by Ayn Rand
[These articles were written for and appeared originally in THE
VIGIL, a publication of The Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation
of American Ideals, Beverly Hills, California. The subject 0f these articles
was limited to the sphere of politics, for the purpose of defining and
clarifying the basic principles involved in political issues. The series
is incomplete; the twelve questions reprinted here were only the first
third of a longer project; the rest has remained unwritten.]
This classic article may be produced with the author's
permission, but Ayn Rand has since passed away.
1. What Is the Basic Issue in the World Today?
The basic issue in the world
today is between two principles: Individualism and Collectivism.
that man has inalienable rights which cannot be taken away from him by
any other man, nor by any number, group or collective of other men. Therefore,
each man exists by his own right and for his own sake, not for the sake
of the group.
Collectivism holds that man has no rights; that
his work, his body and his personality belong to the group; that the group
can do with him as it pleases, in any manner it pleases, for the sake of
whatever it decides to be its own welfare. Therefore, each man exists
only by the permission of the group and for the sake of the group.
These two principles are the roots of two opposite
social systems. The basic issue of the world today is between these two
2. What Is a Social System?
A social system is a code of
laws which men observe in order to live together. Such a code must
have a basic principle, a starting point, or it cannot be devised. The
starting point is the question: Is the power of society limited or unlimited?
Individualism answers: The power of society
is limited by the inalienable, individual rights of man. Society may make
only such laws as do not violate these rights.
Collectivism answers: The power of society
is unlimited. Society may make any laws it wishes, and force them upon
anyone in any manner it wishes.
Example: Under a system of Individualism,
a million men cannot pass a law to kill one man for their own benefit.
If they go ahead and kill him, they are breaking the law--which protects
his right to life-and they are punished.
Under a system of Collectivism, a million
men (or anyone claiming to represent them) can pass a law to kill one man
(or any minority), whenever they think they would benefit by his death.
His right to live is not recognized.
Under Individualism, it is illegal to kill the man
and it is legal for him to protect himself. The law is on the side of a
Under Collectivism, it i~ legal for the majority to kill a man and
it is illegal for him to defend himself. The law is on the side of a number.
In the first case, die law represents a moral
In the second case, the law represents the idea
that there are no moral principles, and men can do anything they
please, provided there's enough of them.
Under a system of Individualism, men are equal before
the law at all times. Each has the same rights, whether he is alone or
has a million others with him.
Under a system of Collectivism, men have to gang
up on one another-and whoever has the biggest gang at the moment, holds
rights, while the loser (the individual or the minority) has
Any man can be an absolute master or a helpless slave-according to
the size of his gang.
An example of the first system: The United States
of America. (See: The Declaration of Independence.)
An example of the second system: Soviet Russia
Under the Soviet system, millions of peasants or
"kulaks" were exterminated by law, a law justified by the pretext that
this was for the benefit of the majority, which the ruling group contended
was anti-kulak. Under the Nazi system, millions of Jews were exterminated
by law, a law justified by the pretext that this was for the benefit of
the majority, which the ruling group contended was anti-Semitic.
The Soviet law and the Nazi law were the unavoidable
and consistent result of the principle of Collectivism. When applied in
practice, a principle which recognizes no morality and no individual rights,
can result in nothing except brutality.
Keep this in mind when you try to decide what is
the proper social system. You have to start by answering the first question.
the power of society is limited, or it is not. It can't be both.
3. What Is the Basic Principle of America?
The basic principle of the United States of America
America is built on the principle that Man possesses
The Constitution of the United States of America
is not a document (hat limits the rights of man-but a document that
limits the power of society over man.
that these rights belong to each man as an individual-not to "men"
as a group or collective;
that these rights are the unconditional, private, personal, individual
possession of each man-not the public, social, collective possession of
that these rights are granted to man by the fact of his birth as a man-not
by an act of society;
that man holds these rights, not from the Collective nor for
Collective, but against the Collective-as a barrier which the Collective
that these rights are man's protection against all other men;
that only on the basis of these rights can men have a society of freedom,
justice, human dignity, and decency.
