Now that the Republicans will be taking control of the House of Representatives, we are hearing calls for them to “compromise” with the Democrats to “get things done” and avoid “gridlock.” The implicit assumption is that compromise is an unqualified good. Nothing can be further from the truth. “In any compromise between good and evil, it is only evil that can profit” (Ayn Rand).
Compromise is proper when both parties already agree on the principles involved and wish to reconcile differences in details, such as negotiating a price. However, when basic principles differ, any compromise is wrong. There can be no compromise with a thug who wants to steal your money. Any voluntary concession is complete surrender. Similarly, any compromise between the philosophies that government is the people’s servant, or is their master, is a total surrender to evil. There is no compromise between freedom and slavery.
“Ethical subjectivism” is the fundamental concept underlying the advocacy of compromise over principles. Ethical subjectivism is self-contradictory. It holds as an absolute that there are no absolutes, and the explicit principle that there are no principles. To an ethical subjectivist, everyone’s desires are equally valid, and one must acquiesce to others’ demands in the name of fairness. They label those who disagree with them “extremists,” because they dare to hold principles. Ethical subjectivists will not distinguish between rational defenders of individual rights and the most irrational haters of rights, between limited government advocates and the most rabid neo-Nazis. They use the term “extremism” in order to obliterate the distinction.
Most people have never heard of ethical subjectivism, although it is everywhere in our society. It has become endemic by default, because too few have identified its nature and opposed it. After all, who wants to be called an “extremist?” Life in a civilized society does require compromises. I have no right to swing my fist where it will hit your nose. This comes from the principles that rights do not conflict and that there are no “rights” to violate others’ rights. However, most people incorrectly assume that rights can conflict, and that some people’s rights must be sacrificed to others’. Such a “compromise” inevitably results in the complete negation of the principle of inalienable rights.
Today, ethical subjectivism has brought this country to a state of pressure group warfare. Every compromise over principles has led to more expansion of government power. This invariably destroys individual rights. For example, the Democrats propose legislation to benefit some group or other at the expense of the rest of society. Nobody questions whether a group has a right to other people’s money in the first place. Philosophically disarmed, the Republicans try to “compromise” on how much loot the group will get, then merely vote to extract more tax money from the public to pay for the handout in the name of “fiscal responsibility.”
To oppose ethical subjectivism one must recognize, and act on, principles. “A principle is ‘a fundamental, primary, or general truth, on which other truths depend’” (Rand). Principles are the compasses which enable one to set long-range goals and evaluate current alternatives. To do so, one must recognize that there is an objective reality which is not subject to anyone’s wishes. This requires the use of reason: “the faculty that identifies and integrates the material provided by man’s senses” (Rand). This country was founded by men of reason who understood the principles that individual rights are inalienable and that the proper function of government is to protect those rights.
Though perhaps not explicitly recognized, the Tea Party movement and the election results represent a rejection of ethical subjectivism. The past election has been more about principles than most elections have ever been. While most of the public still does not clearly grasp the relevant principles, there is some awareness that principles do matter. However, “some awareness” is not enough, as is shown by the prevailing belief that compromise is always a virtue. People must understand that rational principles are vitally necessary to set valid long-term goals and to make rational choices.
It remains to be seen whether compromise will win out over principles in the new Congress, as it has so often in the past. However, those who want to learn more about the importance of valid principles, and why they must not be compromised, should read Rand’s works. Specifically, “Atlas Shrugged” shows the true evil of ethical subjectivism in action, and “The Virtue of Selfishness” explains the natures of principles and of individual rights.
Don Richmond has degrees in physics and operations research. A former software systems developer on Wall Street, he is now a residential real-estate appraiser. He is a founder of the Ayn Rand Society for Individual Rights of Naples, an organization formed to increase awareness of Ayn Randís philosophy of Ojectivism. Bernice Richmond has a bachelorís degree in art and is a graphic designer and writer.How to participate.