Objectivists too often reduce the life and achievement of James J. Hill to a single debating point: He built a transcontinental railroad without government subsidies, and it was the only transcontinental railroad that did not go bankrupt. It is a statement that completely fails to capture the magnitude of Hill's efficacy and the complexity of his career. To give an accurate picture of those, one must look far more closely at his life, and, for that reason, this column will examine only Hill's first great success: the Manitoba. Early Years James Hill was born in 1838, near Guelph, Ontario. At 17, he left Canada and moved to the head of navigation on the Mississippi River: the bustling city of St. Paul, Minnesota. Says one biographer: "He took with him all the tools he would need to succeed in America: a quick intelligence, self-sufficiency, genuine courage, an engaging personality, a fierce ambition, and a remarkable work ethic" (Michael P. Malone, James J. Hill: Empire Builder of the Northwest, 10). In his adopted city, Hill worked for a succession of employers, the last one being the wholesaling firm of Borup and Champlain, where he labored during the Civil War. "He came to be regarded locally as the prime reason for Borup and Champlain's reputation for efficiency" (Malone, 14). It was a reputation dearly bought. "He worked incredibly hard, sometimes laboring late into the night, falling asleep at the desk, then getting up for a swim in the river and a cup of black...
Ayn Rand contrasted her morality of rational self-interest not just with altruism but with that irrational egoism which she acknowledged to be "the popular usage" of the word "selfish." (See The Virtue of Selfishness, vii-xii.) Objectivists may therefore be interested to know that a similar three-fold analysis of morality formed the basis of a major philosophical debate in Russia during the latter half of the nineteenth century. Such, at any rate, is the thesis of a recent article by James P. Scanlan: "The Case against Rational Egoism in Dostoevsky's Notes from Underground" (The Journal of History of Ideas, July 1999). According to Scanlan: That Dostoevsky should make egoism the subject of a major work in 1864 [Notes from Underground] comes as no surprise to anyone familiar with tendencies in Russian literature at the time or with Dostoevsky's own earlier career, which reflected a continuing interest in the topic. Dostoevsky's interest stemmed, in great measure, from his belief that egoism was destroying Western civilization. Following an 1862 tour through Europe, the author's Winter Notes on Summer Impressions (1863) described egoism as the personal principle, the principle of isolation, of intense self-preservation, of self-solicitousness, of the self-determination of the I, of opposing this I to all nature and all other people as a separate, autonomous principle entirely equal and equivalent to everything that...
Book review: The Shadow University: The Betrayal of Liberty on America's Campuses. By Alan Charles Kors and Harvey A. Silverglate. New York: The Free Press, 1998. 415 pp. Available at Amazon.com.
When Ayn Rand called capitalism "the unknown ideal," she might have meant one of two things: Capitalism is an ideal social system that we have never known; or, capitalism is a social system that we have never known to be an ideal. Both are true. But, as Rand pointed out, nineteenth-century Americans came close to making capitalism real. Americans have not come nearly as close to realizing capitalism is ideal.
Currently, Stephen R.C. Hicks, Ph.D., is Professor of Philosophy at Rockford University and the executive director of the Center for Ethics and Entrepreneurship.