Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Collectivist Monster

In a previous post, I attempted an overview of classical liberalism (or individualism) as philosophized by John Locke. In this post I will attempt an overview of collectivism.

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What is collectivism? It is a philosophy that is the reverse of individualism. Instead of focusing on the individual and his goals, collectivism stresses the importance of group goals and ideas over individual goals and ideas. While collectivism is practiced in the private sphere I want to focus on collectivism as a public or political philosophy because that is the aim of most collectivist philosophers' arguments.

The 20th century saw collectivism expressed in the "big three" which are: socialism, communism, and fascism. Each of these philosophies have their root in collectivism which places a heavy emphasis of Nation over individual. No one can deny that because socialism, communism, and fascism all want to stress the collective goal over the individual goal usually in expressions like, "providing the greatest outcome for the greatest amount of people," and "public interest" that really pierce the heart of people who genuinely care for other people and don't like to see suffering. It's my opinion that collectivist philosophy (from here on labeled CP) takes advantage of the merciful person; promising that with just enough government involvement unemployment can be next to non-existent, hunger will end, hate will cease, and basically a utopia will be actualized. Now, some will say that is a gross misrepresentation of collectivism. Maybe that's the case, but I have drawn that conclusion from my readings of collectivism and conversations with collectivists. Perhaps that shouldn't be the focus of this post. Instead, what should be the focus is: what is the state of the individual on collectivism? You tell me. The Encyclopedia Britannica succinctly describes collectivism as: "...any of several types of social organization in which the individual is seen as being subordinate to a social collectivity such as a state, a nation, a race, or a social class. Collectivism may be contrasted with individualism, in which the rights and interests of the individual are emphasized." and " such movements as socialism, communism, and fascism. The least collectivist of these is social democracy, which seeks to reduce the inequities of unrestrained capitalism by government regulation, redistribution of income, and varying degrees of planning and public ownership. In communist systems collectivism is carried to its furthest extreme, with a minimum of private ownership and a maximum of planned economy." 1 

In a collectivist society, it's hard to imagine that an individual can exercise his natural rights which are life, liberty, and estate. Why is it hard to imagine? Because on collectivism, I think it's fair to say, the individual is coerced to sacrifice his private interests for the interest of the whole or collective or public good (whatever term you prefer - it's the same). The heart of collectivism is to eliminate the individual in favor of a collective unit. The individual is nothing more than a crumb left alone in a filthy house. Collectivism, for all of its praises of bragging of caring about man and true freedom, ignores the essential nature of man which is private interests. Locke, Hobbes, and Rousseau had differences yes, but all three recognized, via reason, man's natural inclination, i.e., man's self-preservation. Recognizing this, they also reasoned that man joins with man to create a society and government through a social contract that protects his life, liberty, and estate. Remember Locke called this agreement to join in a society with other men to protect man's natural rights a "duty" to the natural law. Man recognizes his own natural rights and also recognizes his duty to respect the natural rights of his fellow man.

Without even touching on the economic damage of collectivism, it's fair to say that collectivism has at least two problems: it destroys individuality and it is the catalyst to Statism or totalitarianism. Even looking at the least collective according to EB, Social Democracy, what do we find? A government that "seeks to reduce the inequities of unrestrained capitalism by government regulation, redistribution of income, and varying degrees of planning and public ownership." Then you have the furthest extreme, communism, that minimizes private ownership and maximizes planned economy. Both destroy individualism in my book. It's arguable that both are forms of totalitarianism. The least is totalitarianism in its infancy while the other is mature (and probably not even fully mature!). Both also argue that they're treating the individual "fair" by leveling the playing ground: cutting down the trees that stand tall above the rest; mowing down flowers that are prettier than others; blowing up mountains that are grander than the others; setting ablaze everything; when it's over the field is level and "equal", but the result is a desert. What once was a beautiful scene of diversity is now a scene of sameness, but hey, everything in the scene is fair and equal. Nothing is different. No one feels "left out" or "lost" or "not as talented" or "not as successful." Everything is fair. Something is missing though: individuality. The individual finding his own talent(s) will create, with other individuals, a beautiful scene of diversity. One is excellent at basketball. Another is excellent at business. Another at art. Another at organization. Another at technology; you get the point. No we aren't all equal in talents and abilities, but we all have some kind of individual talent and ability to add to the scene. We can't find our talents and abilities when we are horse-fed an artificial equality or when we have the field of individuals leveled for safety and security from the State. Collectivism destroys the individual and diversity.

I agree with Ayn Rand who wrote "collectivism means the subjugation of the individual to a group...throughout history, no tyrant ever rose to power except on the claim of representing the common good...horrors which no man would dare consider for his own selfish sake are perpetrated with a clear conscience by altruists who justify themselves by the common good." 2 


2. Rand, Ayn. The Only Path to Tomorrow, Readers Digest, January 1944, pp. 88–90

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