Saturday, April 12, 2008

A Fallacy of Collectivism

Tibor R. Machan

Be it the gargantuan or minuscule kind, collectives face an insurmountable obstacle in their governance. There simply is no way for everyone in the collective to get proper representation.

Communitarians, for example, who are today’s version of people who believe the tribe is the most fitting group for people, always show their inability to provide all members with proper representation when their leaders and spokesmen keep using the pronoun “we” as they talk of their system and the policies they recommend for it. Even though “we” refers to everyone on the community, the people making use of it are clearly not all but just the self-anointed leaders. “We will pursue peaceful lives,” said by one or two people who have decided to speak for everyone just will not count as a promise from all to do so. “We will take care of everyone” similarly fails to be convincing since only the defenders of communitarianism give voice to the sentiment.

Individualism is unavoidable because when sentences are spoken, they are spoken by individuals not choruses. Sure, now and then the mob is forced to shout out slogan together but these aren’t at all convincing. I recall when I was about 12 years old, all the school children in Budapest had to gather almost every Saturday at a huge place called Heroes’ Plaza where Stalin used to show up on his visits to Hungary. And we are all forced to shout together, “Our dear father Stalin.” But no one believed this nonsense, if was a farce and the only reason we stuck it out for the duration of the parade is that if we bolted, our teachers would dock our grades.

Even in North Korea, where they still force people to come together in these humongous parades, it only appears they are all together, one! The clothing they wear appear the same, all blue denim, but in fact those in charge get to wear silk blue pajamas while the garb of the rest is made of progressively less fancy fabric!

Still, there are people who keep up the propaganda in favor of “the community” and against the individual, spreading the lie that individualism means some kind of isolationism or, as one world famous Canadian critic calls it, “atomism.” (This critic is Charles Taylor, a philosopher from McGill University who quite bizarrely received the highly coveted and hefty Templeton Prize a few months ago!)

Now if communitarianism is so obviously false to the facts of human community life, why is to promoted to avidly by some pretty high level academics in philosophy and politics? Well, I don’t know most of these folks personally but the few I do know seem clearly to be intent upon becoming leaders of the community. In short, they see communitarianism as a means to furthering their own ends, ends that may not be so awful but are, nonetheless, just their ends and few others in the community share them.

Indeed, whenever the public or common or community interest of good is being promoted, one can be reasonably certain that what is really being advocated is that members of the community accept the agenda being pushed by one or two blokes. “The community supports” or “We pursue” means that these leaders support or pursue, nothing more. Yes, they will usually have a few others on their team but hardly ever all those who make up the community. But pretending that they speak for the community can intimidate the rest and remove effective resistance to the alleged will of the group or collective.

Plain fact is human beings are individuals, first and foremost, once they reach adulthood. They have minds of their own and unless these minds are shut down by force or its threat, they tend to think up different goals for them to pursue. A just human community is one in which the goals of all the members can be pursued provided they are peaceful, non-aggressive. All this talk of the community, the public, we and so forth amounts to some people’s efforts to obscure that fact and secure for themselves control over others. Maybe the intent behind it is benign but the outcome is a disaster.

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