As the smallest minority, the minority of one, I have always looked with a healthy bias at the utopian ideas of socialism and collectivism. These ideas have also been part of the political landscape in Europe and are now expressed by prominent progressives like Senators Elisabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders from across the big pond.
These enlightened souls, supported by the progressive left wing of the Democratic party are in the US Congress represented by Alexandria Ocasio Cortes and other likeminded members acclaim to be the protectors and champions of the common people against the self-interest and greed of the plotting rich. But then progressives have always felt they need to defend the less fortunate in society against the vices of capitalism.
In the words of Senator Elisabeth Warren, who has a plan for everything, only restricted by the limits of human ingenuity and imagination as she and her fellow progressives have determined the millionaires, billionaires and Wall Street are the cause of all evil in society.
This minority in society is denounced for their behaviour as self-centred, materialistic, insufficiently community-minded and public-spirited. However Senator Warren is right in one issue, for society to work this demands that all members of the general public pay a fair share for maintaining order in society.
Despite with corporate taxation at a reasonable level, the issue of tax evasion is a significant matter. A issue which governments have failed to address, also caused by the gross inefficiency of the tax system.
In her wisdom, the good Senator seeks to introduce a wealth tax, which arranges the confiscation of wealth created by others in order to distribute the wealth from the have’s to the have not’s in the name of the public interest and preserving the national community.
Progressivism started in the late 19th century and progressives have sought long to address the economic, political, and cultural questions that had arisen in the context of the rapid changes brought with the Industrial Revolution and the growth of modern capitalism in America and envision to create a new economic order, more fitting and fairer for the post-industrial age.
But “fair” is open to different interpretations and the phrases in the name of “the public good” or in the name of “the public interest” are among the most misused in history, in which the interests of some, who are in the minority, are to be sacrificed to the interests and wishes of others, who are in the majority, who proclaim “The public, c’est moi.”
Progressives have long rejected the long favoured idea of neo-liberalism, natural rights or natural law and redefined freedom as the fulfilment of human capacities, which becomes the primary task of the state. As the progressive political scientist John Burgess (1844 –1931) wrote
“the most fundamental and indispensable mark of statehood” was “the original, absolute, unlimited, universal power over the individual subject, and all associations of subjects.”
In doing so they are attacking individual achievements and fail to recognize man’s unlimited right to the fruits of his brain, free of obfuscation. This presumption is based on the bizarre idea that intellectual products are fundamentally social products whereby the suggestion is made in society there is a vital dependence of the individual on society and that there should be no suitable individual property right to intellectual work.
This are the altruistic ideas which are moving society from individualism towards collectivism, a philosophy incompatible with capitalism and which lacks realism.
This is the same collectivism we see in autocratic China and Russia where the highest value is that of the state, which supersedes the individual, liberty, human- and property rights whereby the strong state is seen as the final arbiter and guarantor of the domestic order.
Todays this conflict plays out on a global scale, collectivism and authoritarianism against individualism.
On the one side the free liberal order, the European Union, the USA and likeminded countries which were founded on certain values, like human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, as a way to coexist in peace and prosperity.
On the other side Russia and likeminded countries, an amalgam of authoritarianism, corruption and nationalism, which ideology and policies can count on elite and popular support, despite the stagnant economy and significant repression of civil society.
It is thereby an illusion of the Russian leadership to think that the free liberal order is “absolute” as President Vladimir Putin recently has suggested, words which remind of the 1930’s fascists when they pronounced the era of the liberal democracy was over.
But individualism, this drive for personal achievements and money by the enterprising part of society is based on a mentality which is also the basis of its success. Therefor the ethical principle must remain that individual ability is not a social asset freely distributable to others and is incompatible with a free and just society.
It’s most abhorrent to hear how some think, agree with what was done in the former Soviet Union and is done in today’s Russia, that the state can take as much and are entitled to the fruits of the work of others or possessions they do not own or had no role in establishing.
I would ask them, “who is John Galt” or better said what would Alice O’Conner say?
Alice O’Connor, (born Alisa Zinovyevna Rosenbaum) and better known as Ayn Rand has been part of my library since the late 1960’s, an inspiration writer to many, who grew up in Saint Petersburg under the collectivist ideology and watched how the communists turned Russia into a dictatorship and how this collectivist philosophy made this possible.
Ayn Rand is a writer appreciated for her analysis about today’s central conflict, the individual versus the collective, which tension occurs in all her novels and is an important element of her moral and political philosophy, a philosophy I appreciate.
The first Novel I read by Ayn Rand was “Anthem” written in 1937 and first published in 1938 in the United Kingdom about the totalitarian society in which mankind has entered another Dark Age. Technological advancement is now carefully planned and the concept of individuality has been eliminated.
Every aspect of life is dictated by the state which is only possible when people accept collectivism as a moral ideal whereby they see themselves as members of the group, not as individuals. In doing so they allow themselves to be enslaved whereby it’s a crime to have personal values and to be alone.
Such a person is Equality 7 -2521 who desires to be a scientist, is beaten by his teachers and forced to work as a street sweeper and rebels against the totalitarian, collectivist society and flees to establish a new society based on rediscovered individualism.
Collectivism, in Ayn Rand’s view, is the belief that the individual should be subjugated to the group and sacrificed for the common good. This is a logical and reasonable conclusion. Anthem depicts the evils to which collectivism leads when implemented consistently and shows Ayn Rand potential as a thinker and as a writer.
This book was followed by her first semi-autobiographical “We the Living,” about the struggle between the Individual and the State in the former Soviet Union.), which theme she also pursued in the moral-psychological “The Fountainhead,” the metaphysical “Atlas Shrugged,” and “The Virtue of Selfishness,“ a collection of essays by Ayn Rand and Nathanial Branden addressing the concept of rational self-interest and how altruism is incompatible with man’s nature and with a free society.
This critique on collectivism is based on the postulation that the individual has a moral right to live for his own sake, to pursue his/her own personal identity, personal freedom and happiness based on self-reliance and self-responsibility, not in the name of the common good or to sacrifice his/her self-interest in the name of a higher good – whether this is called God, society, or the state.
This philosophy became known as Objectivism has great value as a thought experiment and is seen by some as problematic, even controversial, given the overcorrected and extreme form of individualism, a black and white world which has egoism at its core.
In the struggle between collectivism and individualism I can be found in the corner of individualism, albeit in a less farfetched and extreme form than the one Ayn Rand envisaged.