"There is no such thing as duty. If you know that a thing is right, you want to do it. If you don't want to do it—it isn't right. If it's right and you don't want to do it—you don't know what right is and you're not a man."
- We The Living, Ayn Rand
This quote could come across as extremely subjective to the modern reader who is convinced of the Kantian (and Gnostic-like) dichotomy between the objective (what is right) and the subjective (what one wants). Most people - especially Christians - nowadays, want to stress the objectivity of what is right (e.g. "It's right whether you want to do it or not"), while many post-modern types would rather stress the subjective element (e.g. "It's right for you, if you want to do it"). But Rand is saying something here which neither party is capable of comprehending: that it is right for the subject to want to do what is right (and wrong if he doesn't!).
The one who wants to stress the objectivity of morality is correct to do so: whatever is right, is right, whether someone wants to do it or not. The post-modern subjective insistence that one's desire is what determines what is right is blatantly false. But simply correcting the subjectivist is not enough. The idea behind morality is for the subject (i.e. the individual) to conform to the objective (i.e. what is right). To affirm the objective while maintaining a dichotomy between it and the subject is just as disastrous to morality as denying the objective, all together.
Dutiful Men or Obedient Pets?
Duty is the attempt to conform to objective morality by the sheer movement of one's will, by-passing one's own mind and affections. It usually has a connotation of being 'hard-core' and 'dedicated' -- as if those who follow duty are taking morality more seriously than those who do not. The duty mindset says "do it, regardless of whether you like it or not". But what does this translate into besides "do it, regardless of whether you are fully convinced of it or not"? Wouldn't it be more "hardcore" to do the hard work of becoming fully convinced of what is right -- so that you want to do it? Any dog can follow commands -- and that is what the 'duty-driven' have reduced themselves to: obedient, mindless animals. They aren't being 'strong-willed' men (as the motto "pull yourself up by the boot-straps" is intended to imply). They are being weak-minded (or no-minded), compliant little pets.
How to be a Moral Man
The duty-driven, far from being 'serious about morality', are actually desperate to excuse themselves from the most essential (and toughest!) aspects of morality. To be a man (rather than an animal), one must use his mind to become rationally convinced of what is right, and then discipline his values (i.e. his desires) so that they accurately correspond to the value of that which he has discovered to be right. The will, then, naturally follows suit. Skipping over rational conviction and re-ordering of values is no less than the lazy attempt to excuse one's self from the most demanding aspects of true morality. A man (or woman) - who is not a mere beast - should want to discover what is right, and should always love that which they discover to be right. If you don't care about what is right, or - worse - if you know what is right but do not value it accordingly, then you are twisted, and have much deeper problems than outward obedience.
The Death in Duty
To insist that being so twisted is acceptable, and even a virtue, is to plunge one's self head-long down a very destructive path. To ignore or diminish such essential attributes of man as his mind and his values, in order to preserve some stoic concept of 'duty', is to view man as a sub-human cog in a machine of 'obedience'. Obedience to who? How do you know who to obey, when, and to what extent? Don't ask such questions -- it will lead to the dirty activity of your mind and obscure your will's mission to be dutiful. Obey to what end? For what reason? Why should you obey? Don't ask such questions -- it will lead to analysis of your values and get in the way of your will's mission to be dutiful. Such is the nature of the path of 'duty' for those who will take it seriously -- and what other end could become of such dutiful man-beasts, but utter self-subjugation to the loudest, or strongest, or biggest master they are capable of finding? The truly duty-driven man is desperate to be commanded; to be enslaved. It is not his life which he wishes to live -- that kind of life is impossible to a slave or a pet. He wants to wipe out the essence of his own life (his mind and values), and simply become an extension of the mind and values of another. He wants to be the living dead.