According to most accounts—from YouTube college-to-Congress dancing performances to tweets to media appearances—Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is a fun-loving, intelligent, passionate young woman with strong beliefs.
What contributes to her appeal is that she gets what most of her more seasoned opponents don’t understand or choose to evade: that morality trumps both politics and economics. When asked by Anderson Cooper on 60 Minutes about her misrepresentation of certain facts, she stated:
If people want to really blow up one figure here or one word there, I would argue that they’re missing the forest for the trees. I think that there’s a lot of people more concerned about being precisely, factually, and semantically correct than about being morally right. (emphasis added)
Ocasio-Cortez’s recognition of the importance of morality puts her ahead of most politicians and pundits with decades of experience.
What’s more, her moral and political compasses are aligned. Unlike most who oppose her, her political and economic goals are logical extensions of her moral code. Given this and her charisma, she could be a tremendous force for good. It is therefore regrettable that she subscribes to the same old lethal moral code that repeatedly has brought—and continues to bring—misery to mankind: altruism.
“The basic principle of altruism,” explains American philosopher Ayn Rand,
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. Do not confuse altruism with kindness, good will or respect for the rights of others. These are not primaries, but consequences, which, in fact, altruism makes impossible. 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.1
Strong words, no doubt, but the past two hundred years of history bear them out. All modern tyrannies have upheld the morality of sacrifice as the justification for their immoral actions, and these have resulted in suffering and death for millions upon millions of people and stunted progress for billions more.
Nor is the political application of altruism limited to dictatorships. Every welfare state on the planet, the United States included, is violating the rights of its citizens through taxation, redistribution, and regulation in accord with altruist catch phrases such as: It’s for the “common good,” or “the public interest.”
Moral arguments cannot be refuted with political or economic arguments, no matter how rational and true, because morality is the foundation of both politics and economics.
As long as altruism is the dominant morality, arguments to the effect that sacrificing the rich or taxing billionaires at 70 percent will reduce total tax collections due to lower economic activity will remain feckless. Likewise, so long as it is considered moral to give up what you have for the benefit of the have-nots, dreams of a “universal basic income” will not be crushed by arguments that it is too expensive. Similarly, as long as people substantially accept the idea that we should sacrifice our comforts for the supposed benefit of the earth or for people “in need” or who don’t want to work, a “Green New Deal” cannot be refuted by pointing out that it is fiscally impossible.
The only strategy that will work against the Ocasio-Cortezes of the world is to reclaim the moral high ground. Their lethal, altruist moral code can be defeated only by a human-life-centric morality of rational selfishness, which means, as Rand showed, a moral code that enshrines
the values required for man’s survival qua man—which means: the values required for human survival—not the values produced by the desires, the emotions, the “aspirations,” the feelings, the whims or the needs of irrational brutes, who have never outgrown the primordial practice of human sacrifices, have never discovered an industrial society and can conceive of no self-interest but that of grabbing the loot of the moment.2
Again, Rand doesn’t hold back, and again the evidence supports her point: The disastrous tyrannical interludes of the past two hundred years can all be explained by the stranglehold that altruism has on people’s conceptions of morality. Without altruism, the Stalins, Hitlers, Maos, Khomeinis, Castros, and Maduros would be powerless. Their calls to sacrifice for the nation, the race, the class, the tribe, or the faith would have been seen as morally obscene rather than morally correct. And without altruism, the people of the relatively civilized world would not have given up as much of their freedom.
Why do most conservative critics of Ocasio-Cortez refuse to take the fight to the battlefield of morality? Why do they insist on repeating economic arguments that, while often true, have never deterred the proponents of altruism from putting their moral code into political and economic practice?
The answer is that they are conflicted. The vast majority of conservatives subscribe to altruism, just as Ocasio-Cortez does, while at the same time acknowledging economic virtues of capitalism. They give capitalism two cheers, the third being withheld due to capitalism’s selfish nature, which is anathema to their moral code.
Hence, they choose to play in the sandbox of economics where they don’t have to face the inconvenient truth that capitalism, being inherently selfish, can be successfully defended only with a moral code of rational selfishness.
Until conservatives understand and are willing to say that it is immoral to violate people’s rights—regardless of how rich they are—they will continue to lose ground to Ocasio-Cortez and the so-called “Democratic Socialists.” Until they can claim with moral confidence that a universal basic income is an unethical monstrosity, the idea will not be put to rest. Until they are prepared to point out that it’s morally wrong to impose rights-violating environmental regulations on individuals or corporations, we will continue down the road to serfdom.
But most important, until the rest of us are willing to examine our moral premises and reject altruism in favor of a morality of rational selfishness, not much will change for the better. It’s up to us to help enlighten the better conservatives and to demand that our elected representatives fully embrace capitalism and give it its due third cheer as morally correct.
Until such time, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other “Progressives” will retain the upper hand simply because there are no contradictions between their political/economic and moral principles, between what they practice and what they preach—even though what they preach is lethal.
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1. Ayn Rand, “Faith and Force: The Destroyers of the Modern World,” Philosophy, Who Needs It (New York: Signet, 1984), 61.
2. Ayn Rand, “The Objectivist Ethics,” The Virtue of Selfishness (New York: Signet, 1964), 31.