concept like altruism (living only for others), which is at war with human nature in every possible respect, and treat it as though it is possible for a human being to actually be altruisitic for more than five seconds. It leaves you with only two outcomes: either recognize that many people are altruistic in broad degrees, and only to the extent that they deny their own desires (something Hitler failed utterly to do!), or call a collectivist an altruist and commit the fallacy of composition.

My main point in the essay was that Hitler carried altruism to its logical extreme - sacrifice without *any* beneficiaries. If it is "better go give than to receive", then as long as an altruist sacrifices one man for another man´s *benefit*, there is a contradiction. If virtue consists of sacrifice, then is not the person who is receiving the sacrifice violating the precept of altruism? Would it not, logically, be better to have *only* the sacrificing, without any benefitting? And were not the Nazi concentration camps a virtually perfect example of massive sacrifice, without any beneficiaries?

And I see a streak of subjectivism in your reasoning. You seem to think that a person who satisfies his desires is ipso facto an egoist, while a person who denies his desires is ipso facto an altruist. But a person´s desires are not necessarily the same thing as his actual interests. A selfish man is one who does, or tries to do, that which *is* in fact in his interest. An altruist is a man who acts against his interests on principle, for the sake of others (if he acts against his own interests on principle, but not for the sake of others, then he is self-sacrificial, but not strictly speaking an altruist).

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I'm having a hard time keeping all these concepts in the right context, so if you all don't mind, I'd like to back up and specify what the key terms mean and how they fit in with the concept of altruism.

1) Altruism: Taking relevant quotes from the Ayn Rand Lexicon:

The basic principle of altruism is 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.
The irreducible primary of altruism, the basic absolute, is self-sacrifice—which means; self-immolation, self-abnegation, self-denial, self-destruction—which means: the self as a standard of evil, the selfless as a standard of the good.
Altruism declares that any action taken for the benefit of others is good, and any action taken for one’s own benefit is evil. Thus the beneficiary of an action is the only criterion of moral value—and so long as that beneficiary is anybody other than oneself, anything goes.
Altruists are concerned only with those who suffer—not with those who provide relief from suffering, not even enough to care whether they are able to survive.

2) Self-interest:

The term “interests” is a wide abstraction that covers the entire field of ethics. It includes the issues of: man’s values, his desires, his goals and their actual achievement in reality. A man’s “interests” depend on the kind of goals he chooses to pursue, his choice of goals depends on his desires, his desires depend on his values—and, for a rational man, his values depend on the judgment of his mind.
Just as man cannot survive by any random means, but must discover and practice the principles which his survival requires, so man’s self-interest cannot be determined by blind desires or random whims, but must be discovered and achieved by the guidance of rational principles. This is why the Objectivist ethics is a morality of rational self-interest—or of rational selfishness.
The idea that man’s self-interest can be served only by a non-sacrificial relationship with others has never occurred to those humanitarian apostles of unselfishness, who proclaim their desire to achieve the brotherhood of men. And it will not occur to them, or to anyone, so long as the concept “rational” is omitted from the context of “values,” “desires,” “self-interest” and ethics.

3) Selfishness:

In popular usage, the word “selfishness” is a synonym of evil; the image it conjures is of a murderous brute who tramples over piles of corpses to achieve his own ends, who cares for no living being and pursues nothing but the gratification of the mindless whims of any immediate moment. Yet the exact meaning and dictionary definition of the word “selfishness” is: concern with one’s own interests. This concept does not include a moral evaluation; it does not tell us whether concern with one’s own interests is good or evil; nor does it tell us what constitutes man’s actual interests. It is the task of ethics to answer such questions.

From #1, I'm afraid that I don't see how to integrate the idea that an altruist views the needs of others as his standard of value with the idea that Hitler, who built his life around ascending to godhood to lead an imagined super-race, sacrificed millions to his vision, and ultimately ordered the Germans to sacrifice themselves for not living up to that vision.

I don't want to get lost, or lose anyone, so I'll try to simplify it. How, in the concept of altruism, is there room for someone who is willing to sacrifice others to his own egotistical desires? Is it that altruism negates the pursuit of rational values but allows for the pursuit of irrational values, including the egomaniacal control over others? It seems that an altruist would not want to control others, but would let others' needs determine control over himself.

