In his recent book, The Problem With Socialism, author and professor Thomas DiLorenzo directs the reader’s attention to “Rabbi Daniel Lapin, a clergyman who is also an economic writer and speaker,” who “points out that anything made by God, whether it be humans or stones (which can range from small pebbles to glittering diamonds of infinite variety) is unique; while things made by man, like bricks, can be made uniform” (page 32).
I’ll address that quote again at the end.
A few posts ago, I discussed the issue of individualism (“Individualism: Good or Bad?”). In that post, I defined individualism as the idea that each person is responsible for their own actions and the consequences of those actions.
That reality is premised on the truth that only individuals can act. Only individuals can think. Only individuals can make decisions.
Groups—or collectives— cannot act, think or make decisions. Basic logic lends itself to this understanding. (“But Lukas, what about group-think, or mob-mentality?” I’ll address that at the end of this post.)
Sometimes for convenience, sometimes with political or social agenda, we are prone to use broad sweeping terms that suggest that a collective acts. As a social studies teacher, it’s much easier to say, “the United States went to war with Japan.” Clearly, this is a misnomer. The United States is not an entity that can act. What we really mean by saying something like that is that individuals in the United States made certain decisions that resulted in the American soldiers going to war with Japanese soldiers.
Merriam-Webster offers this definition of collectivism: “emphasis on collective rather than individual action or identity.”
By no means a recent phenomenon, there are powerful societal and political movements that seek to act on behalf of some group or some collective, whether it is women, the poor, blacks, immigrants, et cetera. We call this identity politics, and it is predicated on the idea of collectivism.
Collectivism, by suggesting that groups can think, act and make decisions, readily places the group above the individual. In social terms, this means that we are happy pursuing a “collectivist” agenda at the expense of any particular individual. In economic terms, this premises the pursuit of egalitarianism, the pursuit of material equality in a society. Ayn Rand put it this way: “Collectivism means the subjugation of the individual to a group–whether to a race, class or state does not matter.”
Let me leave you with a few key points:
First, collectivism, insofar as it suggests that groups can act, think and make decisions, is a self-inherent falsehood. This is a logical fallacy. Only individuals act, think and make decisions.
And this is not to entirely abandon the idea that a sort of “mob-mentality” can have a powerful effect on members within a group. History provides an abundance of examples. Take Nazi Germany. Or the Rwandan genocide. Place large groups of individuals with lots of anger and/or passion, and those individuals in that group can begin to behave in ways that they might not otherwise have if left alone. But still, the principle of individualism is not lost because of the powerful influence of what individuals in a large group can have on each other. Human nature is quite prone to atrocities committed as groups. Still, the individual cannot submit as his scapegoat, “I am not responsible for the murder I committed because we were all caught up in the passion to kill.” A court of true justice will never let this person off the hook.
On that same note, the fallacy of collectivism means that groups are not victims of other groups. This one will not particularly sit well with some readers, but it is the logical extension of the principle of individualism and that only individuals act. I am not, by collectivist default, any more guilty of racism because I am white than my wife is the victim of sexism because she’s a woman. Likewise, it is not incumbent upon some “groups” to repay some wrong to some other “group” committed by people of their same “group” in the past. Individuals can be victims of other individuals, because only individuals act, but groups cannot be victims of groups. (And when this is the case, the guilty individuals should, obviously, be held accountable.)
Second, collectivist thinking lends itself, logically and bolstered by historic reality, to great danger. The rhetoric was common in Stalin’s Soviet Union: a few eggs are always broken in the process of making an omelet. The pursuit of some “group-agenda,” such as the biological purification pursued by the Nazis, has had incredible consequences on hundreds of thousands of individuals. Indeed, socialism itself is predicated on some form of collectivist ideology (we must violate individual rights of some for the betterment of all society), and socialist regimes killed more than 100 million people in the 20th Century*. We can track this back even further, to such turbulent and violent events as the French Revolution.
On a more benign level, even collectivist political, social and domestic agendas can end up hurting those they intend to benefit because the individual is forgotten for the group. As I will lay out in blogs to come, many policies meant to help some “group,” such as women or minorities, have negative consequences on individuals in those and other groups.
Additionally, collectivist victim hood can (and often does) lead to the violation of individuals’ rights as one “group” seeks out revenge or compensation from some other “group,” regardless of whether or not individuals being held to blame had any part in real or alleged abuses. An example of this is the demand that the wealthy (the collective), because they must inherently be greedy, therefore are required to account for their alleged “greed” through higher taxes, et cetera. Another purely hypothetical example would be if modern-day Irish-Americans demanded that white Americans pay recompense for the ill-treatment of the 19th Century Irish immigrants. (And please keep in mind that my principles hold in reverse: collectivist thinking was just as damaging to the Irish immigrants of the early 1800s, or to the Africans of the early American slave trade. These examples only bolster my point.)
Third and finally, I will refer back to the quote at the beginning. All that which is made by God is unique. Individuals are unique. Individuals have varying backgrounds, personalities, talents, abilities, et cetera. The collectivist, to some extent or another, abandons this truth in their thinking and either treats all in a group as identified first by their group identity, or pursues some egalitarian end in an attempt to make all the individuals in a group as “bricks.”
Rather, this blog’s author would passionately advocate that we recognize that only the individual acts, thinks and makes decisions. And we ought to couple this with the understanding that each individual is unique. I do not care to distinguish a person based on some collectivist identity first and foremost, but rather much prefer to see each individual as an individual, unique to every other. To treat the individual as primarily “one in a more important collective” is a gross dishonor. All men and women should be treated as unique individuals with dignity, respect and honor.
*DiLorenzo, Thomas. The Problem With Socialism. Copyright 2016.