Dominion and Postmillennialism
Part 2

Dominion and Government

Part 1 is here.

We have seen that in man both the need and the desire for additional wealth are limitless for all practical purposes. This does not mean, however, that people automatically act to satisfy that need and desire. It is certainly possible for the need and desire for additional wealth to fail to result in the production of additional wealth, let alone in continuous economic progress. Indeed, history and most of the world around us are characterized by stagnation and poverty. The mere possession of a need or desire is never sufficient to ensure that the need or desire will be satisfied. In the absence of the influence of a Christian philosophy of dominion, man is not able to devote himself sufficiently to the production of wealth.

Here are some of the features of Christian dominion:

In conditions where Christian dominion does not exist, man desires more wealth than he possesses, but his desire is not strong enough or Godly enough to enable him actually to go and produce additional wealth. And if it is strong enough to induce him to increase his production, he is again and again stopped from doing so because of envy or the initiation of physical force by others. Even when the barrier of physical force temporarily relaxes and some individuals are able to make some improvements, the absence of a Christian philosophy precludes the development of science. It also precludes the establishment of sufficient freedom to make possible the development of the division of labor and the other capitalistic institutions necessary to the continuous increase in wealth.

As a result, despite the existence of both a need and a desire for additional wealth on the part of those affected, we witness such phenomena as masses of people dying of starvation, yet unable—indeed, sometimes even unwilling to expend the effort—to produce additional food. We witness primitive people delighted with the gift of mirrors and trinkets of all kinds, not to mention transistor radios and bicycles, yet continuing to live under essentially the same conditions as their remotest ancestors.

Progress and Happiness

The fact that the need and desire for wealth are limitless does not mean that when people devote themselves to satisfying that need and desire, as in the nations of modern capitalism, they go through life with a sense of endless frustration, seeking more than they can ever hope to obtain. The normal man, if he lacks an automobile, does not actively desire a yacht. He actively desires merely an automobile. His desire for a yacht lies dormant until such time as he already has acquired one or more high-quality automobiles. The limitless desire for wealth, in other words, becomes active only step by step. It manifests itself in an active desire for things that are merely one or two steps beyond our reach at the moment. It leads us to exert ourselves and extend our reach. And then, as we succeed, desires previously dormant become active, or totally new desires are formed, and we are led to exert ourselves and extend our reach still further. Thus, the limitless desire for wealth impels us steadily to advance.

Oriental philosophy and some schools of thought in the contemporary Western world claim that the fact that our desires will always be a step ahead of our possessions shows the futility of our efforts—that, instead, we should seek to rid ourselves of our desires and be content forever with some minimum of wealth. Such teachings are utterly mistaken, and their influence helps to account for the stagnation and poverty that exist in the world. They view the excess of our desires over our possessions as a source of discontent and unhappiness. Actually, this excess is the root of our ambitiousness and our rising to meet challenges. It is what impels us to progress, and, as such, is an essential element of our happiness.

It should be realized that as dominion beings we are also progressive beings. Progress is the corollary of the continuous application of dominion. Any individual who continues to act as the steward of God—who continues to think—necessarily comes to know more and more, and thus to be capable of accomplishing more and more. If a society is characterized by continuous thinking from generation to generation, and if its educational system works—that is, if it succeeds in transmitting to the rising generation the essentials of the knowledge discovered by all the preceding generations—then the general body of knowledge in the society is progressive, and thus the society as a whole is capable of accomplishing more and more. Progress is the natural result of the use of reason as a constant.

If our happiness depends on living in accordance with our nature as rational beings, then our happiness and progress are inseparably connected. The fact that our desires will always be ahead of our ability to satisfy them is not a cause of unhappiness. It is the inducement to the steady exercise of dominion, to our living in accordance with our nature, which is indispensable to our happiness. Our happiness does not come from the existence of desires satisfied, but from the steady upward climb itself— from the process of continuing to think and solve problems and to become capable of accomplishing more and more. In other words, progress is a source of happiness. In the lives of scientists, inventors, businessmen, engineers, and managers, progress is the obvious focal point of thinking, planning, and problem solving. It is also what necessitates that the average worker make himself capable of continuing to think and learn throughout his life, so that he can acquire the new skills necessary to adapt to the changing requirements of production. Thus, progress is what helps to elevate even the average man of modern Western civilization into a thinking, literate being possessing an intellectual life incomparably superior to that of previous eras. If happiness depends on the possession of a sound, active mind, progress fosters happiness.