4. What Is a Right?
A right is the sanction of independent action. A right is that which
can be exercised without anyone's permission.
If you exist only because society permits you to exist-you have no
to your own life. A permission can be revoked at any time.
If, before undertaking some action, you must obtain the permission
of society-you are not free, whether such permission is granted to you
or not. Only a slave acts on permission. A permission is
not a right.
Do not make the mistake, at this point, of thinking that a worker is
a slave and that he holds his job by his employer's permission. He does
not hold it by permission-but by contract,
that is, by a voluntary
mutual agreement. A worker can quit his job. A slave cannot.
5. What Are the Inalienable Rights of Man?
The inalienable Rights of Men are: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of
The Right of Life means that Man cannot
be deprived of his life for the benefit of another man nor of any number
of other men.
The Right of Liberty means Man's right
to individual action, individual choice. individual initiative and individual
property. Without he right to private property no independent action is
The Right to the Pursuit of Happiness means
man's right to live or himself, to choose what constitutes his own private,
personal, individual happiness and to work for its achievement, so long
as he respects the same right in others. It means that Man cannot be forced
to devote his life to the happiness of another man nor of any number of
other men. It means that the collective cannot decide what is to be the
purpose of a man's existence nor prescribe his choice of happiness.
6. How Do We Recognize One Another's Rights?
Since Man has inalienable individual rights, this
means that the same rights are held, individually, by every man, by all
men, at all times. Therefore, the rights of one man
cannot and must not violate the rights of another.
For instance: a man has the right to live, but he
has no right to take the life of another. He has the right to be free,
but no right to enslave another. He has the right to choose his own happiness,
but no right to decide that his happiness lies in the misery (or murder
or robbery or enslavement) of another. The very right upon which he acts
defines the same fight of another man. and serves as a guide to tell him
what he may or may not do.
Do not make the mistake of the ignorant who think
that an individualist is a man who says: 'I'll do as I please at everybody
else's expense." An individualist is a man who recognizes the inalienable
individual rights of man-his own and those of others.
An individualist is a man who say's: "I'll not run
anyone's life-nor let anyone run mine. I will not rule nor be ruled. I
will not be a master nor a slave. I will not sacrifice myself to anyone-nor
sacrifice anyone to myself."
A collectivist is a man who says: "Let's get together,
boys-and then anything goes!"
7. How Do We Determine That a Right Has Been Violated?
A right cannot be violated I except by physical force.
One man cannot deprive another of his life nor enslave him. nor forbid
him to pursue happiness, except by using force against him. Whenever a
man is made to act without his own free, personal, individual, voluntary
consent - his right has been violated.
Therefore,. we can draw a clear-cut division between
the rights of one man and those of another It is an objective division-not
subject to differences of opinion, nor to majority decision, nor to the
arbitrary decree of society. NO MAN HAS THII RIGHT
TO INITIATE THE USE OF PHYSICAL. FORCE AGAINST ANOTHER MAN.
The practical rule of conduct in a free society,
a society of Individualism, is simple and clear-cut: you cannot expect
or demand any action from another man, except through his free, voluntary
Do not be misled on this point by an old collectivist
trick which goes like this: There is no absolute freedom anyway, since
you are not free to murder; society limits your freedom when it does not
permit you to kill.' therefore. society holds the right to limit your freedom
in any manner it sees fit; therefore, drop the delusion of freedom-freedom
is whatever society decides it is.
It is not society, nor any social right,
that forbids you to kill-but the inalienable individual right of
another man to live. This is not a "compromise" between two rights - but
a line of division that preserves both rights untouched. The division is
not derived from an edict of society-but from your own inalienable individual
right. The definition of this limit is not set arbitrarily by society-but
is implicit in the definition of your own right.
Within the sphere of your own rights, your freedom
8. What Is the Proper Function of Government?
The proper function of government is to protect the
individual rights of man; this means-to protect man against brute force.
