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In Defense of Selfishness: Why the Code of Self-Sacrifice Is Unjust and Destructive

By Peter Schwartz


There is one central, non-controversial idea we’re taught about morality—that self-sacrifice is a virtue. What if it’s wrong?

 From childhood, we are told that serving the needs of others, rather than our own, is the essence of morality and the way to achieve social harmony. To be ethical—it is believed—is to be altruistic. Even questioning this notion is regarded as questioning the self-evident.

Here, Peter Schwartz questions it. In Defense of Selfishness shows that what altruism demands is not that you respect the rights of your neighbor and refrain from acting like Attila the Hun, but rather that you subordinate yourself to others. Because it requires you to sacrifice for the sake of others, altruism entails not benevolence and cooperation, but servitude. Schwartz asks why the fact that someone needs your money creates a moral entitlement to it, while the fact that you’ve earned it, doesn’t.

Schwartz rejects the entire premise of sacrifice, under which one person’s gain comes at the price of another’s loss. Instead, he proposes a radical alternative to altruism, whereby people deal with one another not by sacrificing but by offering value for value, to mutual benefit, and by refusing to seek the unearned. Schwartz proposes a set of principles, based on Ayn Rand’s ethics of rational self-interest, under which individuals live honest, self-respecting, productive lives. Using vivid, real-life examples, In Defense of Selfishness illustrates the iniquity of requiring one man to serve the needs of another, challenging readers to question the standard by which they decide what is morally right or wrong.

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