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Democratic Socialists squared off against Objectivists last night at the Kennedy School of Government in a spirited debate over the moral merits of socialism and capitalism.
But the discussion before a crowd of more than 400 at an Institute of Politics Forum quickly turned into a debate over the legitimacy of the Objectivist conception of selfishness as an ideal guide for human behavior.
"Your own life is your highest value [under Objectivism]--the value that sets the standard for morality," said Harry Binswanger, editor of The Ayn Rand Lexicon. "Man is not his brother's keeper. We reject the idea that someone else's need gives him the claim to your money, service or life."
Objectivists, who follow the radical libertarian doctrines of the late author Ayn Rand, maintain that capitalism is the sole moral system and that selfishness is necessary for rational decision-making and self-preservation. The Democratic Socialists, however, criticize Ayn Rand-style capitalism as the reduction of all human relationships to the realm of financial transactions.
"It's an economic view of morality," said Jim Chapin, former national director of the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee. "If someone is drowning, you can charge them as much as you want to throw them a rope."
The existence of homelessness, said Chapin, reflects the failure of capitalism to address America's social and economic problems.
But Binswanger said societies should focus their energy on "those people who can and do achieve," though he favors institutionalization of the homeless in certain cases.
"We oppose going out to die for someone because he is homeless and a bum," said Binswanger. "We pity them...we do not worship them."
Also on the panel, moderated by Thomson Professor of Government Harvey C. Mansfield '53, were John Ridpath, a professor of economics and intellectual history at York University and Jack Clark, executive board member of the local chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America.
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