In a proper social system, men do not use force
against one another; force may be used only in self-defense, that is in
defense of a right violated by force. Men delegate to the government the
power to use force in retaliation-and only in retaliation.
The proper kind of government does not initiate
the use of force. It uses force only to answer those who have initiated
its use. For example when the government arrests a criminal, it is not
the government that violates a right; it is the criminal who has violated
a right and by doing so has placed himself outside the principle of rights,
where men can have no recourse against him except through force.
Now it is important to remember that all actions
defined as criminal in a free society are actions involving force and only
such actions are answered by force.
Do not be misled by sloppy expressions such as "A
murderer commits a crime against society." It is not society that a murderer
murders, but an individual man. It is not a social right that he breaks,
but an individual right. He is not punished for hurting a collective he
has not hurt a whole collective-he has hurt one man. If a criminal robs
ten men-it is still not "society" that he has robbed, but ten individuals.
There are no crimes against society"-all crimes are committed against specific
men, against individuals. And it is precisely the duty of a proper social
system and of a proper government to protect an individual against criminal
When, however, a government becomes an initiator
of force-the injustice and moral corruption involved are truly unspeakable.
For example: When a Collectivist government orders
a man to work and attaches him to a job, under penalty of death or imprisonment
- it is the government that initiates tthe use of force. The man has done
no violence to anyone-but the government uses violence against him. There
is no possible justification for such a procedure in theory. And there
is no possible result in practice-except the blood and the terror which
you can observe in any Collectivist country.
The moral perversion involved is this: If men had
no government and no social system of any kind, they might have to exist
through sheer force and fight one another in any disagreement; in such
a state, one man would have a fair chance against one other man: but he
would have no chance against ten others. It is not against an individual
a man needs protection-but against a group. Still, in such a state
of anarchy, while any majority gang would have its way, a minority could
fight them by any means available. And the gang could not make its rule
Collectivism goes a step below savage anarchy: it
takes away from man even the chance to fight back. It makes violence legal-and
resistance to it illegal. It gives the sanction of law to the organized
brute force of a majority (or of anyone who claims to represent it)-and
turns the minority into a helpless, disarmed object of extermination. If
you can think of a more vicious perversion of justice-name it.
In actual practice, when a Collectivist society
violates the rights of a minority (or of one single man), the result is
that the majority loses its rights as well, and finds itself delivered
into the total power of a small group that rules through sheer brute force.
If you want to understand and keep clearly in mind
the difference between the use of force as retaliation (as it is used by
the government of an Individualist society) and the use of force as primary
policy (as it is used by the government of a Collectivist society), here
is the simplest example of it: it is the same difference as that between
a murderer and a man who kills in self-defense. The proper kind of government
acts on the principle of man's self-defense. A Collectivist government
acts like a murderer.
9. Can There Be A "Mixed" Social System?
There can be no social system which is a mixture
of Individualism and Collectivism. Either individual rights are recognized
in a society, or they are not recognized. They cannot be half-recognized.
What frequently happens, however, is that a society
based on Individualism does not have the courage, integrity and intelligence
to observe its own principle consistently in every practical application.
Through ignorance, cowardice or mental sloppiness, such a society passes
laws and accepts regulations which contradict its basic principle and violate
the rights of man. To the extent of such violations. society perpetrates
injustices. evils and abuses. If the breaches are not corrected. society
collapses into the chaos of Collectivism.
When you see a society that recognizes man's rights
in some of its laws. but not in others do not hail it as a "mixed " system
and do not conclude that a compromise between basic principles. opposed
in theory, can be made to work in practice. Such a society is not working-it
is merely disintegrating. Disintegration takes time. Nothing falls to pieces
immediately-neither a human body nor a human society.
10. Can A Society Exist Without a Moral Principle?
A great many people today hold the childish notion
that society can do anything it pleases; that principles are unnecessary,
rights are only an illusion. and expediency is the practical guide
It is true that society con abandon moral
principles and turn itself into a herd running amuck to destruction. Just
as it is true that a man can cut his own throat anytime he chooses.
