Statism, Altruism, and Pragmatism – The Diseases That Killed Detroit


July 25, 2013 by Anders Ingemarson

“There are two kinds of need involved in this process: the need of the group making demands, which is openly proclaimed and serves as cover for another need, which is never mentioned—the need of the power-seekers, who require a group of dependent favor-recipients in order to rise to power. Altruism feeds the first need, statism feeds the second, Pragmatism blinds everyone—including victims and profiteers—not merely to the deadly nature of the process, but even to the fact that a process is going on.”

Ayn Rand, from “A Preview” in The Ayn Rand Letter, 1972

In the wake of the Detroit bankruptcy filing we’ve seen an abundance of parallels drawn between that plighted city and our country as a whole. Columnists have chronicled its path from fame to shame, warning us that the entire country is on the same trajectory. They have pointed out how corruption, mismanagement, race riots, high taxes, and unsustainable entitlement commitments have driven out everybody who can afford to get away, individuals and corporations. Only power-lusters and their armies of “needies” are left to fight over the scraps looted from the ever-shrinking base of productive individuals.

But this only identifies symptoms. In the articles I’ve come across, nobody has fully addressed how this could happen in the first place. Daniel Hannan comes closest in blaming Detroit’s destruction on Statism of the Socialist kind and on the lack of Capitalism. This is definitely part of the diagnosis, but the question remains: How does a city that was once the envy of the world implode in front of our eyes without that any sustainable, corrective action is being taken? It is one thing for a community to perish in a catastrophic event like a flood, hurricane, earthquake or fire, taking everybody by surprise. But here we’re faced with a slow, manmade decline over a period of decades.

If we want to prevent the fate of Detroit from being repeated on a national scale, we have to look beyond the symptoms: we have to diagnose the underlying diseases and prescribe the right remedies. We’re faced with a number of serious conditions, so stay with me as we examine the patient.

Daniel Hannan does identify the first disease, Statism, the political theory which holds that our lives and work belong to the state—to society, to the group, the gang, the race, the nation, the city of Detroit—and that the state may dispose of us in any way it pleases for the sake of whatever it deems to be its own collective good.

Past citizens of Detroit left as conditions worsened. As the statists grab more and more power nationally, leaving is not an attractive option as most other countries are even further down the road to their own Detroits.

No, our best plan of treatment is to stay and fight Statism with Individualism, the only cure that regards us as independent, sovereign entities who possess the inalienable right to our own life.

Ask yourself how far the Detroit power-seekers would have got with a citizenry committed to protecting the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness of all its inhabitants without regard to what groups they may belong to.

Our examination reveals that the patient is riddled with a second disease, Altruism, the “A” in the ABC of Old World Morality. As indicated in the initial quote from Ayn Rand, Altruism claims the moral high ground for the needy, the have-nots. Our Detroit Petri dish reveals a lethal mix: city employees, the poor, the illiterate, the homeless, African-Americans, UAW members and others. Hiding behind Altruist slogans, they righteously demand to be supported by the self-sufficient, by the haves. The victims are rendered defenseless when the statist power-seekers come knocking on behalf of their needy constituents. They may feebly protest the degree of wealth they are asked to give up but they don’t question the principle, as they as well are infected by Altruism, believing that morally need comes before greed.

Let’s cure the patient with a large dose of rational self-interest (also sold as rational selfishness and rational Egoism), which prescribes that each man’s primary moral obligation is to achieve his own welfare, while respecting the same moral obligation in his fellow men. Absent Altruism, the few who are truly needy, in Detroit and across America, will find an abundance of voluntary support from benevolent individuals with resources to spare.

Finally, we diagnose a third disease, Pragmatism, a cancer with Progressive metastases. It dooms us to try to solve problems with concrete bound solutions disconnected from fundamental principles. It disables our ability to connect the dots and leads us to repeat the same mistakes over and over again like imbeciles: “It didn’t work yesterday, but let’s try again because it may magically work tomorrow!” Paraphrasing Ayn Rand “Pragmatism blinds us to the process of destruction that’s been going on in Detroit and in America for half a century and more, and even to the fact that a process is going on.”

“Chemo” consists of learning to think in principles, to beware of the Progressive in you. As the cancer goes in remission, we learn to establish a vision that guides our every action, preventing us from repeating the same mistakes in absurdum.

Imagine the elected officials of Detroit when first facing a budget deficit saying “This doesn’t work. Let’s embark on a principled path based on a vision of respecting the individual rights of all citizens. Let’s reject the altruistic demands of our statist pressure groups.” Call me a dreamer, but I think the city would have remained the envy of the world until this day.

Three diseases that will require long treatment. No doubt a daunting task. If you don’t know where to start, I suggest promoting SEPARATE! as a first step. It won’t save Detroit, but it prescribes the medicine that will cure the country.

3 thoughts on “Statism, Altruism, and Pragmatism – The Diseases That Killed Detroit

  1. Michael Rivers says:

    Having lived in Detroit from 1994 to 1995, I could see first-hand the crumbling façade and rotting foundation. It was sad and fascinating at the same time–death from self-inflicted wounds.


  2. Mike says:

    When I heard of the bankruptcy, I knew it had to involve too much government and too many entitlements. Thanks for laying this out clearly. Sadly, the same folks who created this mess are still in power and still voting. I doubt Detroit will learn anything from the bankruptcy.


  3. Anya Rand says:

    It is the philosophy of altruism, so-loved by Humanists, that the worst of Christianity is used to justify the worst depredations of the State. And – because the representatives of ‘Humanity’ command a moral high ground in the popular imagination – the steps necessary to clear out malinvestment and destructive entitlement seem practically impossible. The USA is producing ghost-towns and ghettos enough to rival any ‘third world’ country.


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