Tuesday, August 17, 2010
In his book, The Ominous Parallels, Leonard Peikoff describes how the influence of German philosophers, particularly Immanuel Kant, on its popular culture paved the way for the rise of Nazism and made possible Adolf Hitler's rise to power.
Reader Dismuke sends in a clear and disturbing example of that very influence alive and thriving today. In a recent interview with Spiegel, German shipping magnate Peter Krämer criticizes an initiative, spearheaded by several American billionaires, for the rich to give away most of their wealth. This initiative he criticizes for exactly the wrong reason: It's too selfish.
SPIEGEL: Forty super wealthy Americans have just announced that they would donate half of their assets, at the very latest after their deaths. As a person who often likes to say that rich people should be asked to contribute more to society, what were your first thoughts?So even the last tiny shred of control of their own property, deciding where the money goes, is unacceptable to Krämer. The ability to get a tax write-off bothers him because this makes Buffett, Gates, and company "powerful" at the expense of the Leviathan state. Indeed, even to the extent that these men get any form of personal satisfaction from what they are doing bothers this obdurate altruist because they're "indulging in hobbies that might be in the common good, but are very personal."
Krämer: I find the US initiative highly problematic. You can write donations off in your taxes to a large degree in the USA. So the rich make a choice: Would I rather donate or pay taxes? The donors are taking the place of the state. That's unacceptable.
SPIEGEL: But doesn't the money that is donated serve the common good?
Krämer: It is all just a bad transfer of power from the state to billionaires. So it's not the state that determines what is good for the people, but rather the rich want to decide. That's a development that I find really bad. What legitimacy do these people have to decide where massive sums of money will flow?
SPIEGEL: It is their money at the end of the day.
Krämer: In this case, 40 superwealthy people want to decide what their money will be used for. That runs counter to the democratically legitimate state. In the end the billionaires are indulging in hobbies that might be in the common good, but are very personal.
SPIEGEL: Do the donations also have to do with the fact that the idea of state and society is such different one in the United States?
Krämer: Yes, one cannot forget that the US has a desolate social system and that alone is reason enough that donations are already a part of everyday life there. But it would have been a greater deed on the part of Mr. Gates or Mr. Buffet if they had given the money to small communities in the US so that they can fulfil public duties.
SPIEGEL: Should wealthy Germans also give up some of their money?
Krämer: No, not in this form. It would make more sense, for example, to work with and donate to established organizations.
Not that I hold giving things away to be a moral ideal, but: God forbid someone feel a single degree of benevolent warmth after improving the lot of another!
Considering this initiative in terms of how it pales next to what the government is looting from us, I solicited my readers for an Ayn Rand quote and, thanks to Jennifer Snow, was able to find the one it reminded me of:
In view of what they hear from the experts, the people cannot be blamed for their ignorance and their helpless confusion. If an average housewife struggles with her incomprehensibly shrinking budget and sees a tycoon in a resplendent limousine, she might well think that just one of his diamond cuff links would solve all her problems. She has no way of knowing that if all the personal luxuries of all the tycoons were expropriated [or given away --ed], it would not feed her family -- and millions of other, similar families -- for one week; and that the entire country would starve on the first morning of the week to follow . . . . How would she know it, if all the voices she hears are telling her that we must soak the rich? ("The Inverted Moral Priorities," in The Ayn Rand Letter, vol. III, no. 21. 1974, p. 345)Considered in light of how paltry Gates and Buffett's effort really is and how pervasive the call to (human) self-sacrifice is in our culture, the above interview shows us just how malevolent and devoid of genuine good will altruism -- Immanuel Kant's and Peter Krämer's moral philosophy -- really is.
Dismuke further supplies an Ayn Rand quote on that matter which I think bears passing on.
As to Kant's version of morality, it was appropriate to the kind of zombies that would inhabit that kind of [Kantian] universe: it consisted of total, abject selflessness. An action is moral, said Kant, only if one has no desire to perform it, but performs it out of a sense of duty and derives no benefit from it of any sort, neither material nor spiritual; a benefit destroys the moral value of an action. (Thus, if one has no desire to be evil, one cannot be good; if one has, one can.)In addition to being consistent with his moral ideals, Krämer's worship of the all-powerful state is telling, and should serve as a warning to anyone who holds, understands, and cares about values. Should we permit much more power to the state, it will be the means by which the Krämers of the world force us to live in their cold, nasty little universe.
Those who accept any part of Kant's philosophy -- metaphysical, epistemological or moral -- deserve it. ("For the New Intellectual" in For the New Intellectual, p. 32.)
Today: (1) Corrected "Dietmar Hopp" in second paragraph to Peter Krämer. (2) Corrected "Dietmar" to "Peter" later in the post.