Capitalism vs Socialism: The 1984 Leonard Peikoff Debate

Today, we take a look at a multi-part public debate that took place in Canada in 1984 between Objectivists (Leonard Peikoff and John Ridpath) representing the capitalist view and “Democratic” Socialists (Gerald Caplan and Jill Vickers) representing the socialist view.

I’ve selected here only the three main segments from Peikoff — opening, response and closing arguments, which offer together what might be the best public, philosophical defense of capitalism ever given.

I don’t say this lightly.

Peikoff is an intellectual giant. In roughly 25 minutes he unapologetically outlines in entirety the philosophical case for a laissez-faire capitalist society and swats away the socialist arguments with an ease indicative of a man who (to paraphrase Philosophy: Who Needs It?) has achieved the fullest understanding of his beliefs, the fullest confidence in his knowledge and his ability to express them, and the fullest certainty of the moral rightness of both.

And if you want to know why free market capitalism today is being assaulted on all fronts, it’s because its supposed advocates cannot and will not claim that same understanding, confidence, and moral authority.

Libertarians who criticize him because of a certain interview with Bill O’Reily (which will warrant another post) that he participated in would do well to watch this debate and reevaluate their position on a man who deserves nothing but to be held in the highest regard as a defender of freedom and a champion for human life. 

He’s a man who can be a education to us all — so watch the debate if you want…

  • A wildly entertaining intellectual beatdown against two people who can only be described as sophists and who increasingly resort to emotional pleas and ad hominens (they refer to him as Play-Cough and Pie-Cough) when they realize they’re opponents have done their homework.
  • To see an example of how one can properly explain and defend the moral case for capitalism.
  • To learn more about morality, human nature and intellectual history. (Yes, there was once a time when men like Peikoff existed and were taken seriously, and it can happen again)

Opening Statements:


“What creates all human values is thought. That’s point one: morality means thinking, reasoning, exercising and living by one’s mind. Point two: life requites selflessness. A living organism has to be the beneficiary of its own actions. It has to pursue specific objects for its own sake and survival. Life requires the gaining of values, not their loss. Achievement, not renunciation. Self preservation, which is selfish, not self sacrifice. If life is the standard of value than morality cannot consist of sacrifice. The ethics of social service, the ethics of self sacrifice, is what is destroying the world today.” — Leonard Peikoff

Response to the Socialists:

“With regard to the term that we’re concerned with property rather than people, we deny such a dichotomy. People cannot exist without property, they’re not ghosts. A system which preserves human freedom has to preserve the right to the physical goods that you yourself have produced. Otherwise you can be free in heaven but on this earth you have to take orders from the government…Any communal ownership of property necessarily means the negation of all rights.” — Leonard Peikoff

Closing Statements:

“I regard the welfare state as an abomination, as morally evil. I do not base morality on the Sermon of the Mount, and I do not put forth a moral case in terms of the lame, the halt and the blind…you have to first say “what does the healthy, unafflicted individual require?” You cannot shackle those who are able to function, allegedly in the name of helping the weak, because then you will wipe out the whole human race. If compassion for those who cannot survive on their own is your value, the first thing you should do is take the shackles off of the people who are able to think, and produce and create the wealth that everyone requires to survive including the weak.” — Leonard Peikoff

You can watch the entirety of the debate here, which is well worth it, both for Dr. Ridpath’s segments, which are arguably as brilliant as Peikoff’s, and for the socialist segments, which are, as one might expect, devoid of foundation, bankrupt in morals and childish in delivery.

About Derek Magill

Derek Magill  is the cofounder of Howard Laughed, a college dropout, and a strategist and business consultant for companies in the ecommerce, manufacturing, education, tech and real estate space. He is the Director of Digital Strategy and Marketing for Praxis. Find him on YouTube or Twitter.

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