“The Monument Builders”

Though they are decades old, the writings of Ayn Rand are still the one indispensable source for understanding today’s news.

I have been re-reading The Virtue of Selfishness, a collection of essays (most of them by Ayn Rand), originally published in The Objectivist Newsletter in the early 1960s, on ethics. This passage is from “The Monument Builders,” originally published in December, 1962, when John Kennedy was President.

The seekers of unearned material benefits are merely financial parasites, moochers, looters or criminals, who are too limited in number and in mind to be a threat to civilization, until and unless they are released and legalized by the seekers of unearned greatness.

Unearned greatness is so unreal, so neurotic a concept that the wretch who seeks it cannot identify it even to himself: to identify it, is to make it impossible. He needs the irrational, undefinable slogans of altruism and collectivism to give a semiplausible form to his nameless urge and anchor it to reality—to support his own self-deception more than to deceive his victims. “The public,” “the public interest,” “service to the public” are the means, the tools, the swinging pendulums of the power-luster’s self-hypnosis.

Since there is no such entity as “the public,” since the public is merely a number of individuals, any claimed or implied conflict of “the public interest” with private interests means that the interests of some men are to be sacrificed to the interests and wishes of others. Since the concept is so conveniently undefinable, its use rests only on any given gang’s ability to proclaim that “The public, c’est moi”—and to maintain the claim at the point of a gun.

No such claim has ever been or can ever be maintained without the help of a gun—that is, without physical force. But, on the other hand, without that claim, gunmen would remain where they belong: in the underworld, and would not rise to the councils of state to rule the destinies of nations.

There are two ways of claiming that “The public, c’est moi”: one is practiced by the crude material parasite who clamors for government handouts in the name of a “public” need and pockets what he has not earned; the other is practiced by his leader, the spiritual parasite, who derives his illusion of “greatness”—like a fence receiving stolen goods—from the power to dispose of that which he has not earned and from the mystic view of himself as the embodied voice of “the public.” [pp. 88-89.]

Ayn Rand, ([1962] 1964), “The Monument Builders”, The Objectivist Newsletter 1(12): 53, 55. Reprinted in The Virtue of Selfishness. New York: Signet, 86–91.

3 Responses to ““The Monument Builders””


  1. Lesile Kaminoff

    I had just looked this up yesterday in the Lexicon, under “Public Interest,” the. Nice to know we’re thinking along the same lines.

    I’ve been fielding a lot of questions lately from people who seem to think that licensing is in “the public interest.” I guess I’m not part of the public.

  2. Sandra

    Usually, Ayn Rand’s work is used to justify throwing poor people under the proverbial bus as the poor are often perceived by the wealthy as lazy, criminal, unmotivated slobs. Today, it’s being used to sway public opinion towards the dismantling of nearly all government functions in the “interests” of restoring the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness which are guaranteed by our founding documents.

    Somewhere in the middle is sanity – there should be standards for those who seek to doctor, to farm, to provide therapy, etc. but it should be a full conversation between those who are experienced in such things and those who seek to regulate them as to what those standards should be and who should set and enforce them. Anyone who’s ever come to harm from a (licensed) doctor who then set up practice in another state because s/he lost their license due to malpractice would probably insist on full accountability and open knowledge about the one in charge of their health.

    And how is it not in our collective best interests to ensure that all children receive a solid education so they can become productive adults (and not parasites), or that they receive more than adequate nutrition (so they can actually learn in school), or preventive health (not sick!) care so they don’t lose time in school?

    We may fancy ourselves rugged individualists but we still are all linked in some fashion and must lose our egos a bit so we can work for the welfare of others, not just ourselves. We don’t need government regulation for this, just a collective backbone and a willingness to point out when something seems amiss…. (thank you Leslie!)

  3. Ron Pisaturo

    Not all poor people are lazy, unmotivated slobs. Just the ones who live off of the welfare state are those things and worse. And even if they were not those things, the government’s forcing me to support the poor is worse than criminal, because it makes robbery legal.

    If we abolished the welfare state, there would be no chance for any adult–educated or not–to be a parasite.

    Under capitalism, even the most poor and those so uneducated that they don’t even speak English, let alone read and write it, would be free to earn a living, as immigrants do today when they wash cars or dishes or do many other things that the welfare-state parasites have been too lazy to do throughout their whole lives.

    Are we all “linked”? In a free society, individuals choose their ‘links’ by mutual consent. See my posts, The Fraud of “Interdependence” and Obama-Care: A Tyrant’s Notion of ‘Choice’.

    In an important respect, “somewhere in the middle” on the issue of individualism vs. collectivism is the worst position of all, because it entails a denial of principles and a willingness to be inconsistent.

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