Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux on September 30, 2012

in Civil Society

… is from page 140 of the late Christopher Hitchens’s beautiful little 2001 tract, Letters to a Young Contrarian:

Beware the irrational, however seductive.  Shun the “transcendent” and all who invite you to subordinate or annihilate yourself….  Picture all experts as if they were mammals.  Never be a spectator of unfairness or stupidity.  Seek out argument and disputation for their own sake; the grave will supply plenty of time for silence.  Suspect your own motives, and all excuses.  Do not live for others any more than you would expect others to live for you.

He’s absolutely correct.

I especially like the last sentence in the quotation.  It’s a superb expression of one of the greatest canons of civilization – the golden rule – “do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” or, alternatively, “do not do unto others that which you would not suffer them to do unto you.”  It is a principle of peace that, when expressed in the Bible (“And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise” – Luke 6:31) is justly celebrated.  But when the very same idea is expressed by Ayn Rand it is somehow thought to be uncivilized and absurd.

I am not a Randian or an Objectivist.  But my interpretation of Rand’s core principle has always been “Do not live for others any more than you would expect others to live for you” (Hitchens 2001: 140).  I know neither if Randians agree with my interpretation of her nor if Hitchens, were he still among us, would appreciate me interpreting his words as expressing a foundational principle endorsed both in the Bible and in Rand’s philosophy.

And note that even if many adults are eager – even when taking a long-run perspective – to enter with other adults into a pact of mutual slavery (“I’ll live to sacrifice myself for you if you live to sacrifice yourself for me”), this fact does not morally require those of us who don’t wish to live to sacrifice ourselves for others to follow in the footsteps of these mutual enslavers.  Hitchens’s – and the Bible’s – wise moral advice is followed by those of us who do not wish to sacrifice ourselves for others if we simply and consistently do not expect or force others to sacrifice themselves for us - and by our resisting, in every prudent way possible, attempts by the mutual enslavers to draft us into their pact of mutual sacrifice, as well as resist their efforts to portray us as immoral because we refuse to be enchanted by their collectivist creed.

….

Here, by the way, is Russ’s 2009 EconTalk podcast with Hitchens.

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