The main point that I take from #2 is that the concept "self-interest" presupposes an objective moral standard, to be achieved by rationality. Whim, desire, and anything in conflict with rationality contradicts self-interest. The only reason to append "rational" to it is to emphasize that man's self-interest is not arbitrary, but is achieved by a particular means of survival (rationality).

#3 is the toughie. In every other Objectivist formulation of "selfishness" that I've seen, the context has been that "selfishness" presupposes a rational moral standard (that being, concern for one's own life). That is, I've understood Objectivism to mean that to be selfish is to be rationally concerned with one's own life (as opposed to a mindless hedonist, for example). Yet #3 states that "selfishness" is not normative, does not involve a moral evaluation, but is simply "concern with one's own interests" (good or bad). Is Miss Rand saying here that this is just the dictionary's erroneous formulation, or is she saying that there actually is a valid conceptualization of "selfishness" that omits a moral standard? And if the concept of "self-interest" does presuppose a moral standard, how can "selfishness" be "concern with one's own interests", but yet exclude a moral evaluation? I'm confused.

Sorry if this is too long and convoluted. I appreciate the feedback and will reply to Capitalism Forever and Henrik's posts tomorrow.

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Sorry -- one edit. This should read this way:

From #1, I'm afraid that I don't see how to integrate the idea that an altruist views the needs of others as his standard of value with the idea that Hitler, who built his life around ascending to godhood to lead an imagined super-race, sacrificed millions to his vision, and ultimately ordered the Germans to sacrifice themselves for not living up to that vision, is an altruist.

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From #1, I'm afraid that I don't see how to integrate the idea that an altruist views the needs of others as his standard of value

Where in #1 does it say that? The needs of others are not mentioned at all in any of the passages you quote.

What is mentioned is that "the beneficiary of an action is the only criterion of moral value—and so long as that beneficiary is anybody other than oneself, anything goes." Hitler said to himself: "I am not really doing any of this for myself, I am doing it for my Country. Therefore, I am a good person." His actions were perfectly consistent with an altruist ethics.

Having someone as the beneficiary of your actions is not the same thing as actually considering his needs, i.e. trying to think rationally about what values further the person's life. Even if the intended beneficiary is yourself, it may be that you are not acting on rational value-judgments but rather on whims; this is what is called hedonism: an irrational form of selfishness. And if the intended beneficiary is not even a person but an abstraction like "our Volk," then you clearly aren't looking at values furthering any individual's life, since you are not looking at an individual in the first place.

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Hitler said to himself: "I am not really doing any of this for myself, I am doing it for my Country. Therefore, I am a good person."

So did Toohey, but did Toohey mean it? Was Toohey an altruist, other than by virtue of using altruism as his weapon on his looting quest for power?

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... At some level, everyone must necessarily act in what he considers to be his own interest. If you resolve to be 100% altruistic, the moment you make that resolution, it becomes your interest to act altruistically, and--as long as you stick to this resolution--whatever you do will be governed by this interest of yours. ...

The theory you are advancing (in the first sentence above) is called "psychological egoism." As an Objectivist lecturer pointed out back in the 1960s, it is totally false. It confuses two separate things: whether an action is motivated, and what the action is motivated by.

"Every action is motivated" is a truism. The question remains: what is it motivated by? The actions of such people as Hitler and Mother Teresa are motivated by their acceptance of altruism, the creed of self-sacrifice.

"it becomes your
interest
to act altruistically" ?!?!?!

That is total subjectivism. Just because you're interested in pursuing a certain course (e.g. jumping over a cliff, or sacrificing yourself) does NOT alter reality. It does NOT make such acts in fact in your self-interest.

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... As an Objectivist lecturer pointed out back in the 1960s, it is totally false. ...
Here, I've found the reference.

From Chapter 5 of The Virtue of Selfishness :

The basic fallacy in the "everyone is selfish" argument consists of an extraordinarily crude equivocation. It is a psychological truism--a tautology--that all purposeful behavior is motivated. But to equate
"motivated
behavior" with
"selfish
behavior" is to blank out the distinction between an elementary fact of human psychology and the phenomenon of
ethical choice
. It is to evade the central
problem
of ethics, namely: by
what
is man to be motivated?

