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Why Reject Socialism?: Collectivism vs. Individualism (part 1)

February 19, 2009

Several months ago I was driving home from work, and I thought I would tune into Air America (If you don’t know, Air America describes itself as ‘…the nation’s leading progressive media network’ and is basically the progressive talk radio conglomerate in the U.S.) because I wanted to hear whatever they happened to be talking about that day. I caught the middle of a discussion on the government and anthropogenic (human-created) global warming, where the host made a statement along the lines of:

“You see, the problem is, Conservatives do not believe that anything good can be accomplished when people come together to get something done.”

The host was basically trying to make the point that, with regard to protecting our environment, everyone must work together. Obviously, this statement is true. One person being careful to turn their lights out, and make sure their refrigerator door is shut, won’t really have much of an impact on the environment as a whole. If any real impact is to be made, then everyone must take part. This is essentially how collectivism is defined: a view which stresses human interdependence and the importance of a collective (or group), rather than the importance of separate individuals. (-wiki)

The problem is simply that the statement the host made is a Strawman. I don’t know of anyone that actually believes nothing good can come from people working together. There are many good things that can be achieved when people work together towards a common good.

However, the crucial point the host missed is that Conservatives do not believe individuals should be forced into collectivism by coercion. (It is important to note here that in America, the government is the only authority which has the power to force you to act involuntarily.)

In other words, Conservatives reject collectivism because a person’s individual liberty is necessarily sacrificed by force of government, for the collective. Consider the opening of the Declaration of Independence:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…”

America was founded upon the idea that Government does not create or establish Rights. Rather, Rights are intrinsic to each individual (granted by God) – and that Government is established only to protect (or provide security for) those individual Rights. Power lies primarily in the individual – not the government. Consider the Bill of Rights. Is the Bill of Rights a list of Rights that government gives to individuals? No. It is a list of Rights in which the Government cannot impede.

I’m sure you are thinking of one obvious objection:

But sometimes, isn’t Collectivism required to protect individual Rights?

Had the Air America host accurately represented Conservative’s objection to collectivism by coercion, his next objection may have been, “But in the case of Anthropogenic Global Warming, (a potential threat to everyone), wouldn’t individual rights be better protected in the long run by some form of forced collectivist action now?

Yes…potentially. However, as is usually the case with environmental threats, you would absolutely be sacrificing individual liberty, over something that is a potential threat and hotly debated (The environmental debate is a huge topic I will expand on in a post of it’s own). Anytime this happens – power is transferred from the individual, to the government. One doesn’t have to be a renowned historian to realize that governments do not give back power once they obtain it (thus, ‘checks and balances’).

It is important to point out here that there are many other ways to accomplish group oriented goals, such as environmental protection and conservation, without sacrificing personal liberty through government coercion. The government can, and probably should, encourage behavior that may benefit society – but this doesn’t require action by force.

But Isn’t Individualism Just Selfishness and Greed?

Milton Friedman has a great response to this objection:

The simple question is – what system is better than individuals making choices in their self-interest? The problem is that collectivist systems eliminate personal choice and freedom, in an attempt to create some form of greater virtue. Of course, how is something virtuous, if you are not free to choose it? Not to mention – who among men, has better wisdom to decide what is right for you, other than yourself? (This will be further discussed later in this series when we talk about Socialism, Oligarchy & democratic mob-rule.)

Also – the above misconception has more to do with people not putting individualism in the proper context. The argument for individualism is not one saying that you should disregard others needs and only watch out for yourself. Nobody is arguing that people shouldn’t care about one another. However, conservatives are nearly always claimed to hold this view: “You just don’t care about other people.” This is a misunderstanding.

Again – the conservative argument for individualism revolves around government’s relationship to individuals in society – not your personal relationship with other people. Interdependence between individuals is a very healthy thing for society – but it is only healthy when it is entered freely by personal choice. You are not a free person if the government gets to decide for you, how you should interact with other individuals (beyond the protection of each person’s rights).

So how does all this tie in with Socialism?

Socialism is Government Coerced Collectivism

Socialism is defined as:

Any of various political philosophies that support social and economic equality, collective decision-making, and public control of productive capital and natural resources

wikitionary

A couple things should be clarified from this definition: when you read “Support social and economic equality,” this refers to equality of results – Not equality, as mentioned in the Declaration of Independence (‘…All men are created equal…’) of each individual. Equality of the individual means that each person has completely equal status, rights, and freedoms, simply by being a person.

Socialism aims to make people socially and economically equal. It can only achieve this goal by using government power to deprive the Rights of some, in order to “help” others.

Continue to Part 2 – Why Reject Socialism? (part 2): Private Property, and Economic Freedom vs. Economic Equality

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. February 19, 2009 11:37 pm

    In response to the first statement the “progressives” made: I would counter that Progressives think that businesses consist of one guy in a room counting a big pile of money. (What is a corporation except a group of people — quite literally — working — together.)

    As I see it, the chief appeal of progressive thought is its cheap virtue. It is a fad. Look at the advertisements for Ben and Jerry’s — eat ice cream and save the planet.

    It’s a far cry from what my dad did to “save the planet.” He was a World War II veteran. And his virtue certainly didn’t come without cost.

  2. June 3, 2010 4:52 pm

    Um…so good stuff, good enough to use in my term paper on socialism and strategic management. However, you seem to have no name and there is no way to get in touch with you privately (at least not that I could see). I can’t actually use an internet source with no author for a research paper. As it research goes, it’s simply not credible. Would you consider emailing me your name. I’m a senior at Eastern Oregon University…living outside the greater Portland area. My paper will not be published and will most likely be read by only one individual, my professor.

    thank you,
    Sara

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