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In 1943, Ayn Rand began work on a prospective non-fiction book, to be titled The Moral Basis of Individualism. The book itself was never published, but Rand did make extensive notes for it. These are Rand's private notes, not polished material ready for publication, and may not be entirely consistent with her later published views. The project was eventually dropped in favor of her new novel, the eventual bestseller Atlas Shrugged.
The following excerpt is from notes dated September 4, 1943, as published posthumously in Journals of Ayn Rand, pp. 248-250:
It is generally recognized that mankind has achieved, since its rise from savagery, a miraculous progress in the realm of its material culture -- and none whatever in the realm of its ethics. Our homes are superior to the cave of the Neanderthal man, but our morals are no better than his -- worse, if anything, for we do not have his excuse of ignorance. There is no act of inhumanity which he perpetrated and which we do not perpetrate, except that he did not possess our exquisite means of perpetrating it and he could never equal our present scale. [...]
Yet that which mankind holds as its moral ideal has been known and accepted for centuries. The basic principle of men's morality has not changed since the beginning of recorded history. Under their superficial differences of symbolism, ritual and metaphysical justification, all great ethical systems from the Orient up, all religions, all human schools of thought have held a single moral axiom: the ideal of selflessness. That which proceeds from love of self is evil, that which proceeds from love of others is good. Self-sacrifice, self-denial and self-renunciation have ever been considered the essence of virtue. [...]
This ideal has never been reached. In spite of its statement and restatement, in every land, in every age, in every language, in spite of its professed acceptance by all, mankind's history has not been a growing record of benevolence, justice and brother-love, but an accelerating progression of horror, cruelty, and shame. Baffled, men have accepted the explanation that man is essentially evil; man is weak and imperfect; he doesn't want to do good. The noble ideal of altruism is never quite to be achieved, only approximated; man is immoral by nature.
But what is one to think of creatures who are willing, century after century, to bear every form of agony, every kind of martyrdom, for the sake of that which they consider as their moral ideal? Are they creatures devoid of moral instinct? Is not the determination to act according to one's conception of right, no matter what the price, precisely the attribute of a high moral sense? Men have been robbed, enslaved, tortured, slaughtered in the name of altruism. They have accepted, forgiven, and borne it, because their ideal demanded it of them. [...]
The ideal of altruism has now taken its ultimate toll. We are the witnesses of its climax. We see mankind destroying itself before our eyes. We see the price it is paying. We glance back at its history and we see the price it has paid. But we look on and say: "This noble ideal is beyond human nature, because men are imperfect and evil."
Isn't it time to stop and to question that noble ideal instead?
All emphasis was in the original. Omissions from the text are shown with bracketed ellipses. All other punctuation and spelling is from the original.
The philosophy of Ayn Rand, a twentieth-century novelist and philosopher, is known as Objectivism. The Objectivism Reference Center provides resources about Rand, her ideas, her works, and places where those are discussed and debated. Visit the Site Information page for details on site policies. Suggestions for additional materials or additional links are welcomed.
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