The modern conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy, that is the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness. It is an exercise which always involves a certain number of internal contradictions and even a few absurdities. The conspicuously wealthy turn up urging the character-building value of privation for the poor.

j k galbraith
John Kenneth Galbraith (1908-2006) Canadian-American economist, diplomat, author
“Stop the Madness,” Interview with Rupert Cornwell, Toronto Globe and Mail (6 Jul 2002)

The above citation is no longer online. A number of books cite this as a 2002 utterance, but the quote can be found in Peter Lawrence, Peter's Quotations (1993).

In Max Perultz, I Wish I’d Made You Angry Earlier (1998), he quotes a variant:  "The modern conservative is in fact, not especially modern. He is engaged, on the contrary, in one of man’s oldest pursuits, best financed and most applauded and, on the whole least successful exercises in moral philosophy. This is the search for a truly superior moral justification for selfishness."

Added on 19-May-09 | Last updated 26-Oct-11
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5 Responses to “Stop the Madness,” Interview with Rupert Cornwell, Toronto Globe and Mail (6 Jul 2002)

  1. Ed Darrell says:

    Great catch. That article doesn’t seem to be available on the internet anymore — how in the world did you come across it?

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  4. Crash Skeptic says:

    How can a quote Galbraith supposedly said in 2002 appear in a book of quotations published in 1993?

  5. Dave says:

    That’s one of the issues with the quote. It’s commonly cited as 2002 in the G&M , but it is (was — the page is no longer visible) also quoted in a 1993 book. Galbraith using the core phrase (“superior moral justification for selfishness”) can also be found in a 1998 book, another 1998 book, etc.

    The bottom line seems to be that Galbraith used variants of the quote over the years, but the 2002 version was the one that was most visible when the quote “took off” (perhaps on his death in 2006) and so was used as the common citation.

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