Interview with Nicholas Provenzo of The Center for the Moral Defense of Capitalism

by | May 28, 2000

Many people understand that capitalism is a practical means of creating wealth, but few would argue that capitalism is moral.

CAPITALISM MAGAZINE: So Nick, you work for the Center for the Moral Defense of Capitalism, can you tell me what the organization is about?

NICK PROVENZO: You bet. Our focus is right in the name of our group — we provide a moral defense of capitalism. Many people understand that capitalism is a practical means of creating wealth, but few would argue that capitalism is moral.

CM: How so?

NP: The selfish capitalists, the people who discover, create and sell for profit are seen by many as a “necessary evil,” to be barely tolerated and allowed to function only within certain limits. But the real moral ideal is seen as the selfless individual who lives for others, or as environmentalism grows, for other species.

CM: Could you provide an example of a selfless individual?

NP: Mother Teresa of Calcutta would be the perfect modern embodiment of this phenomenon.

CM: The ‘Saint of the Gutters’?

NP: Yes. Many today see Mother Teresa as the high watermark of morality through her selfless dedication to the slums of India. I think that is telling that the Catholic Church wants to speed up her canonization; sainthood is the church’s means of showing perfection on earth.

But when you look at Mother Teresa, what do you actually see? Do you see a creator or producer, creating values and trading them with others for mutual benefit?

CM: No.

NP: Right, what you see is the patron saint of altruism. While leading a prayer meeting during one of her visits to the US, Mother Teresa was quite succinct about her position. “Are we willing to give until it hurts…or do we put our own interests first?” This statement was classic Mother Teresa and a perfect encapsulation of her philosophy. But what does it mean, “to give until it hurts”. It doesn’t mean you live your life for your own sake, rightfully pursuing your own happiness. Nor does it mean that when you come across someone suffering, you provide them with help (or choose not to) according to your own personal standards and values. In that case, you can hardly be described as ‘hurting yourself–your relationship to others is defined by your own standards and values. What “to give until it hurts” really means is the sacrifice of something you love and value–something that is central to your life–if not your very life itself–for the benefit and sake of others.

CM: Can you give a concrete ill example?

NP: Sure. Let’s say there is a man who has a lot of money, loves his job–he really enjoys the ‘doing’ of his profession, but is less concerned about the wealth he earns. He would hardly be “giving until it hurts” if he wrote a big check to Mother Teresa. He would be merely parting with something that’s not his greatest value. If our friend were to consistently follow Mother Teresa’s code, he would have to give up what he really values, which in this case is his job. Now that might begin to cause our friend some discomfort. Now let’s say that our friend gives up the job he loves to work in one of Mother Teresa’s shelters, but upon arriving, he finds he despises his new job and the people he is sacrificing for. All the better, according to Mother Teresa. Anything that he could do for others that would cause him pain, any act of self-negation that makes his life miserable is an act of virtue according to her moral code. The sacrifice of ones values to others, the act of putting others literally before one’s self is the real meaning of altruism.

CM: Does a Mother Teresa have any redeeming values?

NP: No. Mother Teresa was a distributor of the wealth of others–she didn’t create anything and she damned the very people who’s wealth she distributed. Most of the support for her mission came from well-heeled donors in America, a country she condemned as being ‘morally *impoverished’* because of its great wealth. Now realize, Mother Teresa was condemning the very source of the wealth she relied upon to fund her mission. Why? Because Mother Teresa had no respect for people who are mere producers and even less for those who made their own lives their standard of value. According to her, these individualists are the very people who are the ‘most poor’ and the ones most in need of abandoning whatever selfish activity they are engaged in so they can “give until it hurts”.

According to Mother Teresa’s moral code, the best and the brightest–the very human dynamos that make life and happiness possible–are the earth’s most wretched. Why? Because most of them are unwilling to renounce their lives and serve the slums as she did. Her standard wasn’t individualism but egalitarianism, and I think she and people like her have had a profound effect on our culture. I’d say most Americans feel the conflict between the way they choose to live their lives here and the morality Mother Teresa represents.

CM: You mean between their selfish interests and the morality of altruism that condemns them to sacrifice their values?

NP: Absolutely. Americans seem to want their freedom to live for themselves. At the same time they lean toward a system that demands they sacrifice for others, or more often that others sacrifice for them through higher taxes more redistribution of wealth, spending more money to educate other people’s children, et cetera, et cetera. Rather then consonantly defend their lives and individualism, too many Americans simply concede the altruistic view of man idealized by the Mother Teresa’s of the world.

CM: Now you had mentioned egalitarianism? What is that?

NP: Quite simply, egalitarianism is moral system where everyone’s lives are made equal–equally bad. When we look at people, we realize that some people are better at some things than others–some people are smarter, some are better businessmen or more beautiful or whatever it may be. Egalitarianism says that’s wrong–and that instead we all should be made equal. Mother Teresa, for example, wants to bring people down to her gutter because to her, the gutter is the standard by which everyone should be judged.

Egalitarianism is not the same as being ‘born equal’ or ‘equal before the law’. Instead egalitarianism demands a rigid equality with the least among us, regardless of guilt or responsibility, as the barometer by which all are measured and for which all energy must be expended.

Politically, such a view of ultimately must lead to some form of statism, be it communism, socialism or some sort of “third way” or “mixed economy”.

CM: How can altruism — the theory of self-sacrifice for others as the highest moral principle — lead to statism?

NP: If producers don’t have a moral right to what they produce, if they don’t have a right to their life and their happiness, than they are merely slaves to the needs of others. The only question left is how big of a yoke to put on them.