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I share Kurt's confusion. Does self-sacrifice imply sacrifice to others? Hitler sacrificed himself, but to his own imagined world of anti-values, one he tried to make real. Sacrifice means to give up a value to a lesser or non-value. Hitler gave his life to the pursuit of the zero. He was (as I recall) an environmentalist and animal rights advocate. His ideal was the farmer toiling in poverty, and he was the worst kind of mystic. He hated money-making, reviled, smeared and eventually killed the Jews, who were symbols of the marketplace. And the only talent he had, allegedly, was art - which he threw away to be a dictator. Had Germany been a more rational culture and not answered Hitler's call, he would have died a nobody.

We know he advocated altruism, it's throughout his speeches. After all he wanted followers, so he told people to sacrifice themselves to the state (to him). But if altruism is understood as sacrifice to others then no I don't think it makes much sense to call Hitler himself an altruist. Who was he serving? Yes he claimed to be serving the fatherland, the Aryan race, what have you, but those are just empty abstractions. There was no actual beneficiary of his actions. And to take him at his word is rather like being gullible enough to accept a burglar's excuse that he was doing it for his family. If Hitler had told everyone his goal was destruction for the sake of destruction, I don't think even the Germans would have fallen for it. There always has to be some "noble" ideal covering the true one.

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At some level, everyone must necessarily act in what he considers to be his own interest.

The theory you are advancing (in the first sentence above) is called "psychological egoism."

With all due respect, Bill, did you read the rest of my post? It seems like you are taking that sentence out of context. I was writing to address Kurt's question about Hitler being an altruist, and I was arguing precisely that he WAS an altruist. I certainly didn't mean to imply any kind of egoism, psychological or otherwise, in the case of Hitler!

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3) Selfishness:
In popular usage, the word “selfishness” is a synonym of evil; the image it conjures is of a murderous brute who tramples over piles of corpses to achieve his own ends, who cares for no living being and pursues nothing but the gratification of the mindless whims of any immediate moment. Yet the exact meaning and dictionary definition of the word “selfishness” is: concern with one’s own interests. This concept does not include a moral evaluation; it does not tell us whether concern with one’s own interests is good or evil; nor does it tell us what constitutes man’s actual interests. It is the task of ethics to answer such questions.

#3 is the toughie. In every other Objectivist formulation of "selfishness" that I've seen, the context has been that "selfishness" presupposes a rational moral standard (that being, concern for one's own life). That is, I've understood Objectivism to mean that to be selfish is to be rationally concerned with one's own life (as opposed to a mindless hedonist, for example). Yet #3 states that "selfishness" is not normative, does not involve a moral evaluation, but is simply "concern with one's own interests" (good or bad). Is Miss Rand saying here that this is just the dictionary's erroneous formulation, or is she saying that there actually is a valid conceptualization of "selfishness" that omits a moral standard? And if the concept of "self-interest" does presuppose a moral standard, how can "selfishness" be "concern with one's own interests", but yet exclude a moral evaluation? I'm confused.

I think I've cleared up my confusion about this. "Self-interest" and "interest(s)" do presuppose a moral standard. Those concepts denote that which is objectively beneficial to a man's life. This serves to distinguish beneficial values from harmful ones, which may be the result of whim worship or of an honest error in value judgment.

When Miss Rand says that "selfishness" does not include a moral evaluation, she does not mean that the concept cannot be morally evaluated, but simply that a moral evaluation isn't implied in the concept itself. That is, first you recognize that there is such a thing as concern for one's own life, and then you recognize that it's moral to have such a concern.

Assuming I've got this right, I can proceed to the responses.

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We know he advocated altruism, it's throughout his speeches. [...] Yes he claimed to be serving the fatherland, the Aryan race, what have you, but those are just empty abstractions. There was no actual beneficiary of his actions.

It is true that there was no actual beneficiary, but there never is one with altruists. Even the idealistic socialist who supports a nanny state because he genuinely feels like "helping" people isn't actually helping them; his policies do more harm than good to their intended beneficiaries.

Now, it is true that the idealistic socialist may have an honestly intended beneficiary while Hitler had none. But the existence of an honestly intended, other-than-self beneficiary is not the criterion by which to call someone an altruist. A husband may honestly intend her wife to benefit from a gift he buys her, but that doesn't make him an altruist.

