Rand opens this 1976 lecture by speaking to two significant current events: the upcoming presidential election between Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter, and the 200th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Describing modern presidential campaigns as being characterized by “smallness, grayness, and overwhelming boredom,” Rand references polling data that indicates public confusion about what’s wrong with the country and the role of morality in politics. She is especially criticial of conservative intellectuals who regard politics and economics as amoral, thereby surrendering the field of moral values to the opposition.
America’s founding ideals are about self-interest and individual rights. But, citing several commonly expressed ideas and attitudes about current events, Rand argues that these ideals are disappearing from American culture. This is in part due to confusion over basic issues in morality, including what it truly means to be self-interested, and what it truly means to be altruistic.
What do Americans idealize today, if not individual rights and capitalism? Many idealize welfare statism. But what kind of culture and attitudes does this kind of system require? To answer this, Rand analyzes the welfare state at its alleged best: contemporary Sweden. Along these lines, Rand recounts incidents of official harassment for tax evasion against a prominent Swedish film director and an actress. Analyzing these individuals’ responses to the attacks on them, as well as reactions from various members of the Swedish public, Rand identifies profound differences between Swedish and American attitudes toward inequality and success.
Rand also observes that social critics in both Sweden and America often blame bureaucrats for injustices, on the premise that replacing bad public servants with better ones is the solution. But this can simply be an excuse to avoid challenging a system’s underlying ideas, she argues, noting that the presence of corrupt officials in large numbers is itself a sign of a corrupt social system.
This lecture was delivered at Boston’s Ford Hall Forum, America’s oldest (founded in 1908) continuously operating free public lecture series. Over the years, such luminaries as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Eleanor Roosevelt, and Henry Kissinger have appeared on its podium. This lecture is 40 minutes long, followed by a 47-minute Q & A period.