A further aspect of the connection between progress, reason, and happiness must be mentioned. As rational beings, we are able to be aware of the future: the future has reality for us in the present. To be able to look forward to a better future enables us to bear considerable hardship in the present without complaint, even cheerfully. But to look to a future of unrelieved hardship, or, worse, a future that holds out the prospect of even greater hardship, makes hardship in the present more difficult, if not impossible, to bear. Indeed, the prospect of impoverishment in the future deprives one of the ability to derive pleasure even from the possession of substantial wealth in the present, for the shadow of such a future must hang over whatever enjoyment one might have in the present. Thus, the prospect of progress, as well as the process of achieving it, contributes to our happiness.

The Objectivity of Economic Progress: A Critique of the Doctrines of Cultural Relativism and Conspicuous Consumption

According to the widely held doctrines of cultural relativism and conspicuous consumption, the concept of economic progress can have no objective meaning.[1] These doctrines hold, for example, that our preference for automobiles over horses, or for radios and television sets over jungle tom-toms, is a matter of social and cultural conditioning. It is allegedly the result only of the fact that in this particular culture it happens to have been instilled in people—for no really good reason—that it is desirable to own such goods as automobiles and television sets. Accordingly, people supposedly want to own such goods not because it really is desirable to own them in any objective sense, but merely that they may conform to what is expected of them in this culture. They allegedly want to own them as a source of prestige in the eyes of others.

The essential meaning of these doctrines can be grasped by realizing that what they imply is that people want to own television sets not because they want to watch the television sets, but because they want to be seen watching them—or because they were told to do so by the advertisers. Not the actual consumption of goods is important, we are told, but the "conspicuousness" of their consumption. Thus, the only real significance of television sets or any of the other "gadgets" of capitalist society is supposed to be their significance in the eyes of others. In a different culture people allegedly derive equal satisfaction from appearing before others with a ring through their nose, and in the society of the future (or at least as many people conceived the future until very recently) they will allegedly do so by wearing a chest full of medals proclaiming them as heroes of socialist labor.

Thus, according to these doctrines, there is no reason to believe that people’s preferences in a modern, capitalist society are any better grounded than those of people in any other type of society, or that a modern, capitalist society is in any objective sense superior to any other society. There is thus allegedly no basis for believing that what has been accomplished in a modern, capitalist society is in any objective sense progress.

Now what is wrong with these doctrines is that they omit any consideration of man in relation to the physical world. For them, the most important thing in human life is the mere approval or disapproval of other people, which is thought to constitute an ultimate standard, incapable of being subjected to further evaluation. But the truth is, of course, that the primary issue in human life is man’s relation to the physical world. It is there and there alone that man must live or die, irrespective of the culture in which he lives. And how man succeeds in relation to the physical world provides an objective standard by which to judge the value of cultures. The examples of automobiles and television sets can serve to illustrate this point.

It is not true that our preference for the automobile over the horse is arbitrary, based on nothing more than social and cultural conditioning. It is based on our nature both as animate beings possessing the capacity of locomotion, and as rational beings capable of enlarging all of our physical capacities. We call the automobile an advance over the horse by the same standard by which we call the domestication of the horse an advance over possessing merely our unaided legs, and by the same standard by which we value the possession of our legs themselves. Namely, it extends our range and power of locomotion. If the automobile were not an advance over the horse, then the horse would not be an advance over our unaided legs. And, on the basis of such reasoning, the very possession of legs themselves could not be considered better than not possessing them. The automobile is an advance over the horse, therefore, for the same reason that it is better to have legs than not to have them.

Similarly, we call the telegraph an advance over the tom-tom, and radio an advance over the telegraph, because they increase the efficacy of our sense of hearing. The one enables us to hear sounds coming from a greater distance; the other, sounds from a greater distance as well as a greater range of sound. Thus, we value the radio over the telegraph, and the telegraph over the tom-tom, by the same standard as we value our sense of hearing itself. We call television an advance over radio for the same reason that we value the possession of eyes and ears together over the possession of ears alone. We call color television an advance over black and white, for the same reason that we value normal vision over being colorblind. The advances in our goods represent extensions of our power to use our limbs, senses, and minds to accomplish results. In effect, they magnify the power of these vital attributes of our persons. They are advances by the standard of the value of these attributes, and thus by the standard of the value of our persons.[2]

It may be that there are cultures in which people regularly grow up incapable of appreciating the value of economic advances. It may be that in this culture there are some people who really do not understand what our advances are all about and who see no better reason for valuing them than that of conforming to the expectations of others. The existence of such people and of such cultures proves not that our advances are not advances, but only that there are people with a gross deficiency of understanding, and cultures that are highly destructive of the capacity for understanding.

