Sunday, July 26, 2009

Affirmative Actions & Related Collectivisms

Tibor R. Machan

The Obama regime is not very difficult to figure out because Obama & Co. have a very straightforward collectivist outlook. For example, they are evidently determined to even the score between white and black Americans. Since back then the whites--or a lot of them--did blacks very wrong, it is time to do whites very wrong at the hands of blacks--or at least some blacks. Slavery and segregation weren't malpractices by certain, many, white individuals but by the white race. And now this race needs to pay. It is all very tribal, like virtually every other issue Obama & Co. deal with.

This is not simply a mistake on this or that score, like laying in on the police in Boston because one has done something in the Henry Louis Gates episode that Mr. Obama considers unjustifiable. Indeed, because a black person, an eminent one at that, had a confrontation with a white one, a police officer who believed he was doing his duty, the details don't matter. Even if Mr. Obama was ignorant of the details, as he admitted he was, what matters to his tribal mentality is just that one of the people was black, the other white. Or so it appears from everything known about the situation.

For collectivists individuals don't matter, groups do. For some it is the entire human race that is of sole concern, for others it is members of a given race or nation or ethnic or some other smaller group. Collectivists have an explicit doctrine about this, no one need to be guessing. Individuals are figments of our social imagination. They exist no more than do cells in our bodies exist as independent, sovereign entities. Sovereignty, the right of self-government, belongs only to the group. You and I and the rest of individuals are parts or elements, just as ants are in an ant colony or bees in a bee hive. The colony or the hive matters. This is why collectivists always fret about society or community. For them these are not what people individually choose to be part of, no way. These are what all "individuals" literally belong to.

Apart from Karl Marx and Auguste Comte of years gone by, in our own time the most powerful advocate of this point of view is Professor Charles Taylor, who teaches philosophy in Canada (last I knew he taught at McGill University). Among his followers, either explicitly or implicitly, are several of the more famous people on the Obama team such as the recently appointed regulation czar Cass Sunstein, a very prolific and inventive legal theorists who is now a professor at the Harvard Law School (probably on leave while working with Obama). Among his latest ideas is to restrict expression on the Internet because much of it amounts to rumors and derails the discussions he wants for us to have. His forthcoming book, On Rumors: How Falsehoods Spread, Why We Believe Them, What Can Be Done, makes no bones about the need for supervision of the Web. Recently he and a co-author laid out the theory of nudging, whereby government is supposed to manage the citizenry via subtle, difficult to detect prompters that regulators would put in place in line with the purposes of the executive branch.

Collectivism is, of course, false--people are, in fact, individuals and when they are members of groups this is largely of their own doing. And they normally enjoy the exit option, unless constrained by other individuals. And these other, power hungry individuals always choose to represent themselves as speaking for the group. That is exactly the style of Obama & Co. That is why most of the time he speaks of public policies he insists on speaking as "we" and not as "I". But now and then the I does slip out, as when the president tells his audience that "I want health care [or insurance or whatever] reform by such and such a date." The dictatorial tone is unmistakable.

The individualist revolution that overthrew the earlier versions of collectivism (such as czarism and other forms of monarchy--which, oddly, were more honest than the current types) is still struggling to make its mark. And just now it is experiencing a serious setback. Only the proverbial eternal diligence will resuscitate it.

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