But a man cannot do this if he wishes to survive. And society cannot
moral principles if it expects to exist.
Society is a large number of men who live together
in the same country, and who deal with one another. Unless there is a defined,
objective moral code, which men understand and observe. they have no way
of dealing with one another-since none can know what to expect from his
neighbor. The man who recognizes no morality is the criminal; you can do
nothing when dealing with a criminal, except try to crack his skull before
he cracks yours. you have no other language, no terms of behavior mutually
accepted. To speak of a society without moral principles is to advocate
that men live together like criminals.
We are still observing. by tradition, so many moral
precepts, that we take them for granted and do not realize how many actions
of our daily lives are made possible only by moral principles. Why is it
safe for you to go into a crowded department store, make a purchase and
come out again? The crowd around you needs goods, too; the crowd could
easily overpower the few salesgirls. ransack the store and grab your packages
and pocketbook as well. Why don't they do it? There is nothing to stop
them and nothing to protect you-except the moral principle of your individual
right of life and property.
Do not make the mistake of thinking that crowds
are restrained merely by fear of policemen There could not be enough policemen
in the world if men believed that it is proper and practical to loot And
if men believed this. why shouldn't the policemen believe it. too? Who.
then, would be the policemen?
Besides, in a Collectivist society the policemen's
duty is not to protect your rights. but to violate them.
It would certainly be expedient for the crowd to
loot the department store-if we accept the expediency of the moment as
a sound and proper rule of action. But how many department stores. how
many factories, farms or homes would we have. and for how long. under this
rule of expediency?
If we discard morality and substitute for it the
(collectivist doctrine of unlimited majority rule. if we accept the idea
that a majority may do anything it pleases, and that anything done by a
majority is right because it's done by a majority (this being the
only standard of right and wrong)-how are men to apply this in practice
to their actual lives? Who is the majority? In relation to each particular
man, all other men are potential members of that majority which may destroy
him at its pleasure at any moment. Then each man and all men become enemies;
each has to fear and suspect all; each must try to rob and murder first,
before he is robbed and murdered.
If you think that this is just abstract theory,
take a look at Europe for a practical demonstration. In Soviet Russia and
Nazi Germany, private citizens did the foulest work of the G.P.U. and the
Gestapo, spying on one another, delivering their own relatives and friends
to the secret police and the torture chambers. This was the result
in practice of Collectivism in theory. This was the concrete application
of that empty, vicious Collectivist slogan which seems so high-sounding
to the unthinking: "The public good comes above any individual rights."
Without individual rights, no public good
Collectivism, which places the group above the individual
and tells men to sacrifice their rights for the sake of their brothers,
results in a state where men have no choice but to dread, hate and destroy
Peace, security, prosperity, co-operation and good
will among men, all those things considered socially desirable, are possible
only under a system of Individualism, where each man is safe in the exercise
of his individual rights and in the knowledge that society is there to
his rights, not to destroy them. Then each man knows what he
may or may not do to his neighbors, and what his neighbors (one or a million
of them) may or may not do to him. Then he is free to deal with them as
a friend and an equal.
Without a moral code no proper human society
Without the recognition of individual rights
no moral code is possible.
11. Is "The Greatest Good For The Greatest Number"
A Moral Principle?
'The greatest good for the greatest number" is one
of the most vicious slogans ever foisted on humanity.
This slogan has no concrete, specific meaning. There
is no way to interpret it benevolently, but a great many ways in which
it can be used to justify the most vicious actions.
What is the definition of "the good" in this slogan?
None, except: whatever is good for the greatest number. Who, in any particular
issue, decides what is good for the greatest number? Why, the greatest
If you consider this moral, you would have to approve
of the following examples, which are exact applications of this slogan
in =Å_ _ practice: fifty-one percent of humanity enslaving the other
forty-nine; nine hungry cannibals eating the tenth one; a lynching mob
murdering a man whom they consider dangerous to the community.
There were seventy million Germans in Germany and
six hundred thousand Jews. the greatest number (the Germans) supported
the Nazi government which told them that their greatest good would be served
by exterminating the smaller number (the Jews) and grabbing their property.
