Two prominent visions of social life are these: that man is an individual who makes his own decisions in his own best interest, he knowing better than others his own needs. And if a man acts in his own interests, usually that will benefit others in that he will act in such a way as to gain good for himself rather than run the risk of the harm of being lynched by angry neighbours, for example. He will not always act in his own self-interest to his own benefit, we know this, sometimes he acting irrationally. We usually accept this as the nature of things, allowing for the fallibility of man and assigning to him the responsibility of the man's own actions. If the man does well, he is rewarded by his efforts; and if he does poorly, he suffers for it all of his own account. Each person is, in such a world-view, an individual, adult, free, independent and self-interested within a group of co-operative others doing much the same as he. Society and the state exist because of other banding together in a daily referendum on nationhood, as Ernest Renan puts it. We decide every day to live together as a people. We choose to live as a democratic people, each giving up a bit of freedom for the greater freedom to live more freely than in an anarchic melee of all against all. Most famously it's a Hobbesean vision of society. Unrestrained "liberty," is, according to Hobbes, what most of us would term anarchy: "During the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that conditions called war; and such a war, as if of every man, against every man.
To this war of every man against every man, this also in consequent; that nothing can be unjust. The notions of right and wrong, justice and injustice have there no place. Where there is no common power, there is no law, where no law, no injustice. Force, and fraud, are in war the cardinal virtues.
"Whatsoever therefore is consequent to a time of Warre, where every man is Enemy to every man; the same is consequent to the time, wherein men live without other security, than what their own strength, and their own invention shall furnish them withall. In such condition, there is no place for Industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain; and consequently no Culture of the Earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by Sea; no commodious Building; no Instruments of moving, and removing such things as require much force; No knowledge of the face of the Earth; no account of Time; no Society; and which is worst of all, continuall feare, and danger of violent death; And the life of man, solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short."
Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan.
Regardless of the misty origins of Social Contracts or their equivalents in the real world, we do, most of us, have The Laws. The Laws conflict with our individual freedom, which we accept so long as they are the minimum necessary to maintain order. Oh: that is, if were are individualists rather than Communitarians.
Clarice Feldman, "Dustbin Stasi," American Thinker. 01 Nov. 2008
The marvelous writer whose work appears under his pen name Theodore
Dalrymple has long argued that in statist regimes like that in the UK
local authorities do little to prevent or punish real crime but use
every law at their disposal to beset and harass the honest, law
abiding citizens -- because it's much easier work. The end result is
that the big issues of right and wrong get no attention as honest
citizens are reduced to scurrying around complying with
ever-increasing and ever more stupid petty regulations on their every
Nothing illustrates his point better than this story:
More than half of town halls admit using anti-terror laws to spy
on families suspected of putting their rubbish out on the wrong day.
If memory serves, it is Schiller who writes that no one is a whole but is rather a fragment of the whole, a splinter or a sliver of the whole, and that alone he is nothing of worth at all. His is the Communitarian vision of Man, quite typical of Europeans. There is much to be said in favor of such a vision: that those who live alone are feral, are animals, some of whom can't even walk upright, having learned from birth to walk like wild beasts. The feral man has no language. He has no articulate ideas. Man alone is, in short, not a man. It is society that gives man the boundaries that make him part of something rather than the boundless nothingness of freedom as individual. It is to others that every individual owes his being and sense. It is not merely to the living, it is to the past that one owes as well: one owes the past for traditions and laws and customs and livelihood and family and so on. Because no one man is important in comparison to the whole, no one is important as an individual in himself but only the collective is important. Selfishness, therefore, is a harm beyond repair. Individualism is a sin irredeemable. Putting out your trash against the greater collective, against the General Will is so wrong it requires that the whole of the community take action, in the case above by having some of them watch to ensure that those who violate the collective rights have a chance to prevent the individual person from such violations of the common good. The state must spy on the individual to ensure he doesn't do wrong against the whole, and that if he does, that he is corrected. The common interest before the personal interest. It makes sense in a Utilitarian view. We're all in this together.
