Which is it?
Reader comment on: Budgets and Brothers
Submitted by John Gillis (United States), Jul 18, 2011 17:55
The Editor makes two inter-related intellectual mistakes in this item:
1. Choosing Hayek as an ethical philosopher is a mistake, because he was incoherent in that field. For example, Hayek's premise of distinguishing "large" vs. "small" groups of people is intellectually indefensible. What is large, what is small, and more fundamentally why does it matter? Hayek never makes that clear. On what principle does one distinguish how you treat small groups rather than large groups?
2. I suspect that Brook (as an advocate of Rand's Objectivism) was arguing the much clearer ethical distinction between the individual and the collective. I haven't read their piece yet in Forbes, but it is clear from the section quoted that they are continuing Rand's attack on any form of communism, in other words any idea that the collective (whether it is 2 or 2 billion) has a moral right to other individuals assets. The Editor takes issue with that, it seems, in order to take a position in some middle ground that is not-individualism and not-collectivism, which thus is residing in no place in particular, ethically speaking.
Note: Comments are moderated by the editor and are subject to editing.
The Future of Capitalism replies:
1. I think Hayek's principle, if you can call it that, was utilitarian, that is, it was impractical to govern or relate to a large group the same way you relate to a small group. He gave the example of charitable solicitations — if you gave to every one you got in the mail, you'd be broke. But you could just give to the ones from your immediate family.
2. Thanks for the feedback. I do think it is possible to stake out some middle ground between helping no one and helping everyone, or between feeling or being obligated to help everyone and feeling or being obligated to help no one. At the least, I think Brook (and you, if you agree with him) can strengthen the explication of the Rand argument by not simply assuming but rather by explaining why a brother or a neighbor and a random anyone are the same in terms of their claim on another's help. It's not, to many of us, an obvious point.
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