This was the horror achieved in practice by a vicious slogan accepted in
theory But, you might say, the majority in all these examples did not achieve
any real good for itself either? No. It didn't. because "the good"
is not determined by counting numbers and is not achieved by the sacrifice
of anyone to anyone.
The unthinking assume that every man who mouths
this slogan places himself unselfishly with the smaller number to be sacrificed
to the greatest number of others. Why should he? There is nothing in the
slogan to make him do this. He is much more likely to try to get in with
the greatest number, and start sacrificing others. What the slogan actually
tells him is that he has no choice, except to rob or be robbed, to crush
or get crushed.
The depravity of this slogan lies in the implication
that "the good" of a majority must be achieved through the suffering of
a minority; that the benefit of one man depends upon the sacrifice of another.
If we accept the Collectivist doctrine that man
exists only for the sake of others, then it is true that every pleasure
he enjoys (or every bite of food) is evil and immoral if two other men
want it. But on this basis men cannot eat, breathe or love ( all of that
is selfish, and what if tow other men want your wife?), men cannot live
together at all, and can do nothing except end up bb exterminating one
Only on the basis of individual rights can any good
- private or public -be defined and achhieved. Only when each man is free
to exist for his own sake - neither sacrificing others to himself nor being
sacrificed to others - only then is every man free to work for the greatest
good he can achieve for himself by his own choice and by his own effort.
And the sum total of such individual efforts is the only kind of general,
social good possible.
Do not think that the opposite of "the greatest
good for the greatest number" is "the greatest good for the smallest number."
The opposite is: the greatest good he can achieve by his own free effort,
to every man living.
If you are an Individualist and wish to preserve
the American way of life, the greatest contribution you can make is to
discard, once and for all. from your thinking. from your speeches, and
from your sympathy, the empty slogan of "the greatest good for the greatest
number." Reject any argument, oppose any proposal that has nothing but
this slogan to justify it. It is a booby-trap. It is a precept of pure
Collectivism. You cannot accept it and call yourself an Individualist.
Make your choice. It is one or the other.
12. Does The Motive Change The Nature Of A Dictatorship?
The mark of an honest man, as distinguished from
a Collectivist, is that he means what he says and knows what he means.
When we say that we hold individual rights to be
we must mean just that. Inalienable means that which we may
not take away, suspend, infringe, restrict or violate-not ever, not at
any time, not for any purpose whatsoever.
You cannot say that "man has inalienable rights
except in cold weather and on every second Tuesday," just as you cannot
say that "man has inalienable rights except in an emergency," or "man's
rights cannot be violated except for a good purpose."
Either man's rights are inalienable, or they are
not. You cannot say a thing such as "semi-inalienable" and consider yourself
either honest or sane. When you begin making conditions, reservations and
exceptions, you admit that there is something or someone above man's rights,
who may violate them at his discretion. Who? Why, society-that is, the
Collective. For what reason? For the good of the Collective. Who decides
when rights should be violated? The Collective. If this is what you believe,
move over to the side where you belong and admit that you are a Collectivist.
Then take all the consequences which Collectivism implies. There is no
middle ground here. You cannot have your cake and eat it. too. You are
not fooling anyone but yourself.
Do not hide behind meaningless catch-phrases, such
as "the middle of the road." Individualism and Collectivism are not two
sides of the same road, with a safe rut for you in the middle. They are
two roads going into opposite directions. One leads to freedom, justice
and prosperity; the other-to slavery, horror and destruction. The choice
is yours to make.
The growing spread of Collectivism throughout the
world is not due to any cleverness of the Collectivists, but to the fact
that most people who oppose them, actually believe in Collectivism themselves.
Once a principle is accepted. it is not the man who is half-hearted about
it, but the man who is whole-hearted that's going to win; not the man who
is least consistent in applying it, but the man who is most consistent.
if you enter a race, saying: "I only intend to run the first ten yards,"
the man who says: "I'll run to the finish line," is going to beat you.