What matters is what one considers the ethically proper beneficiary. Egoism says that the primary beneficiary always ought to be oneself; whether or not others benefit makes no difference. The opposite of egoism is Kant's ethics, which says that one ought not act for one's benefit; whether or not others benefit makes no difference. This means, of course, that Kant's ethics includes the possibility of nihilism, where one destroys for the sake of destruction and no one benefits at all.

Now, one might argue that altruism, "properly understood," is not quite the same as Kant's ethics, since it always requires a group of other people to be the beneficiary. So an altruist could say that he is not primarily anti-self, but rather pro-others. But the identity of this purported beneficiary varies depending on who the actor is: if we are talking about what John ought to do, the proper beneficiary is people who are not John; if we want to know what Sue ought to do, the proper beneficiary for her action is people other than Sue; if we ask what Tim should do, the altruist will say he should act for the sake of people other than Tim; etc., etc.--there is always one thing in common in the answer: the actor himself is not among the beneficiaries. And that is precisely what is meant by "anti-self."

Thus, altruism as a code of ethics is in fact no different from Kantian nihilism. And that, I submit, is precisely the code of ethics Hitler lived by.

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At some level, everyone must necessarily act in what he considers to be his own interest. If you resolve to be 100% altruistic, the moment you make that resolution, it becomes your interest to act altruistically, and--as long as you stick to this resolution--whatever you do will be governed by this interest of yours.
Well, I think this view of "interest" conflates rational self-interest with acting on mere desires. It seems to go against what Miss Rand said in #2. Plus, if rational action and irrational whim are all to be packaged under the concept "interest", how is one to separate the two actions out conceptually, because that is essential to a rational ethics? I'd say it's your desire to be altruistic, but not your interest, even if you don't realize it.
So altruism does not mean "not acting in what you perceive to be your self-interest" ; rather, it means a code of ethics that sees the subordination of the self as the good. And analogously, an altruist is not one who does not act in his perceived self-interest, but rather someone who believes in or demands others to act according to a code of ethics based on the subordination of the self. Thus, the answer to your next question...
Agreed, altruism does not mean what you quote. But in what you say it does mean, what is the self subordinated to? It seems that the answer is that the self is subordinated to the altruist's perception of others' benefit. The altruist's moral attitude is, "I don't want to do anything to benefit me, I just want to benefit others," even if others don't benefit from the altruist's actions. That means an altruist's actions may or may not be objectively beneficial, and that what counts to an altruist is merely that he perceives a benefit to be fulfilled (by him). Agree/disagree?
How can you wage open war against most of humanity, crushing their needs, to elevate a certain small group (das Deutsche Volk), and still be an altruist?
...is: by basing your open war against humanity on the idea that the good lies in the subordination of the self. Altruism does not mean being concerned with the welfare of others; it means wanting to forbid anyone from being concerned with his own welfare.
Okay, I think I'm getting what you're saying here. The defining quality of an altruist is destruction of the self, wherever he finds it. The reason Hitler qualifies as an altruist is because he waged war against the self-interest of the Reich's enemies in the name of his selfless Nazi supremacy, and he waged war against the German people's self (individuality), to be subordinated by their sacrifice to the (selfless) Reich. Is that it?
If that's an altruist, how is that concept to be integrated with the concept of someone who is truly self-sacrificial, who wouldn't cause harm to anyone, and who only thinks of what others -- any others -- need?
The two are different manifestations of the same anti-self idea. The difference between them is that Hitler wanted to "bring justice" to egoists himself, while Mother Theresa trusted God to take care of that.
Okay, so what unifies the two is that Hitler was willing to use force to make everyone selfless, while Mother Theresa was content with limiting selfless action to herself (and preaching it for others, but not enforcing it). Right?
You don't have to be an altruist to advocate human sacrifice. You only have to view other men as a means to your ends.
I view my landlord as a means to my end of having a roof above my head, I view Kiefer Sutherland as a means to my end of seeing an exciting TV show, and I view Betsy Speicher as a means to my end of having online discussions with fellow Objectivists--yet I am anything but an advocate of human sacrifice. Clearly, something essential is missing from your criteria there!
Actually you view your landlord's/Kiefer's/Betsy's values as a means to your ends, not those people themselves. You recognize that their lives are not yours to claim as a means to your ends, but that you are right to trade their values with yours, by mutual consent. That's a critical distinction.

