A collectivist ideology that the individual’s life belongs not to him but to the group or society of which he is merely a part, that he has no rights, and that he must sacrifice his values and goals for the group’s “greater good.” According to collectivism, the group or society is the basic unit of moral concern, and the individual is of value only insofar as he serves the group. As one advocate of this idea puts it: “Man has no rights except those which society permits him to enjoy. From the day of his birth until the day of his death society allows him to enjoy certain so-called rights and deprives him of others; not . . . because society desires especially to favor or oppress the individual, but because its own preservation, welfare, and happiness are the prime considerations.”1 It is used as a tool of social control by the elite to manipulate the masses to give up liberty for the illusion of greater security.
Individualism is the idea that the individual’s life belongs to him and that he has an inalienable right to live it as he sees fit, to act on his own judgment, to keep and use the product of his effort, and to pursue the values of his choosing. It’s the idea that the individual is sovereign, an end in himself, and the fundamental unit of moral concern. This is the ideal that the American Founders set forth and sought to establish when they drafted the Declaration and the Constitution and created a country in which the individual’s rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness were to be recognized and protected.
On this principle, each individual has a right to think and act as he sees fit; he has a right to produce and trade the products of his efforts voluntarily, by mutual consent to mutual benefit; he has a right to disregard complaints that he is not serving some so-called “greater good”—and no one, including groups and governments, has a moral right to force him to act against his judgment. Ever.
“America works best when its citizens put aside individual self-interest to do great things together—when we elevate the common good,” writes David Callahan of the collectivist think tank Demos.2 Michael Tomasky, editor of Democracy, elaborates, explaining that modern “liberalism was built around the idea—the philosophical principle—that citizens should be called upon to look beyond their own self-interest and work for a greater common interest.”
This, historically, is the moral basis of liberal governance—not justice, not equality, not rights, not diversity, not government, and not even prosperity or opportunity. Liberal governance is about demanding of citizens that they balance self-interest with common interest. . . . This is the only justification leaders can make to citizens for liberal governance, really: That all are being asked to contribute to a project larger than themselves. . . . citizens sacrificing for and participating in the creation of a common good.3
This is the ideology of today’s left in general, including former President Barack Obama. As Obama puts it, we must heed the “call to sacrifice” and uphold our “core ethical and moral obligation” to “look out for one another” and to “be unified in service to a greater good.”4 “Individual actions, individual dreams, are not sufficient. We must unite in collective action, build collective institutions and organizations.”5
But modern “liberals” and new “progressives” are not alone in their advocacy of the politics of collectivism. Joining them are impostors of the right, such as Rick Santorum, who pose as advocates of liberty but, in their perverted advocacy, annihilate the very concept of liberty.
“Properly defined,” writes Santorum, “liberty is freedom coupled with responsibility to something bigger or higher than the self. It is the pursuit of our dreams with an eye toward the common good. Liberty is the dual activity of lifting our eyes to the heavens while at the same time extending our hands and hearts to our neighbor.”6 It is not “the freedom to be as selfish as I want to be,” or “the freedom to be left alone,” but “the freedom to attend to one’s duties—duties to God, to family, and to neighbors.”7
Such is the state of politics in America today, and this is the choice we face: Americans can either continue to ignore the fact that collectivism is utterly corrupt from the ground up, and thus continue down the road to statism and tyranny—or we can look at reality, use our minds, acknowledge the absurdities of collectivism and the atrocities that follow from it, and shout the truth from the rooftops and across the Internet.
What would happen if we did the latter? As Ayn Rand said, “You would be surprised how quickly the ideologists of collectivism retreat when they encounter a confident, intellectual adversary. Their case rests on appealing to human confusion, ignorance, dishonesty, cowardice, despair. Take the side they dare not approach; appeal to human intelligence.”8
A beautiful statement of the metaphysical fact of individualism was provided by former slave Frederick Douglass in a letter he wrote to his ex-“master” Thomas Auld after escaping bondage in Maryland and fleeing to New York. “I have often thought I should like to explain to you the grounds upon which I have justified myself in running away from you,” wrote Douglass. “I am almost ashamed to do so now, for by this time you may have discovered them yourself. I will, however, glance at them.” You see, said Douglass,
I am myself; you are yourself; we are two distinct persons, equal persons. What you are, I am. You are a man, and so am I. God created both, and made us separate beings. I am not by nature bound to you, or you to me. Nature does not make your existence depend upon me, or mine to depend upon yours. I cannot walk upon your legs, or you upon mine. I cannot breathe for you, or you for me; I must breathe for myself, and you for yourself. We are distinct persons, and are each equally provided with faculties necessary to our individual existence. In leaving you, I took nothing but what belonged to me, and in no way lessened your means for obtaining an honest living. Your faculties remained yours, and mine became useful to their rightful owner.2
Douglass’s basic metaphysical point is clearly sound. Human beings are by nature distinct, separate beings, each with his own body and his own faculties necessary to his own existence. Human beings are not in any way metaphysically attached or dependent on one another; each must use his own mind and direct his own body; no one else can do either for him. People are individuals. “I am myself; you are yourself; we are two distinct persons.”