This discussion has major bearing on the fact that in American society, the earning of wealth has traditionally been the leading source of prestige. The objective fact underlying such prestige is that the earning of wealth benefits one’s life by enabling one to do more. Thus, it deserves to bring prestige, by the standard of human life as a value. It is a great tribute to the culture of the United States that it is to such activity that it has accorded prestige.

It must also be pointed out that the attempt to reverse cause and effect, and to take prestige as the starting point, must backfire. For example, the attempt of a socialist society to induce work by the offer of prestige, rather than material incentives, not only cannot succeed, but must bring the opposite of prestige to those who would be willing to work for it. To mine coal, drive a truck, harvest a field, work in a factory—to do virtually any of the run-of-the-mill jobs that occupy the bulk of the labor force—for the sake of prestige, would be to mark a person as nothing but a fool. He would have to be a fool to drive himself day in and day out, sweating and straining, all for the sake of nothing more than, in effect, being called a good boy.

The objective superiority of the goods of modern capitalism is not called into question by the fact that in our culture many people want to own such goods as horses, canoes, bows and arrows, and so on, and in some cases prefer units of these goods to units of more advanced goods serving the same needs. Such choices do not by any means necessarily mark these people as primitivists. There are conditions in which the horse is superior to the automobile—for example, where there are no roads. Similarly, canoes can navigate shallow waters that a motorized craft cannot. Also, the physical experience that a horse or canoe affords is different from that provided by an automobile or motorboat: they enable one to observe things more closely and more leisurely, for example.

The desire to own such goods, even though one lives in the conditions of modern civilization, is actually nothing more than a manifestation of our limitless need for wealth: a person wants one or more automobiles as his normal means of transportation, and a horse as a further refinement, as it were, of his ability to locomote. Thus, he loads his horse into a horse trailer, hitches it to his car, or, better, motor home, and drives to the edge of terrain where only horses can go. Or he simply goes for a ride on a nearby trail to experience the motion of a gallop and the wind on his face. To be able to enjoy the widest possible range of pleasurable and beneficial experiences is precisely why an individual desires to obtain the greatest possible amount of wealth. But to obtain it, and have the time to enjoy it, he must be able to accomplish everything that is not itself pleasure, or otherwise valued for its own sake, in the shortest possible time. If, for example, what a person wants is the experience of leisurely riding along a beautiful mountain stream, then he doesn’t want to waste that time using a horse to cross the country to get to the mountains. For that, he wants a motor vehicle. It (together with roads) is objectively superior to the horse as a normal means of transportation. As a direct source of enjoyment, however, there is still a need for horses, even in the conditions of a modern economy. In effect, the limitless need for wealth embraces a kind of recapitulation of the goods that were prominent in less advanced conditions.

The Objective Value of a Division-of-Labor, Capitalist Society

I have shown that economic progress is not a matter of arbitrary preference, but is objectively desirable—desirable on the basis of our nature as rational beings. The goods that result are objectively improvements, and the process of acquiring them—the continuous thinking that must be done—is called for by our nature as rational beings.

The objective value of economic progress implies that the cultural values that make economic progress possible are likewise objectively better than those that stand in its way. These values, of course, are the values that underlie the division of labor and capitalism—above all, reason, science, technology, individual rights, limited government and economic freedom, and private ownership of the means of production. In the name of being able to see, hear, move, or do anything that our senses, limbs, and minds enable us to do—in short, in the name of being able to live as human beings—these values deserve to be upheld.

Indeed, the same principle that establishes the objectivity of the economic advances of modern capitalism directly establishes the objectivity of the superiority of modern capitalist civilization as such, in comparison to any other form of civilization. Here the attribute that serves as the standard is the ability to acquire and apply knowledge. Modern capitalist civilization—modern "Western" civilization—possesses this ability in greater measure than any previous civilization. In addition to knowledge of the laws of logic and the principle of causality, which were known to the Greeks and Romans and which enabled them to surpass all previous civilizations in the ability to acquire knowledge, modern Western civilization possesses not only a much more highly developed knowledge of the laws of mathematics and science but also a division-of-labor economy and, above all in its Anglo-Saxon variant, the freedoms of speech and press. As I will show in Chapter 4, a division-of-labor economy makes possible an enormous and progressive increase in the amount of knowledge that a society possesses and in the application of knowledge to production. The freedoms of speech and press also play an essential role in the increase in knowledge by guaranteeing the individual’s right to disseminate knowledge without being stopped by the coercive power of the state operating in support of the ignorance, fears, or superstitions of any individual or group. Thus, capitalist civilization deserves to be upheld in the name of the value of knowledge.

