And what draws people to this bizarre premise—the
premise that there is no rational basis for refraining from murder,
rape, or anarchism? The left’s persistent assault on
Liberals characteristically renounce moral absolutes in favor
of moral grayness. They insist, for example, that criminals
should not be reviled, but should be seen as products of their “social
environment.” This leads to some strange beliefs: that
teenage mothers are just as entitled to welfare checks as wage-earners
are to their paychecks. That to deny welfare benefits for a child
born into a family already receiving welfare is, as the ACLU
declares, to “unconstitutionally coerce women’s reproductive
decisions.” That America is morally equivalent to its enemies,
with our own policies having provoked the Sept. 11 attacks, and
that our “unilateralist” actions in Iraq are no
different from any forcible occupation of one nation by another.
Such egalitarian, anti-judgmental judgments are absurd. Repulsed
by them, many people disavow what they regard as leftism’s
essence: secularism, and turn to religion for their values.
But this is a false alternative. Secularism is simply a viewpoint
that disclaims religion; what it embraces, though, may be rational
or not. And the absurdities of the left stem precisely from
its irrationality—its pervasive emotionalism, its insistence
on doing whatever “feels right,” its contention
that there are no fixed truths, its credo that morality is
one wishes it to be.
The left maintains that no objective principles exist to
validate moral judgments. From its multicultural equalization
or civilized—to its belief in an indefinable, “evolving” Constitution,
the left rejects the logic of objective standards and enshrines
the arbitrariness of subjectivism. Thus, what the left’s
opponents should disavow is not secularism per se, but rather
the replacement of a religious variant of unreason—blind
faith—with a secular variant: blind feelings.
The real alternative to the leftist claptrap is a morality
of reason. Such a morality begins with the individual’s life
as the primary value and identifies the further values that are
demonstrably required to sustain that life. It observes that
man’s nature demands that we live not by random urges
or by animal instincts, but by the faculty that distinguishes
from animals and on which our existence fundamentally depends:
With reason as its cardinal value, this code of individualism
espouses fixed principles and categorical moral judgments.
It demands, for instance, that the initiation of force—the
antithesis of reason—be denounced, and that an unbridgeable
moral chasm be recognized between the criminal and the noncriminal.
Since life requires man to produce what he needs, productiveness
is a moral value—thereby making moral opposites out of
the industrious worker and the parasitic welfare recipient. Since
life requires man to use his own judgment rather than submissively
accept the assertions of others, independence is a moral value—making
moral opposites out of the person (or nation) acting on his own
rational convictions and the one deferring to the consensus of
his neighbors (or the U.N.). Since life requires the mind, man’s
political system must allow him to use it; i.e., freedom is a
moral value—making moral opposites out of America, the
defender of liberty, and America’s enemies, who seek liberty’s
A morality of reason counters the relativism and the undiscriminating “tolerance” of
It also counters a morality of faith, and establishes a genuine “culture
of life.” Individualism upholds your sovereignty over
your life and refuses to subordinate the preservation of
to, say, the preservation of embryonic stem cells in some
petri dish. Individualism defends your inalienable right
life, including your right to end it, and evaluates, say,
opposition to assisted-suicide as a desecration of human
life, since forcing
someone to live who wishes to die is no less evil than forcing
someone to die who wishes to live.
There is indeed morality without religion—a morality,
not of dogmatic commands, but of rational values and of unbreached
respect for the life of the individual.
Peter Schwartz is chairman of the board of directors of the
Ayn Rand Institute in Irvine, Calif., which promotes the
Ayn Rand—best-selling author of Atlas Shrugged and
The Fountainhead and originator of the philosophy of Objectivism.