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As a general comment to the opening poster, writing opinion pieces for the general public that function by deriving a controversial conclusion from an even more controversial abstract principle will have almost no effectiveness. The general public will simply disagree with the premise that is your abstract principle of "altruism" as Objectivism rigorously treats it, and then disagree with your deductions from the faulty premise as they see it.

This is too abstract and intellectual for them as they would see it.

Instead try the opposite approach: give inductive arguments based on simple concrete observations that any common sense man on the street would agree with, and show how it leads to some principle or important conclusion.

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Hitler wasn't an altruist for the six million Jews and millions of others that he slaughtered. An altruist doesn't sacrifice others for some selfish cause, he sacrifices himself for others' needs -- all others. Altruists aren't egomaniacal, racist, fascist butchers, they're whimpering, pathetic losers.

I think your heart is in the right place for wanting to make sense of massive injustices that confront you, but you keep appying the same fallacy of composition that Paul has pointed out to new, equally invalid cases. Hitler was altruistic in that he lived primarily to fulfill some insane nationalistic need of the Germans, but he rejected the needs of the majority of humanity, and instead sacrificed them to himself. That doesn't make him an altruist, just an apocalyptic genocidal animal.

You really should take another look at how you're rationalizing altruism. Consider just how impossible it is take a concept like altruism (living only for others), which is at war with human nature in every possible respect, and treat it as though it is possible for a human being to actually be altruisitic for more than five seconds. It leaves you with only two outcomes: either recognize that many people are altruistic in broad degrees, and only to the extent that they deny their own desires (something Hitler failed utterly to do!), or call a collectivist an altruist and commit the fallacy of composition.

My main point in the essay was that Hitler carried altruism to its logical extreme - sacrifice without *any* beneficiaries. If it is "better go give than to receive", then as long as an altruist sacrifices one man for another man´s *benefit*, there is a contradiction. If virtue consists of sacrifice, then is not the person who is receiving the sacrifice violating the precept of altruism? Would it not, logically, be better to have *only* the sacrificing, without any benefitting? And were not the Nazi concentration camps a virtually perfect example of massive sacrifice, without any beneficiaries?
Okay, yes, I see that there were no beneficiaries of Hitler's altruism. Only in the narrowest, most nominal sense did anyone "benefit", e.g. the German people realizing their goal of slaughtering the Jews, whom they viewed as a blight on their culture by their hideous standard of racial supremacy; certain Germans gaining political power within the Reich; Germans momentarily gaining a collectivist feeling of national superiority; trivial, coerced benefits like stabilization of the Mark or the creation of the Autobahn.
And I see a streak of subjectivism in your reasoning. You seem to think that a person who satisfies his desires is ipso facto an egoist, while a person who denies his desires is ipso facto an altruist. But a person´s desires are not necessarily the same thing as his actual interests. A selfish man is one who does, or tries to do, that which *is* in fact in his interest. An altruist is a man who acts against his interests on principle, for the sake of others (if he acts against his own interests on principle, but not for the sake of others, then he is self-sacrificial, but not strictly speaking an altruist).
Well, I wasn't equating desire satisfication with egoism (because I knew that that also includes hedonism, which opposes egoism). But in trying to sort out "selfishness", I think I was rationalizing how "altruism" relates to "benefit"; I dropped the fact that "benefit" is objective. I think I've got it straightened out now.

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Instead try the opposite approach: give inductive arguments based on simple concrete observations that any common sense man on the street would agree with, and show how it leads to some principle or important conclusion.

Example of inductive argument for Capitalism:

Many people say that Capitalism is a cruel system that leads to suffering among men. But have you ever asked yourself what are the best countries for man to live in? America, Australia, Taiwan, England, etc.

What are the worst? Cuba, Russia, N Korea, China, etc.

The best countries to live in all share the trait that they are economically more free countries than the countries in the second list. We can see from countless real examples--both ones happening right now, and from history--that more free markets lead to prosperity, and centrally planned market lead to unequivocal disaster.

Example of deductive argument for Capitalism:

Selfishness is a virtue, and the moral man is a man who lives only for his own sake, and not for that of others. Altruism on the other hand is the morality of anti-life, it leads to destruction and poverty for all who practice it.

