In Defense of Selfishness—a Summary

(This is a brief summary—intended for the general public—of my new book, followed by the Table of Contents.)

What if the central idea we’re all taught about morality is wrong?

Virtually everyone regards self-sacrifice as a moral virtue. From childhood on, we are told that serving the needs of others, rather than our own, is the essence of morality and is the means of achieving social harmony. To be ethical—it is believed—is to be altruistic. Even questioning this premise is, to most people, equivalent to entertaining the notion that the earth is flat.

My book questions this premise.

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In Defense of Selfishness: Why the Code of Self-Sacrifice Is Unjust and Destructive is a cultural analysis of a deeply ingrained idea, one that influences our most important personal and political choices. The book makes the case—a sober, meticulous case—against the tenets of altruism. It shows that what altruism demands is not, as many superficially believe, that you respect the rights of your neighbor and refrain from acting like Attila the Hun, but that you subordinate yourself to others. Altruism entails not benevolence and cooperation, but servitude. Whether you are Not told to sacrifice by liberals in order to provide for the medically uninsured or by conservatives in order to preserve your community’s traditions, the code of altruism insists that the needs of others take precedence over your own interests. It declares that whenever you have something others lack, you have a duty to sacrifice for their sake.

The book asks why the fact that someone needs your money makes him morally entitled to it, while the fact that you’ve earned it, doesn’t. It explains why altruism leads to the opposite of social harmony: continual conflict. It scrupulously demonstrates, in theory and in nuts-and-bolts practice, the injustice and the destructiveness of self-sacrifice. And it offers a rational, non-predatory alternative.

People generally view the alternative—“selfishness”—as personified by conniving, murderous brutes, who embrace a do-whatever-you-feel-like-doing philosophy. People believe that our only choice is: sacrifice ourselves to others by being altruistic or sacrifice others to ourselves by being “selfish.” In Defense of Selfishness rejects this false alternative. It rejects the entire premise of sacrifice, under which one person’s gain comes only at the price of another’s loss. Instead, it proposes a true alternative to altruism, whereby people deal with one another not by sacrificing but by offering value for value, to mutual benefit, and by refusing to seek the unearned. This is an alternative, based on Ayn Rand’s ethics of rational self-interest, under which individuals live honest, self-respecting, productive lives. Because the truly selfish person lives by the guidance of reason, not by mindless impulses, he repudiates the unthinking, short-range mentality of the crook, the fly-by-nighter, the drug addict, the playboy, the drifter—all of whom are acting in contradiction to their self- interest.

Replete with real-life examples, the book vividly illustrates the iniquity of requiring one man to serve the needs of another. It forcefully challenges readers to question the basic standard by which they decide that something is morally right or morally wrong.♦♦


1. The Shackles
The essence of altruism: you must subordinate yourself to the needs of others.

2. The Straw Man
Altruism appeals to people by misrepresenting selfishness as the predatory act of sacrificing others to oneself.

3. Principles—and Their Enemy
Self-interest requires firm moral principles, while altruism urges us to surrender those principles for the sake of the needy.

4. The Myth of the “Public Interest”
The concept of the “public interest” has no objective meaning, and is designed to make self-sacrifice seem “practical.”

5. Altruism vs Rights
If you have a duty to serve others, you can have no inalienable rights.

6. The Collectivist Straitjacket
Altruism, if consistently followed, calls for the sacrifice of the individual to an all-powerful state.

7. The Black Hole of Selflessness
The selfless person gives up not only material values, but intellectual ones as well.

8.The Goal of Self-sacrifice
The code of altruism demands that we sacrifice, not as a means of actually benefiting others, but as an end in itself.

9. Choosing Life
The basic alternative we each face: life-affirmation or life-renunciation.



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One thought on “In Defense of Selfishness—a Summary

  1. Nell Kroeger

    Peter, I am really looking forward to the publication of your book. I wish you the best in finding a good publisher. Altruism is one of the big problems in our society, and it is as you say, an unquestioned premise by most people. I am hoping to find in your book a wealth of information to help me counter this ingrained idea in some friends and acquaintances of mine.


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