This week, I discuss counterfeit virtue: what it is, why it’s terrible, and how to avoid it.

Table of Contents

What Is Virtue?

“All that man loses in the pursuit of virtue is comfort.”

Virtue is behavior that shows high moral standards – for example, being generous to those in need or being patient during a challenging time. Although difficult to perform, virtuous actions build stable lives and accomplish meaningful goals.

What Is Counterfeit Virtue?


The world is full of men and women who contribute nothing meaningful to societal or individual growth. They pretend to pursue virtue at the cost of social and personal stability.

Counterfeit virtue is behavior that appears noble but requires no effort or sacrifice from the individual. In short, whereas virtue is challenging to pursue, fake virtue seems challenging but does not contribute to individual growth or societal good.

For example, voting is seen as a noble, virtuous act because you participate in democracy and contribute to your nation’s direction. However, voting requires nothing from the voter. You can be a genius in political policy or a moron, and your vote is counted equally with everyone else’s. Additionally, voting does not require much time or effort. Standing in a line and waiting for a few minutes is hardly onerous, and with drive-up and mail-in voting, the process is even easier.

Voting is not unimportant; it just isn’t virtuous because voting requires so little of the individual. However, our society admires the act immensely, even though such valuing is self-important and lacks justification.

Why Is Counterfeit Virtue Dangerous?

Overall, counterfeit virtue is dangerous because it replaces the pursuit of true virtue. If you believe voting truly makes a difference, then you’re less likely to involve yourself directly. For example, voters feel they’ve helped the homeless by choosing a specific candidate. But, the government rarely helps those in need. Thus, voting has not lessened the pain of the vulnerable.

And this is a problem. Remember, virtue requires direct individual sacrifice of comfort and temporary pleasures. If you genuinely want to help the poor, then you donate your money and time to those in need or to organizations that help those in need. Then, you hold those who are being helped and helping others to a high standard. You invest in the needy, and this investment pushes the impoverished to overcome their situation. Everything I described is neither easy nor simple. However, what I described requires frugality, courage, generosity, gratitude, persistence, and other virtues. It also requires individuals who are focused, committed, and capable. You cannot recreate such things by simply voting.

On the other hand, voting doesn’t require your money, time, or best self. Or even your intelligence. But if we think a counterfeit virtue such as voting solves our problems, we will invest in these false solutions to the detriment of everything else.

Seek Challenge To Avoid Counterfeit Virtue

“‘Value’ is that which one acts to gain and keep, ‘virtue’ is the action by which one gains and keeps it.” – Ayn Rand

At the heart of counterfeit virtue is the desire to do something. We all want to help others and achieve personal greatness. This desire is why we elevate what is weak and false and call it virtuous. We want to feel great and accomplished, but we do not want to bleed and sweat.

If you want to avoid worshipping counterfeit virtue like most people, then you need to seek a challenge. Our modern world offers comforts as far as the eye can see. And it provides intellectual and philosophical justifications for our weaknesses and vices. You must reject the comforts and the mental justifications if you want to be virtuous.

Therefore, you need to seek challenges. Go to the gym, study a new skill, work harder at your job, give money to those in need. Wherever you see comfort and ease, seek to stamp it out as much as you can. Discomfort is at the heart of virtue. Luckily, this discomfort is a by-product of you growing stronger, better, faster, and more capable.

A Society of Addicts


Your society is full of broken, damaged people. People will attack you for the greatness you pursue. You have to plan accordingly.

You have to accept you live in a society of addicts. People are very protective of their counterfeit virtues because unearned identities and virtue signaling define their lives. Very, very few people define themselves by what is earned, chosen, and fought for.

What does this mean for you? People will attack you when you point out their addictions. Additionally, they will criticize you for pursuing virtue. You may wish to “live and let live,” but that is not possible with addicts. You going to the gym undermines their narratives about fat acceptance. You judging people as individuals undermines their identity narratives surrounding race, sexuality, and gender. You achieving your goals undermines their narratives about systemic problems and victimhood.

You don’t have to attack anyone directly. Your pursuit of your most virtuous self is attack enough.

Therefore, never give up hope. Have faith that the strength you develop today will serve your battles tomorrow. Remember to turn off the news, exile yourself from weak friends and family, and reduce your time around the disingenuous and hostile. Build a community of strong, like-minded individuals.

This is your life. Do not waste it in the comforts of counterfeit virtue.


“Virtue is not an end in itself. Virtue is not its own reward or sacrificial fodder for the reward of evil. Life is the reward of virtue—and happiness is the goal and the reward of life.” -Ayn Rand

  1. Are there any examples of counterfeit virtue in your personal life? For example, do you defend a “disenfranchised” class of people who garner the support of corporations, governments, and most individuals? Or, do you look highly upon yourself because you do low-cost, low-effort actions such as voting?
  2. Do you know people in your life who pursue counterfeit virtue? What is it like being around them? What are they pursuing?
  3. What is the hardest virtue for your to adhere to? Why? What are you doing differently to ensure the virtue is the easiest?

Please remember that it’s important to do the actionables. You’re not on this earth to simply read but to do. To become an individual, you must act more than you consume.

*Image credit to Unsplash.