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.