In Russia, the yoke was communism, in Europe, it is socialism, and in the United States, it is the welfare state. While each differ in degree, all are united in their principle that others must come before one’s self.

CM: I see. So how does CMDC come into all this?

NP: It comes in a big way. The Center’s goal is to challenge and correct these errors and provide to the public and our political leaders the proof that capitalism is indeed the only moral social system. Through Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism, the Center mounts a moral defense of individualism and economic freedom to America’s attention.

CM: You mentioned Ayn Rand’s philosophy Objectivism? Why is that so important to a defense of freedom?

NP: It’s not just important–I would say it’s critical for the simple reason that philosophy matters. Philosophy matters because it provides the answer to the most basic, fundamental, yet most important of questions: Who am I? How do I know it? What should I do? Philosophy looks at the nature of the universe, our place in it and our means of knowledge–the things that are the building blocks of morality–and gives us the principles we need to properly view our lives and guide our choices.

For example, capitalism’s base rests upon the recognition of individual rights–that people have a right to their life, liberty and property free from the claims of others. But where does the theory of individual rights come from? It comes from knowledge of our morality and our nature as human beings–our requirements for living and the means that we properly go about our lives.

The reason we argue that Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism is central to the moral defense of capitalism is because only Objectivism integrates the facets of existence, our place in it and our morality into one clear, cogent philosophy *that is true to reality*. Anyone who has read Atlas Shrugged or Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand and honestly contemplated them knows how powerful Objectivism is and how essential it is for any argument for man’s happiness. Never before in the history of civilization have all pieces been put together in an integrated whole until Ayn Rand and Objectivism.

CM: So you don’t buy into the Libertarian assertion that any old defense of liberty will do–such as altruism–even one that contradicts Objectivism?

NP: Not for one heartbeat. The “libertarians” undercut the case for capitalism by their intellectual recklessness. They are more concerned with building a coalition of whoever walks in the door– Marxists, anarchists, hippies, classical liberals, Objectivist sympathizers and tellingly, even Objectivist rejects, than in thinking through the philosophical case for capitalism and having the courage to police their own ranks against capitalism’s enemies.

By their willingness to allow even the most irrational into their ranks, as long as they make some kind of commitment to what for them is the floating abstraction of ‘liberty’, the libertarians negate whatever case they make for capitalism.

For example, Mother Teresa would have probably made a wonderful libertarian–by libertarian standards–as long as she was willing to make a vague commitment to liberty. Did Mother Teresa ever call on the government to carry out her altruism? No–politics was probably too ‘worldly’ for her. Mother Teresa demanded sacrifice from individuals instead. (It was others who have picked up on her and her intellectual forbearers ideas as a rallying cry for statism.)

So whatever Mother Teresa’s personal case against individualism, whatever sacrifices she called on people to make in the name of need, the libertarians can honestly offer no objection to her.

CM: So are all “libertarians” bad? I mean I used to call myself a “libertarian”, until I grasped that though they would parrot many things which seemed identical to the Objectivist politics — even quoting Ayn Rand’s initiation of force principle verbatim — that their intellectuals rejected *on principle* the philosophical base this principle was derived upon. Any thoughts on this?

NP: Now I think there may be some honest people out there, especially among the young, who choose to align themselves with the ” libertarians” because they are confused about the exact nature of “libertarianism”. The challenge for them is to think through what are the philosophical requirements for freedom and who can one honestly ally with to build a free republic.

CM: What are some examples of some of the projects is the Center working on?

NP: First and foremost is the Center’s case against the antitrust laws. The Center was one of the first groups to come out in defense of Microsoft when the government launched its antitrust case against the company.

We have an online petition to Congress at our website that supporters can sign to voice their disapproval of the government case and reaffirm the rights of businessmen. Through our petition, the Center is the first group in recent history to build a grassroots base demanding the repeal of antitrust. The Center’s experts have written extensive commentary on the Microsoft case and worked hard to make public knowledge the larger moral justification for the repeal of the antitrust laws.

The Center is also concerned about the gains environmentalists have made in their assault on science and progress and we are working hard on launching on a broad campaign to counter the environmentalist threat. First of these projects is a defense of genetically modified foods, dubbed ‘Frakenfoods’ by the environmentalists, as if these innovations will somehow turn and destroy us.

We also are planning an Earth Day protest at the National Mall in Washington DC. This is a perfect opportunity to expose the anti-human, anti-progress philosophy of the environmental movement, right in their home turf.

Lastly, we want to launch a campaign to abolish Social Security, the untouchable ‘third rail’ of the American welfare state. Most people today recognize that Social Security is soon to be bankrupt, but they still object to its privatization on the grounds that not everyone will make the right choices and properly prepare for their retirement. We think by properly framing the issue as a choice between government dependence and personal responsibility and a question of whether the able should be sacrificed for the incompetent, we can for the first time in many years make clear the connection between freedom and economics to a person’s standard of living.

Each of these projects serves as a call for people to reexamine their principles and reconsider the battle between statism and capitalism. The antitrust issue highlights our right to control and profit from our creations. The case against environmentalism highlights the right our property and our right to benefit from our understanding of nature. And the case against Social Security highlights our right to control our own destinies without being sacrificed to the needs of others. Each one of these battles represents a crucial step in building a free and prosperous America. I hope that in the future more people will be inspired to join our ranks and support us in our fight for capitalism.

CM: Given the excellent record of such a young organization as CMDC, I am sure they will.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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