Letter 085, pg. 1

To Tom Girdler

Tom Girdler (1877–1965) was founder and chairman of Republic Steel and Vultee Aircraft.


139 East 35th Street
New York City

July 12, 1943

Dear Mr. Girdler:

I have just read the galleys of your book “The Right to Work.”[*] They were given to me by a person who knew my political convictions and knew how much I would appreciate your book. 

Allow me to express my deepest admiration for the way in which you have lived your life, for your gallant fight of 1937, for the courage you displayed then and are displaying again now when you attempt a truly heroic deed—a defense of the industrialist. Your book is an excellent document, beautifully written, exciting and challenging. Please accept my congratulations for it.  

But as I read your book I could not help feeling that you came within an inch of the basic principle you wanted to state and missed it. All the facts to support it are there, but the statement is not. Please do not consider it presumptuous if I felt I must point it out to you. This is not in the nature of criticism, but of a tribute to the tremendous importance of your book’s subject. 

You wished to defend and justify the industrial manager as the true mover of civilization. All through your book one hears a bewildered indignation that society has failed to recognize him as such. May I tell you the reason of that failure? It is because the industrialist has never found the moral principle on which he must stand. He has stood on it in fact, he has built our entire civilization upon it—but what he has preached and believed has been its exact opposite. It is a terrible kind of reversal and the results have now caught up with us. The results are destroying the world. 

The basic falsehood which the world has accepted is the doctrine that altruism is the ultimate ideal. That is, service to others as a justification and the placing of others above self as a virtue. Such an ideal is not merely impossible, it is immoral and vicious. And there is no hope for the world until enough of us come to realize this. 

Man’s first duty is not to others, but to himself. He can survive only through the function of his reasoning mind directed toward the conquest of nature. Which means—