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Hicks — Egoism in Nietzsche and Rand


“The Eternity of Hell Torments” with the following affirmation: “The sight of hell torments will exalt the happiness of the saints forever.” And: “Can the believing husband in Heaven be happy with his unbelieving wife in Hell? Can the believing father in Heaven be happy with his unbelieving children in Hell? Can the loving wife be happy in Heaven with her unbelieving husband in Hell? I tell you, yea! Such will be their sense of justice that it will increase rather than decrease their bliss” (“The Eternity of Hell Torments,” 1739). That many advocates of altruistic ethics are motivated explicitly by the desire to destroy is not only the stuff of exaggeration or fiction.

To summarize: thus far, it is clear that Rand has learned from Nietzsche’s critique of altruism and is in agreement with its general thrust.

Rand’s Break with Nietzsche’s Critique

If we follow the Nietzschean interpretation, then the great battle in history is the struggle between the strong and the weak. Nietz- sche’s position is based on seeing the weak and the strong as essen- tially in a zero-sum situation from which there is no escape: the strong are objectively a threat to the weak, so the weak must treat them as such; the weak are necessarily consumed with envy and resentment of the strong, so their best satisfaction can only come from pulling the strong down. The Nietzschean thesis can then be put apparently paradoxically: Altruism is the egoism of the weak. It is their best weapon in the ongoing battle for survival against the strong. Slave morality, Nietzsche writes in Genealogy of Morals, is “the prudence of the lowest order” (GM, I:13).

To switch to Rand’s language, the Nietzschean thesis is that the great battle is the battle between the Gail Wynands of the world and the Ellsworth Tooheys of the world. Both Wynand and Toohey seek power, but by different means. The Wynands use traditional “selfish- ness”’s tools of money and physical prowess, while the Tooheys use altruism’s psychological tools of guilt and pity. The great break- through of The Fountainhead is to show that dichotomy to be a false alternative.

Here Rand both strongly diverges from Nietzsche and is innovative in ethics. Altruism, she argues, is not the egoism of the weak. Altruism is destructive to both weak and strong. Howard Roark’s

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