When you say: "I only want to violate human rights just a tiny little bit,"
the Communist or Fascist who says.. "I'm going to destroy all human rights"
will beat you and win. You've opened the way for him.
By permitting themselves this initial dishonesty
and evasion, men have now fallen into a Collectivist trap, on the question
of whether a dictatorship is proper or not. Most people give lip-service
to denunciations of dictatorship. But very few take a clear-cut stand and
recognize dictatorship for what it is, an absolute evil. in any form, by
anyone, for anyone, anywhere, at any time and for any purpose whatsoever.
A great many people now enter into an obscene kind
of bargaining about differences between "a good dictatorship" and a "bad
dictatorship," about motives. causes or reasons that make dictatorship
proper. For the question: "Do you want dictatorship?," the Collectivists
have substituted the question: "What kind of dictatorship do you want?"
They can afford to let you argue from then on; they have won their point.
A great many people believe that a dictatorship
is terrible if it's "for a had motive," but quite all right and even desirable
if it's "for a good motive." Those leaning toward Communism (they usually
consider themselves "humanitarians") claim that concentration camps and
torture chambers are evil when used "selfishly," "for the sake of one race,"
as Hitler did, but quite noble when used "unselfishly," "for the sake of
the masses," as Stalin does. Those leaning toward Fascism (they usually
consider themselves hard-boiled "realists") claim that whips and slave-drivers
are impractical when used "inefficiently," as in Russia, but quite practical
when used "efficiently," as in Germany.
(And just as an example of where the wrong principle
will lead you in practice, observe that the "humanitarians," who are so
concerned with relieving the suffering of the masses, endorse, in Russia,
a state of misery for a whole population such as no masses have ever had
to endure anywhere in history. And the hard-boiled "realists." who are
so boastfully eager to be practical, endorse, in Germany, the spectacle
of a devastated country in total ruin, the end result of an "efficient"
When you argue about what is a "good" or a "bad"
dictatorship, you have accepted and endorsed the principle of dictatorship.
You have accepted a premise of total evil-of your right to enslave
others for the sake of what you think is good. From then on. it's
only a question of who will run the Gestapo. You will never be able to
reach an agreement with your fellow Collectivists on what is a "good" cause
for brutality and what is a "bad" one. Your particular pet definition may
not be theirs. You might claim that it is good to slaughter men only for
the sake of the poor; somebody else might claim that it is good to slaughter
men only for the sake of the rich; you might claim that it is immoral to
slaughter anyone except members of a certain class; somebody else might
claim that it is immoral to slaughter anyone except members of a certain
race. All you will agree on is the slaughter. And that is all you will
Once you advocate the principle of dictatorship,
you invite all men to do the same. If they do not want your particular
kind or do not like your particular "good motive," they have no choice
but to rush to beat you to it and establish their own kind for their own
"good motive," to enslave you before you enslave them. A "good dictatorship"
is a contradiction in terms.
The issue is not: for what purpose is it proper
to enslave men? The issue is: is it proper to enslave men or not?
There is an unspeakable moral corruption in saying
that a dictatorship can be justified by "a good motive" or "an unselfish
motive." All the brutal and criminal tendencies which mankind-through centuries
of slow climbing out of savagery-has learned to recognize as evil and impractical,
have now taken refuge under a "social" cover. Many men now believe that
it is evil to rob, murder and torture for one's own sake. but virtuous
to do so for the sake of others. You may not indulge in brutality for your
own gain, they say, but go right ahead if it's for the gain of others.
Perhaps the most revolting statement one can ever hear is: "Sure, Stalin
has butchered millions, but it's justifiable, since it's for the benefit
of the masses." Collectivism is the last stand of savagery in men's minds.
Do not ever consider Collectivists as "sincere but
deluded idealists." The proposal to enslave some men for the sake
of others is not an ideal; brutality is not "idealistic," no matter what
its purpose. Do not ever say that the desire to "do good" by force is a
good motive. Neither power - lust nor stupidity are good motives.