Social Darwinist Egoism

  • Mary Midgley


Here is a less familiar name, but ideas no less influential. Ayn Rand is a contemporary American prophet of extreme egoistic individualism. In her novels the human race appears divided into three groups. The first group, containing nearly everybody, is a mass of worthless, contented sheep known as “second-handers”. They never for a moment think for themselves, and scarcely know that it would be possible to do so, but when other people do it, they respond with terrified resentment and persecute the innovators. The second group, which is tiny, contains people who do sometimes think for themselves. They are aware that the life going on around them is a senseless, unchosen existence, and they would like to introduce something better. But they cannot do this because they are not themselves original enough to provide something different. They react to this frustration either with fatalistic despair, or by perversely joining with the vulgar herd to resist and persecute the vanishingly small number of geniuses in the third group—partly from envy, partly from a sense that even this form of action is better than doing nothing. Those in the third group are terribly few, perhaps “a dozen men, down the ages”. They are the genuinely creative, original people, able not only to think but to act on their own initiative. But of course, as things are, they are doomed to attract almost universal hatred, and they do the human race a service entirely against its will.


Moral Judgement Human Race Private Morality Present Angle Contemporary American Society 
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Works quoted in this chapter

  1. Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead (Glasgow, Collins, 1972) pp.664–70Google Scholar
  2. Robert Bellah, ed., Habits of the Heart (London, Hutchinson, 1988) pp.99, 120, 121)Google Scholar
  3. Veroff, Kulka and Douvan, Mental Health in America (New York, Basic Books, 1981) pp.6–7, 101Google Scholar
  4. Bishop Butler, Preface to the Sermons (1726), section 40; (see also Sermons 11 and 12)Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Mary Midgley 1993

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mary Midgley

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