Is selfishness a virtue? Ayn Rand, influential among many self-described libertarians, certainly thought so. Her novel's characters are famous for declaring that things such as: "I swear by my life and my love of it that I will never live for the sake of another man." In the introduction to The Virtue of Selfishness (1964), she declared:
"The title of this book may evoke the kind of question that I hear once in a while: 'Why do you use the world "selfishness" to denote virtuous qualities of character, when that word antagonizes so many people to whom it does not mean the things you mean?'
"To those who ask it, my answer is: 'For the reason that makes you afraid of it.'"
Yet many libertarians say that not only are Rand and her Objectivist followers wrong to valorize selfishness, they make it hard for libertarianism to appeal to a wider range of people.
This divide will be debated at the next Reason-sponsored Soho Forum Debate at New York's Subculture Theater on January 16. Defending the proposition will by Yaron Brook, the executive director of the Ayn Rand Institute. Gene Epstein, the co-founder and moderator of the Soho Forum, will step into the ring himself to oppose the notion that selfishness is a virtue, or even inherently libertarian. Given the heat thrown off by the subject, we knew we needed a moderator with the wisdom of Solomon to preside. So we've got Judge Andrew Napolitano, Fox News' senior judicial analyst and the author of a string of incredible books, to run the debate.
Because it's an Oxford-style debate, audience members vote before and after the debate and get to ask questions. The winner is the debater who moved the larger percentage of people to his side. Tickets cost $18 and $10 for students and must be purchased in advance. Admission includes free food and there is a cash bar selling beer, wine, and soft drinks.
The event will also be livestreamed at Reason's Facebook page and at Reason.com; online viewers will also be able to vote and submit questions. Event details:
Is Selfishness a Virtue?
Yaron Brook of the Ayn Rand Institute vs. Gene Epstein of the Soho Forum
Moderated by Judge Andrew Napolitano of Fox News
January 16, 2018
Cash bar opens at 5:45pm
Event starts at 6:30pm
Subculture Theater, 45 Bleecker St, NY, 10012
Tickets must be purchased in advance.
For past Reason/Soho Forum debates, go here for an archive.
The debates also appear as part the Reason Podcast, a thrice-weekly podcast featuring Katherine Mangu-Ward, Matt Welch, Peter Suderman, and me arguing about the news of the week; in-depth interviews with newsmakers, authors, innovators, and politicians; and recordings of Reason events. Go here to subscribe at iTunes.
And subscribe to Reason's YouTube channel, which recently passed 100 million views, and carries video of past Soho Forum debates. Here's December 11's debate with the Center for American Progress's Neera Tanden debating Foundation for Government Accountability's Tarren Bragdon over the proposition "Resolved: 15 Million Americans Would Be Better Off Without Welfare."