The Liberal Institute: Classical Liberalism and Objectivism
The Liberal Institute

Our Cheater's World and How to Win

Our world is now, always has been, and always will be a dishonest, underhanded, cheater's world. The massman and random chance see to that. As Rabelais observes: "Fools outnumber wisemen in any society, and the majority always gets the upper hand." And arbitrary fate forever cruelly insures that a fair amount of good people will suffer, founder and die injustly, while a fair amount of bad people will enjoy, prosper and survive injustly. For both these reasons the world is always considerably worse than it "should" be and worse than reasonable men plausibly expect it to be.

Because the path of high virtue and high reason is so difficult to travel, most people are congenitally unwilling or unable to take this road in life. Or at least to stay on it for very long.

But for those of breeding, intelligence, education, wealth, spirit, grit, or even luck, this Grand Via is well worth attempting. The rewards can be great. It is this road alone which leads to the zenith of human existence -- to life at its best, richest, sweetest, greatest and happiest. People of quality -- potential aristocrats and the elite -- certainly need to try to traverse it.

So how does one live virtuously in an unvirtuous world? How does one live rationally in a largely irrational world? How does one live well and honestly in a thoroughly low and dishonest world?

One good strategy and technique is to always try to fight one's fights from the moral high ground -- but yet never be naive, gullible, a sucker, or a fool when so doing. Always be good, but never be a martyr to "goodness" in the abstract.

This means -- as you move along, and play the game of life -- that you are allowed to "lie, cheat, and [maybe] steal" somewhat, provided you do so significantly less than your fellow man and than those you interact with. It's important here -- despite "cheating" a bit i.e. "leveling the playing field" -- to be clearly morally superior. And in life's little competitions you must focus your "immoral" activity upon those who are particularly evil, and particularly so towards you. This is called "fighting fire with fire" and yet not "descending to the level of the bad guys." Care must be taken not to let him or the world slowly-but-surely erode your spirit and idealism, and thus corrupt you.

The great danger here, obviously, is self-deception. It's important to remember your "honor" and "soul" -- and never let yourself descend into rationalization, excuse-making, and lame wan self-justification. One needn't here be eternally anxious or "vigilent" or on guard against oneself. But one must be scrupulous, systematic and meticulous. And it helps to err on the side of caution and virtue.

Make no mistake: this business of light, slight, moderate, controlled, social immorality is a dangerous game to play. But so is life. Better this retaliatory "cheating" than continually getting conned, gypped and swindled in life. Better this than becoming a bitter, cynical, pessimistic, sleezy John F. Kennedy-type pouting that "Life is unfair." A belief-system and moral code like this last leads to highly amoral and unprincipled behavior, followed by major human depravity. You can do better.

Evil forever plays a clever, sneaky, hustling, grifting game. So should Good. So must Good -- if it expects to win.

This explains the Italian Renaissance's and Nicolo Machiavelli's concept of virtue. They defined it as, basically: "manly strength, excellence, goodness and wisdom which is slightly wisened and amoral." Even more, this explains Enlightenment liberal Benjamin Franklin's "life skills." His social virtue consisted of a fair amount of general slickness, diplomatic finesse, and general maneuvering with friends and lovers. But it was all done politely, respectfully, good-naturedly, benevolently and right out in the open.

America's greatest Founding Father played the game of life well. He never cheated. But he never got cheated either.