"The Age of Envy"
by Ayn Rand
(first published in THE OBJECTIVIST, July-August 1971,
Superficially, the motive of those who hate the good is taken to be envy. A dictionary definition of envy is: "1. a sense of discontent or jealousy with regard to another's advantages, success, possessions, etc. 2. desire for an advantaged position possessed by another." (The Random House Dictionary, 1968.) The same dictionary adds the following elucidation: "To envy is to feel resentful because someone else possesses or has achieved what one wishes oneself to possess or to have achieved."
This covers a great many emotional responses, which come from different motives. In a certain sense, the second definition is the opposite of the first, and the more innocent of the two.
For example, if a poor man experiences a moment's envy of another man's wealth, the feeling may mean nothing more than a momentary concretization of his desire for wealth; the feeling is not directed against that particular rich person and is concerned with the wealth, not the person. The feeling, in effect, may amount to: "I wish I had an income or a house, or a car, or an overcoat) like his." The result of this feeling may be an added incentive for the man to improve his financial condition.
The feeling is less innocent, if it amounts to: "I want this man's car (or overcoat, or diamond shirt studs, or industrial establishment)." The result is a criminal.
But these are still human beings, in various stages of immorality, compared to the inhuman object whose feeling is: "I hate this man because he is wealthy and I am not."
Envy is part of this creature's feeling, but only the superficial, semirespectable part; it is the tip of an iceberg showing nothing worse than ice, but with the submerged part consisting of a compost of rotting living matter. The envy, in this case, is semirespectable because it seems to imply a desire for material possessions, which is a human being's desire. But, deep down, the creature has no such desire: it does not want to be rich, it wants the human being to be poor.
This is particularly clear in the much more virulent cases of hatred, masked as envy, for those who possess personal values or virtues: hatred of a man (or a woman) because he (or she) is beautiful or intelligent or successful or honest or happy. In these cases, the creature has no desire and makes no effort to improve its appearance, to develop or to use its intelligence, to struggle for success, to practice honesty, to be happy (nothing can make it happy). It knows that the disfigurement or the mental collapse or the failure or the immorality or the misery of its victim would not endow it with his or her value. It does not desire the value: it desires the value's destruction.
do not want to own your fortune, they want you to lose it; they do not
want to succeed, they want you to fail; they do not want to live, they
want you to die; they desire nothing, they hate existence ..."
See these relevant pages:
Steve Jobs vs. the Anti-Capitalists HERE,
"About that gap between rich and poor" HERE,
9/11 a Decade Later: irrational ideas are the most destructive forces in the human world HERE,
ATLAS SHRUGGED is available
"The fashionable idiocy that haters must have justifications is one of those ideas that George Orwell said only an intellectual could believe -- because no one else could be such a fool." -- Dr. Thomas Sowell HERE,
"9-11: the Ultimate Philosophy Lesson" HERE,
and: "Allah attacks Aristotle: The philosophical roots of September 11" HERE.
Webster [Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 10th ed.] defines 'envy' as;
painful or resentful awareness of an advantage enjoyed by another joined
with a desire to possess the same advantage.
In the 1st def., "painful" is wrong if taken alone and superfluous if the "or" is read as "and". 'Resentful' is essential, and in turn is defined as (paraphrased and corrected) "characterized by indignant displeasure".
The 2d def. is just wrong, as is the 2d def. from the Random House Dict. ("desire for an advantaged position possessed by another" - as reported in the Rand quote).
As is often the case with Rand, she penetrates to the essence of the underlying emotion. The envier feels: "I hate this man because he is wealthy and I am not (and because this disparity is unjust [I am not just displeased, I am indignant])."
Given proper clarification of the meaning of 'envy', I think Rand is wrong to disparage it as a superficial element in "the motive of those who hate"... [As all the motives, especially envy, are] the irreducible roots of evil.
Allen Leeper, Sept. 12, 2001