Altruism by Decree

“Man’s sphere of free choice and privacy has shrunk in recent decades, partly because of the transfer of experimental findings from the level of animals to that of human beings. Social reformers, while professing concern for the unique dignity of man when asking for individualistic legislation, often show a remarkably cynical and brutal concept of man when they use facts of experimental conditioning of rodents to dispel the warnings of those who think that Sumner’s mores will outlast many generations of reformers to come.

Several observers noted the perfectionism of the reformer as a cause of the shrinkage of personal freedom in our time. In a particular yet important case, this perfectionism resembles the quest of natural scientists for pure systems, compounds, elements, and the like. It expresses a wish to see the absolute maximum of a given process. Physicists try hard to produce the lowest temperature theoretically possible. Similarly, reformers insist on a saturation point of contact between disparate groups. They detest any sign of what might be called rough spots between members of the human race. They promise a future without tensions – a term characteristically adopted from mechanics. This desire results in an anomaly – altruism by decree. The administration of this Utopia proceeds by means of informal social controls, of “group dynamics,” and of legislated or discretionary governmental power.”

Helmut Schoeck, from the essay “Knowledge: Unused and Misused”, in the collection “Scientism and Values“, which also includes the excellent Rothbard essay “The Mantle of Science“.

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