Ayn Rand on “Irrational Morality” from pg. 37 of “The Virtue of Selfishness”

“An irrational morality, a morality set in opposition to man’s nature, to the facts of reality and to the requirements of man’s survival, necessarily forces men to accept the belief that there is an inevitable clash between the moral and the practical—that they must choose either to be virtuous or to be happy, to be idealistic or to be successful, but they cannot be both. This view establishes a disastrous conflict on the deepest level of man’s being, a lethal dichotomy that tears man apart: it forces him to choose between making himself able to live and making himself worthy of living. Yet self-esteem and mental health require that he achieve both.

If man holds life on earth as the good, if he judges his values by the standard of that which is proper to the existence of a rational being, then there is no clash between the requirements of survival and of morality—no clash between making himself able to live and making himself worthy of living; he achieves the second by achieving the first. But there is a clash, if man holds the renunciation of this earth as the good, the renunciation of life, of mind, of happiness, of self. Under an anti-life morality, man makes himself worthy of living to the extent that he makes himself unable to live—and to the extent that he makes himself able to live, he makes himself
unworthy of living.

The answer given by many defenders of traditional morality is: ‘Oh, but people don’t have to go to extremes!’—meaning: ‘We don’t expect people to be fully moral. We expect them to smuggle some self-interest into their lives. We recognize that people have to live, after all.’

The defense, then, of this code of morality is that few people will be suicidal enough to attempt to practice it consistently. Hypocrisy is to be man’s protector against his professed moral convictions. What does that do to his self-esteem?

And what of the victims who are insufficiently hypocritical?

What of the child who withdraws in terror into an autistic universe because he cannot cope with the ravings of parents who tell him that he is guilty by nature, that his body is evil, that thinking is sinful, that question-asking is blasphemous, that doubting is depravity, and that he must obey the orders of a supernatural ghost because, if he doesn’t, he will burn forever in hell?

Or the daughter who collapses in guilt over the sin of not wanting to devote her life to caring for the ailing father who has given her cause to feel only hatred?

Or the adolescent who flees into homosexuality because he has been taught that sex is evil and that women are to be worshiped, but not desired?

Or the businessman who suffers an anxiety attack because, after years of being urged to be thrifty and industrious, he has finally committed the sin of succeeding, and is now told that it shall be easier for the camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven?

Or the neurotic who, in hopeless despair, gives up the attempt to solve his problems because he has always heard it preached that this earth is a realm of misery, futility and doom, where no happiness or fulfillment is possible to man?

If the advocates of these doctrines bear a grave moral responsibility, there is a group who, perhaps, bears a graver responsibility still: the psychologists and psychiatrists who see the human wreckage of these doctrines, but who remain silent and do not protest—who declare that philosophical and moral issues do not concern them, that science cannot pronounce value
judgments—who shrug off their professional obligations with the assertion that a rational code of morality is impossible, and, by their silence, lend their sanction to spiritual murder.

(March, 1963).”

I could not agree with her more.

That last stanza is incredibly understated.

Ayn Rand.





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