August 28, 1966
Professor W. H. Hutt
Department of Economics
University of Virginia
Dear Professor Hutt:
Thank you for your letter of July 6 and for the copy of “South Africa’s Salvation in Classic Liberalism,” which you sent me.
I appreciate your interest and the time you have taken to discuss the issue at length. But, I regret to say, there is a fundamental, philosophical-moral difference between your views and mine.
You do not seem to be acquainted with my views. I regret that in discussing my pamphlet: “America’s Persecuted Minority: Big Business,” you chose to ignore the crucial passages on pp. 4-5 which define the difference between political power and economic power. If you disagree with me, it is this fundamental distinction that would have had to be discussed. But your letter ignores it and argues in terms of concepts which I have explicitly rejected: concepts equating private actions with governmental actions, and viewing private power as “coercive.”
There is, in fact, only one form of coercion: the initiation of the use of physical force by one man or group against others. I am opposed to the initiation of physical force in any human-social relationships, by anyone, for any purpose whatsoever. (See my articles on “Man’s Rights” and “The Nature of Government” in my book, The Virtue of Selfishness.)
I do not agree with such notions as “contrived scarcity,” or “private collusion,” or the equation of private agreements with governmental force, or the alleged “rights” of consumers, or the idea that “consumers alone express ultimate economic ends, producers supplying the means,” or the idea that “each person should be guaranteed freedom to play off one source of supply against another and one source of demand against another.”
All such issues rest on one’s views of individual rights and of the
nature of government. These, in turn, rest on one’s view of ethics—and that is where any discussion of such issues has to begin. I do not believe that you are aware of the fact that I am profoundly and totally opposed to the ethics of altruism.
I am enclosing my pamphlet, “What Is Capitalism?” (a small excerpt from which was published in Barron’s). This may give you a fuller indication of my views on the subject. I call your particular attention to the passages dealing with what I call “the tribal premise.”
You are mistaken when you state that “the chaos of interpretations” has caused me “to misunderstand the purpose of laws to prevent the restraint of competition.” My opposition to the antitrust laws is based on the text of the Sherman Act, which I have read.
No, the “Austrian approach” has not “helped to mold” my philosophy. It is one of the many approaches to capitalism which I oppose, though I do agree with many of its purely economic ideas.
No, I do not agree with the dictum of Wicksteed, which you quote. That dictum is diametrically opposed to my views on the nature of men’s interests, human relationships, and economics. (See my article on “The ‘Conflicts’ of Men’s Interests” in The Virtue of Selfishness.)
Yes, I do charge that “capitalism has never had any proper philosophical defenders,” and I do not mean “the field of practical politics.” I mean the field of philosophy, particularly of ethics and epistemology. I mean that capitalism is incompatible with altruism and epistemological irrationalism. (See the title essay of my book, For the New Intellectual.) I was, therefore, shocked to see that you list Hume and Kant among the philosophical ancestors of capitalism. Capitalism cannot exist, nor survive, on a foundation of irrationality—and the two arch-destroyers of reason in modern history are Hume and Kant.
I must mention also, for the record, that I am not connected in any way with Rampart College, and that I do not agree with that College’s program, attitude or viewpoint. Perhaps some individual persons there may agree with me on some issues, but if, as you write, they were quoting me in arguments with you, I want it to be clearly understood that they were not speaking for me and were not representatives of my philosophy.
If my viewpoint does interest you, I would be pleased to send you a copy of my forthcoming book, Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, which is to be published in November and which will give you a fuller understanding of my views. Please let me know whether you would care to read it.
Professor Hutt responded: “However much I disagree with you on the matters I have raised, I have read a good deal of your writings with profit and enthusiasm.”