"She's [Sarah Palin] not my role model. I don't identify with her. And it scares me because I feel she's not going away -- win or lose," says [Obama supporter Eileen] Limas. "She will go back, she will educate herself on things and re-tool herself and she is going to be around a while. I think she is going to be a substantial political player for the Republicans for a long time to come." CNN.
There are a couple of ways of understanding the nature of the meaning of life, separate and conflicting, that lead to our currently divided society: there is the collectivist vision, that we are all one; that people are nothing without other people to give them meaning and identity; that people who need people are the luckiest people in the world. Yes, we are the children of the world. And there is the vision that man is himself, makes himself according to what he decides is better for him by his own lights than what is demanded or even commanded of him by the state, by experts in how to live another's life. The latter one might call Gnostics, those who feel they have a greater insight into what is a good life for all, and who gather the powers of the state to enforce their visions onto the personal lives of the "masses."
When you were a child, your guardians, whether parents or not, probably had some better idea of how you should live your life than you did as a child. They, in turn, had less an idea than the rulers of the state and nation, i.e. those in charge of maintaining the order of society, e.g. politicians, university professors, journalists, and so on, those one might dismiss today as Philosopher Kings. Yes, some experts certainly do know much and valuable much at that. Your parents knew too much and valuable about your life when you were a child, no doubt. But they none of them knew enough to live your life for you. Sometimes the experts, government or even your parents, just don't get it, thinking they know your needs better than you can ever know anything about anything at all. Your life is held "in loco parentis," in the place of the parent by surrogates. Comes a time you should grow up and live your own life. Should come a time when you leave them, and they leave you alone. Often that doesn't happen: you become, as an adult, infantalised by the state and its minions. At adulthood, you are removed from the controls of schools and put into the control of the world by direct government. You never grow up to be mature adult. You never become a full individual: you are made into one sliver of the masses.
How many times have you heard from the social minders a slogan such as this: "The common good before the individual good"?
One hears this, or variations of, at any meeting of Povertarians: Give back to the community. We are all one big family. No one is more important that the group.
"Gemeinnutz vor Eigennutz."
You might want to look up that slogan to see where it comes from and why you just might not like it.
To give you a head start, I'll give a hint: It is the slogan of the Nazi state.
If you don't like the way thing go, it could be that you don't like this "Velvet Fascism" of the Povertarians taking care of all your needs. Maybe you really don't want to be a part of the herd of Human farm animals the minders would make you part of. Maybe you're an adult.
"Law never made men a whit more just; and, by means of their respect for it, even the well-disposed are daily made the agents of injustice."*
Conformity hippies will lead us astray from our own intuitions of the Good. Who are these religious fanatic Povertarian communalists to know our lives better than we who live them? Walk away.
"If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away."*
"Gemeinnutz vor Eigennutz."
*Quotation above come from Henry David Thoreau. [Reprinted from comments section at Downtown Eastside Enquirer.]
After roughly 300 pages of intense Germanic philosophizing, Fitche sums up with the line: "It depends on what kind of person one is."
Communalist Povertarian or Palinite?
Among roughly the same number of pages, though of terrible tedium, Ruth Benedict sums up with this: "In reality, society and the individual are not antagonists. His culture provides the raw material of which the individual makes his life. If it is meagre, the individual suffers; if it is rich, the individual has the chance to rise to his opportunity. Every private interest of every man and woman is served by the enrichment of the traditional stores of his civilization." Ruth Benedict, Patterns of Culture. Boston: Houghton Mifflin; 1934; rpt, 1959; p.p. 251-52.
Some people have managed to become both kinds of person, both the totalitarian and the champion of individuals: they allow license to some and exercise total control of trivialities among others. This is what Samuel Francis calls "Anarcho-tyranny," to which I will return at a later time, having first weighed the chances of successfully dumping the trash without being caught.