The only political system built on the principle of selfishness and individual rights is Capitalism. etc etc

These are quick crude examples, but I think it is evident that the general populace--that is, the people for whom you write when you write items for the mass media--would respond more to the former argument than the latter.

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In reflecting on this whole thing, I've realized that the main reason for my confusion was that I was relying on a sort of unexamined stereotype of an altruist as someone who just gives, gives, gives. Mother Theresa, Bill Gates, all sorts of charitable.sacrificial engines, big and small. I got wrapped up in the everyday images of "people who give back/sacrifice". What I missed was the impracticality and necessary malevolence of altruism. That's a super-valuable identification that Objectivism offers.

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In reflecting on this whole thing, I've realized that the main reason for my confusion was that I was relying on a sort of unexamined stereotype of an altruist as someone who just gives, gives, gives. Mother Theresa, Bill Gates, all sorts of charitable.sacrificial engines, big and small. I got wrapped up in the everyday images of "people who give back/sacrifice". What I missed was the impracticality and necessary malevolence of altruism. That's a super-valuable identification that Objectivism offers.

A pure Altruist doesn't see individuals, he or she just sees groups--blocks of masses of people--and considers it within their authority to do whatever is necessary to ensure that the greatest number of those groups receive (however it is defined at that moment) 'enough to survive'.

If callously destroying one small group would raise the level of 'prosperity' of all the other groups, however marginal it may be, it is certainly moral from their point of view.

Remember, these damn Leftists view the world--and I mean the whole wide world--as one big, continuous never-ending 'lifeboat disaster' emergency situation, and their conceit, arrogance and ignorance is justification enough to decide who goes overboard, who gets eaten, and who remains to live on the lifeboat.

A terrifying conclusion I came to recently was that before Obama was in office people would occasionally say bad, scared things about the economy, but overall life was still good and the economy was always eventually growing; but now it is as if we live in a 'culture of disaster', a world where economic disasters are always happening, and if they are not there is surely one around the corner about to happen.

This makes you want to scream "but before Obama we didn't live in this world of disasters! it was a happy world where the economy would always survive!" But this is not how the Leftist sees it; to them the economy--in one sector or another--has always and will always be in a state of disaster, and it is the government's duty to regulate it and preserve as much as they can through sacrificing the wealthy. And as the economy spirals down a sinkhole of endless economic sacrifice and destruction, with their blinders on they'll think it was always this way, and not a damn one will have known what was lost and what they destroyed; the economy is simply the way it always was.

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It is true that there was no actual beneficiary, but there never is one with altruists. Even the idealistic socialist who supports a nanny state because he genuinely feels like "helping" people isn't actually helping them; his policies do more harm than good to their intended beneficiaries.

Yeah but I think for many of these policymakers the benefit to others was never a goal. They just knew the rhetoric was an expedient path to power.

Now, it is true that the idealistic socialist may have an honestly intended beneficiary while Hitler had none. But the existence of an honestly intended, other-than-self beneficiary is not the criterion by which to call someone an altruist. A husband may honestly intend her wife to benefit from a gift he buys her, but that doesn't make him an altruist.

What matters is what one considers the ethically proper beneficiary. Egoism says that the primary beneficiary always ought to be oneself; whether or not others benefit makes no difference. The opposite of egoism is Kant's ethics, which says that one ought not act for one's benefit; whether or not others benefit makes no difference. This means, of course, that Kant's ethics includes the possibility of nihilism, where one destroys for the sake of destruction and no one benefits at all.

No, what Kant said was if you sacrifice for others, the ends don't matter because you've followed the right form. So if you intend to help others and you end up destroying them, you're not to blame according to Kant's morality. But that is different than saying it is OK to intend to destroy them, or to destroy "for the sake of destruction". Kantian ethics is about acting for the sake of others. And altruism means literally "otherism", so I don't think you can simply omit the fact that according to altruism others become the standard of value. And if they aren't, what you have isn't altruism. The problem I think is with equivocating on "selflessness" and "altruism". Are these really the same thing? Isn't it possible to sacrifice oneself, but not to others? It's altruistic to sacrifice a career you're passionate about to follow a parent's footsteps in another, but is it altruistic to skip school and vandalize a neighbor's property? Can you show that the latter was a sacrifice to others?

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