The individual is metaphysically real; he exists in and of himself; he is the basic unit of human life. Groups or collectives of people—whether families, partnerships, communities, or societies—are not metaphysically real; they do not exist in and of themselves; they are not fundamental units of human life. Rather, they are some number of individuals. This is perceptually self-evident. We can see that it is true.
What is knowledge? Where does it come from? How do we know what’s true? Knowledge is a mental grasp of a fact (or facts) of reality reached by perceptual observation or a process of reason based thereon. Who looks at reality, hears reality, touches reality, reasons about reality—and thereby gains knowledge of reality? The individual does. The individual possesses eyes, ears, hands, and the like. The individual possesses a mind and the capacity to use it. He perceives reality (e.g., dogs, cats, and birds, and death); he integrates his perceptions into concepts (e.g., “dog,” “animal,” and “mortal”); he integrates his concepts into generalizations (e.g., “dogs can bite” and “animals are mortal”); he forms principles (e.g., “animals, including man, must take certain actions in order to remain alive,” and “man requires freedom in order to live and prosper”). And so on. Knowledge is a product of the perceptual observations and mental integrations of individuals.
Of course, individuals can learn from other people, they can teach others what they have learned—and they can do so in groups. But in any such transmission of knowledge, the individual’s senses must do the perceiving, and his mind must do the integrating. Groups don’t have sensory apparatuses or minds; only individuals do. This, too, is simply unassailable.
But that doesn’t stop collectivists from denying it.
The relevant epistemological principle, writes Helen Longino (chair of the philosophy department at Stanford University) is that “knowledge is produced by cognitive processes that are fundamentally social.” Granted, she says, “without individuals there would be no knowledge” because “it is through their sensory system that the natural world enters cognition. . . . The activities of knowledge construction, however, are the activities of individuals in interaction”; thus knowledge “is constructed not by individuals, but by an interactive dialogic community.”9
You can’t make this stuff up. But an “interactive dialogic community” can.
Although it is true (and should be unremarkable) that individuals in a society can exchange ideas and learn from one another, the fact remains that the individual, not the community, has a mind; the individual, not the group, does the thinking; the individual, not society, produces knowledge; and the individual, not society, shares that knowledge with others who, in turn, must use their individual minds if they are to grasp it. Any individual who chooses to observe the facts of reality can see that this is so. The fact that certain “philosophers” (or “dialogic communities”) deny it has no bearing on the truth of the matter.
Correct epistemology—the truth about the nature and source of knowledge—is on the side of individualism, not collectivism.
BELOW: G. Edward Griffin discusses the similarities between the extreme left and the extreme right in the false political paradigm and how this highlights a recurring theme — collectivism. Collectivism is the opposite of individualism and believes that the interests of the individual must be sacrificed for the greater good of the greater number, explains Griffin, uniting the doctrines of communism and fascism. Both the Republican and Democrat parties in the United States are committed to advancing collectivism and this is why the same policies are followed no matter who is voted in to the White House. “All collectivist systems eventually deteriorate into a police state because that’s the only way you can hold it together,” warns Griffin.
- A. Maurice Low, “What is Socialism? III: An Explanation of ‘The Rights’ Men Enjoy in a State of Civilized Society,” The North American Review, vol. 197, no. 688 (March 1913), p. 406.
- David Callahan, “The Biggest Idea in Obama’s Speech: A Common Good,” The Demos Weblog, January 26, 2012, http://www.policyshop.net/home/2012/1/26/the-biggest-idea-in-obamas-speech-a-common-good.html.
- Michael Tomasky, “Party in Search of a Notion,” The American Prospect, April 18, 2006. Available online at http://prospect.org/article/party-search-notion.
- Barack Obama, Keynote Address, Sojourners/Call to Renewal-sponsored Pentecost conference, June 2006, http://www.sojo.net/index.cfm?action=news.display_article&mode=C&NewsID=5454; Penny Starr, “Obama Calls Health Care a ‘Moral Obligation,’ But Pro-lifers Say Tax Money for Abortions Is ‘Moral’ Issue,” August 21, 2009, http://www.cnsnews.com/news/article/52844; Obama, Commencement Speech at Wesleyan University, 2008, http://www.wesleyan.edu/newsrel/announcements/rc_2008/obama_speech.html.
- Hank De Zutter, “What Makes Obama Run?,” Chicago Reader, December 7, 1995. Available online at http://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/what-makes-obama-run/Content?oid=889221.
- Rick Santorum, It Takes a Family (Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2005), pp. 14–15.
- Jonathan Rauch, “A Frothy Mixture of Collectivism and Conservatism: America’s Anti-Reagan Isn’t Hillary Clinton. It’s Rick Santorum,” Reason Magazine, September 6, 2005. Available online at http://reason.com/archives/2005/09/06/a-frothy-mixture-of-collectivi.
- Ayn Rand, “The Cashing-In: The Student ‘Rebellion,’” in Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal (New York: Signet, 1967), p. 269.
- Helen E. Longino, “Knowledge in Social Theories of Science,” in Socializing Epistemology: The Social Dimensions of Knowledge, edited by Frederick F. Schmitt (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 1994), pp. 139, 142–43.