Tag Archives: collectivism

The Collectivist Mentality

[This article appeared in Huffington Post, Nov. 9, 2015:  http://huff.to/1RINNZY]

China’s mandatory limit on the number of children a couple may have, which the communist government recently announced is being changed from one to two, attracts little support in the West. Apart from the most ardent environmentalists, people generally recognize the evil of such a policy.

But do they understand what, at root, makes it so abhorrent? Or do they tolerate, even embrace, variants of the same idea in other areas? Consider, for example, the following three positions and ask yourself whether there is a common belief underlying all of them:

  • The communist’s prohibition against having more than one (or two) children.
  • The conservative’s demand that assisted suicide be banned.
  • The liberal’s campaign against income inequality.

These seemingly diverse views are actually products of the same mindset: a collectivist mentality.

Under the collectivist philosophy, the individual has no independent existence or value. He is merely one of many indistinguishable, disposable cells within the “social organism.” It is the group that has primacy. Consequently, all important decisions must be made, not by the individual, but by society — i.e., by the state.

When it comes to child-bearing, on this view, everything you give your child — every morsel of food, every drop of water, every inch of space — represents a resource taken away from society. All acts of consumption become acts of expropriation. You therefore need public approval before having a child. You must be given permission to use up society’s scarce resources. And what about your rights? You have none, according to the doctrine of collectivism. The demands of the group, not the rights of the individual, set the standard for social policy.

Similarly, those who oppose assisted suicide believe that your life is not really your own. You are a fragment of society, they say, not an independent human being. The decision to terminate your life, no matter what agonies you may be suffering, cannot be made by you or by those who choose to assist you. Rather, it must be made by the collective. As one legal brief, written for a Supreme Court case, put it: “[Suicide] is an intensely social act . . . amenable to social control, since it has a dramatic impact on others.” It is an act “requiring the assent of society as a whole.” (And even those who oppose suicide on strictly religious grounds share the collectivist’s basic premise: the presence of some “higher power” to which the individual must subordinate himself.)

This point is articulated more starkly in an 1802 handbook of English law (cited approvingly in the aforementioned brief): “The law regards [suicide] as an heinous offence . . . for as the public have a right to every man’s assistance, he who voluntarily kills himself is with respect to the public as criminal as one who kills another.”

In other words, suicide and murder are equally objectionable since both diminish the human resources available to society. We are all supposed to accept the role of rightless serfs, serving as fodder for some “greater good.”

The same philosophy underlies the crusade for income equality. “Why should the top 1 percent own close to 50 percent of the wealth in America?” the crusaders ask. Or, looking at the issue more globally, “Why should the U.S., with under 5 percent of the world’s population, have more than 20 percent of the world’s GDP?” If your life is not yours, neither is your money. Instead it supposedly belongs to the collective, which then determines how much you should be allowed to have.

But don’t the rich have more because they have produced more? Doesn’t a Bill Gates or a Warren Buffett or a Sam Walton create his wealth through his own efforts? No, says the collectivist emphatically — no one does. This view holds not just that your money may be seized at will by society, but that you never earned it in the first place. It’s the view that your income is a collective product.

“It takes a village to raise a billionaire,” according to the organization Responsible Wealth. “You didn’t build that,” according to President Obama — society did. To the collectivist, wealth is never an individual achievement. Rather, it materializes, causelessly and anonymously, from the social organism. And since we’re all just interchangeable cells of that organism, why should any single cell receive a bigger paycheck than any other? Why shouldn’t we all be “equal”?

Exercising our rights over our lives — from keeping our own money, to bearing children, to choosing suicide — depends on a moral code of individualism. Every attack on our freedom stems from the notion that the individual must be sacrificed to the collective. These attacks will not end until the individual is upheld as an end in himself, rather than merely a means to the ends of others.♦♦

Altruism and Patriotism

You can love something even as you try to change it. You cannot, however, love something that you are trying to change into its opposite. The same applies to the question of whether President Obama genuinely loves America.

Patriotism is a rational attitude toward one’s country—when it deserves to be loved. But to someone living in a nation with a long heritage of authoritarian rule, the proper attitude toward his country is hatred—a hatred of being enslaved, a hatred of being prevented from living his life and achieving his goals. If he tries to change the nature of his country by fighting for freedom, he is being motivated by a love for that which his country is not. He has evaluated it as something bad and he wants to transform it into something good.

According to the code of altruism, however, this evaluation holds true for America.

Altruism demands self-sacrifice. It demands that you surrender your money, your values, your rights for the sake of others. It declares that you have a moral duty to subordinate your interests to the needs of others, and that the state must enforce that duty by taking from the “haves” and giving to the “have-nots.” It demands that the individual be sacrificed to the collective.

And since it does not stand for collectivism, America—according to this philosophy—is an object of opprobrium. After all, the rest of the industrialized world has nationalized health care, yet we still have a private, selfish system. We have severe inequality in incomes—we have an economy that is not fully regulated—we permit greedy corporations to “underpay” their workers—we allow the rich to keep too much of their money—we have an inadequate welfare state—we fail to provide free college education, free child care, free birth control. There is too much self-interest in pursuit of private profit, and not enough self-sacrifice in pursuit of the “public interest click this site.” Under the altruist-collectivist ethics, America should not be loved; it should, instead, be reshaped into something very different.

America was founded on the idea of individual rights—the idea that you have a right to your life, your liberty and the pursuit of your happiness. It was the first nation in history to be established on the principle of freedom, the freedom to live for your own sake without coercion by the state. This principle is what distinguished this country from others. It is what defined American exceptionalism. It is what made America a magnet that drew immigrants, from all over the world, who wanted to live in the land of opportunity—the opportunity to make what they could of their lives by their own efforts, not the opportunity to have the state provide for their needs.

This is what America was and, in its core spirit, still is—and it is what the collectivists seek to quash. “You didn’t build that,” President Obama says scornfully. This country, he believes, must forsake its foundation of independence and its heritage of individual liberty.  Consequently, he embraces a foreign policy under which the citizen is ordered to sacrifice for an international collective, and a domestic policy under which he is ordered to sacrifice for a national collective. He embraces an ethics incompatible with that of a free society.

President Obama may declare that he loves America—but it is an America that, by having abandoned its original principles, has been transformed into its antithesis.♦♦