It should go without saying that capitalist civilization is open to men of all races, as the brilliant success of Japan and several other Oriental nations dramatically illustrates. It is not the civilization of the white man, but of all men who wish to prosper and are prepared to adopt reason as their fundamental means of doing so. Those who view it, whether with pride or with hatred, as the civilization of the white man only, are implicitly racists, in that they view civilization and culture as being racially determined. The fact is, of course, that civilization and culture, above all, modern capitalist civilization, is a body of knowledge and values that is accessible to all of mankind.[3]

* * * While extolling the values of capitalism, it must be stressed that nothing that has been said or that will be said in this book should be taken to imply a belief on my part that contemporary Western or American culture is perfect. Far from it. Obviously some very serious flaws mar our culture. And they have been growing.

Our culture’s basic flaw is its philosophic contradictions.[4] These contradictions, in the form of irrationalist doctrines, such as that of cultural relativism, lead it to attack its virtues. Thus, we witness the spectacle of our culture flagellating itself for its successes in science, technology, and the creation of wealth. We see the spectacle of its intellectuals holding the most primitive and barbaric cultures as superior to their own, as they declare that all cultures are of equal value except their own, which is to be despised.

The spectacle is particularly gross in regard to the culture of the United States, which is the foremost capitalist country. The United States is denounced by its enemies as the leader of the evil, reactionary forces—the champion of monopoly capital and imperialism. Many of its own intellectuals join the denunciations and find nothing but evil in the history of their country and in its current policies. Yet all the flaws of the United States were flaws of being inconsistent with its own magnificent principles. Its flaw today, which is potentially deadly, is that many of its intellectual leaders have been corrupted to the point of despising those principles, above all, the principles of limited government and economic freedom, and, more recently, the values of science and technology, as well.


[1] For a presentation of the doctrine of cultural relativism by one of its leading advocates, see Melville J. Herskovits, Cultural Relativism Perspectives in Cultural Pluralism (New York: Random House, 1972). For a presentation of the doctrine of conspicuous consumption by one of its leading advocates, see Thorstein Veblen, The Theory of the Leisure Class (New York: Modern Library, 1934), chap. 4.

[2] I am indebted to Ayn Rand both for the general concept of an objective code of values based on man’s life as the standard and for the special application of that concept in the form of some goods being classified as being of greater "philosophically objective value" than others. See Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged (New York: Random House, 1957), pp. 1012–23; Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal (New York: New American Library, 1966), pp. 16–17.

[3] See my pamphlet Education and the Racist Road to Barbarism , 3d and subsequent printings (Laguna Hills, California: The Jefferson School of Philosophy, Economics, and Psychology, 1992), pp. 4–5. As I wrote in that pamphlet, "Reference to an objective superiority of one civilization or culture over another, encounters the opposition of a profound, self-righteous hatred of the very idea. Thus, cultures may practice ritual sacrifice, cannibalism, mass expropriation, slavery, torture, and wholesale slaughter—all of this is accepted as somehow legitimate within the context of the culture concerned. The only alleged sin, the only alleged act of immorality in the world is to display contempt for such cultures, and to uphold as superior the values of Western culture. Then one is denounced as an imperialist, racist, and virtual Nazi. It should be realized that those who take this view do not regard as the essential evil of Nazism its avowed irrationalism, its love of force and violence, and its acts of destruction and slaughter. All this they could accept, and do accept in the case of other cultures, such as that of primitive tribes, ancient Egypt, the civilization of the Aztecs and Incas, the Middle Ages, and Soviet Russia. What they hold to be the evil of Nazism was its assertion that Nazi culture was superior to other cultures. Needless to say, of course, it is only on the basis of the recognition of objective values that one can seriously condemn Nazism—not for its absurd claims of superiority, but as a primitive, barbaric culture of the type one would expect to find among savages." (Ibid., pp. 7–8.)

[4] The flagrant contradiction of upholding individual rights in the midst of Negro slavery has already been noted in chap. 1, pt. B, sec. 4.48-106