The Self-Made Myth: Debunking Conservatives’ Favorite — And Most Dangerous — Fiction

by Richard on April 28, 2012


The self-made myth is one of the most cherished foundation stones of the conservative theology. Nurtured by Horatio Alger and generations of beloved boys’ stories, It sits at the deep black heart of the entire right-wing worldview, where it provides the essential justification for a great many other common right-wing beliefs. It feeds the accusation that government is evil because it only exists to redistribute wealth from society’s producers (self-made, of course) and its parasites (who refuse to work). It justifies conservative rage against progressives, who are seen as wanting to use government to forcibly take away what belongs to the righteous wealthy. It’s piously invoked by hedge fund managers and oil billionaires, who think that being required to reinvest any of their wealth back into the public society that made it possible is “punishing success.” It’s the foundational belief on which all of Ayn Rand’s novels stand.

If you’ve heard it once from your Fox-watching uncle, you’ve probably heard it a hundred times. “The government never did anything for me, dammit,” he grouses. “Everything I have, I earned. Nobody ever handed me anything. I did it all on my own. I’m a self-made man.”

He’s just plain wrong. Flat-out, incontrovertibly, inarguably wrong. So profoundly wrong, in fact, that we probably won’t be able to change the national discourse on taxes, infrastructure, education, government investment, technology policy, transportation, welfare, or our future prospects as a country until we can effectively convince the country of the monumental wrongness of this one core point.

Read the rest…
So obvious, it shouldn’t need saying. But it does.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }


Ric 04.28.12 at 2:40 pm

This is actually more true in the USA than in Britain. Here there are a number of people (Alan Sugar and Richard Branson spring to mind) who made their fortunes in spite of, not because of their education. Of course it should be self-evident that a lawful society that protects the weak from the strong is better than a Hobbesian state of nature: but profit is not a dirty word, and enforced equality can be problematic: see ‘Harrison Bergeron’ by Kurt Vonnegut.


Richard 04.28.12 at 7:36 pm

Sugar had humble origins, it’s true. The same can’t be said of Branson. He may not have excelled at school, but he had the advantages that come from a privileged background and a private education. In any case, the main point here is surely that there’s no such thing as “self-made” because no one can be isolated from society.

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