THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 721, May 19, 2013
"I think we may have reached a point, elected a
President, who _possesses_ no individuality, no
real being of his own, but is made up totally
of the collective. Something like the Borg Queen."
Attribute to L. Neil Smith's The Libertarian Enterprise
In the final analysis, there are only two political "philosophies" in the world, comprised, as Robert Heinlein suggested, of "those who think that people should be controlled, and those who do not". The latter sort are called "individualists" and the former are called "collectivists".
Naturally, the reason for controlling people is so that whatever they create or earn can be taken from them easily, using a variety of excuses, by those who are capable of creating or earning nothing themselves.
To the individualist, individual rights are the supreme value. Only individuals have rights, and they are not additive in character. Two people, or two thousand people, or two million people have no more rights than a single individual, and to the extent that a society is permitted to exist at all, it is to protect and advance the interests of its basic, indispensable building block, the individual. Every single relationship within such a society must be explicit and totally voluntary.
To collectivists, however, there are no individual rights, and the individual's interests and opinions count for nothing in the broader, grander, collective scheme of things. Individuals are born with what amounts to an unpayable obligation to society. They are nothing more than worker-ants, whose talents and labor are there to be exploited by the collective. Anybody who objects is anti-social, as both Josef Stalin and Barack Obama would tell us, and most likely insane and in need of confinement.
Like a gang of bandits squabbling over the loot, however, the collectivists over time, have divided themselves into three factions who detest each other almost as much as they detest the Productive Class they prey on.
In my novel The American Zone (Tor Books, 2001), I tried a little fancy footwork. Employing a slightly modified Nolan-Fritz diagram (see "The World's Smallest Political Quiz"*), I created an ideological villain from each of the three lower, collectivist corners of the chart.
The maternalistic left, dedicated to taking care of everybody— to death—was represented in the fictional flesh by a character based on then-Senator Howard Metzenbaum (I called him "Slaughterbush", a loose translation), who at that time was the leading voice for victim disarmament in government, and was also the legal mouthpiece for self-admittedly communist front "workers'" groups in Ohio and Washington, D.C. So where was J. Edgar Hoover when we really needed him?
The paternalistic right, dedicated to watching—and spanking— everybody, was represented by tedious author, amateur moralist, semi-pro wet blanket, and former "Drug Czar" William Bennett, who I felt at the time was the most dangerous political figure in America, and whose name I turned around to Bennett Williams, so that he could be the younger brother to Buckley F. Williams, a memorable, and not entirely villainous character from my first novel, The Probability Broach.
The character at the bottom of the diamond—Dave and Marshall had identified it as populism, but I recognized at once that it was fascism—I somewhat playfully based on PBS television's Fred Rogers, a man, a character, and a kids' TV show that never failed to creep me out.
The remaining uppermost, non-collectivist corner, is, of course, Libertarianism.
Fascism is regarded by most observers as the farthest any person or ideology can go to the right. "Most observers" are wrong. It began, in the early 20th century, as an attempt to create a form of communism that would work. Even as early as then, it was manifest that, if the naturally and unavoidably incompetent state owned and controlled "the means of production"—all factories and businesses—people would starve by thousands or by millions, depending on the size of the country.
Then—since the underlying political theory couldn't possibly be wrong—somebody would have to take the blame for communism's obvious failures, and thousands or millions more (condemned for ineptitude, laziness, greed, or hatred of the state) would go to the wall. Those countries that had tried to practice the kindly, altruistic philosophy of "From each according to his abilities; to each according to his needs" became death factories on a scale never seen before in human history.
Believe it or not, the creators of fascism wanted to stop all that. Naming their bright, shiny, new idea for the ancient symbol of the Roman state, an axe with rods bound alongside its handle for unfailing strength, we can determine that they were nothing more than parlor theorists. Otherwise they'd have realized that such an axe is useless. As it is, they'd accidentally chosen the perfect logo for collectivism.
Mind you, fascism does work, after a fashion. Certain poor suckers are allowed to believe that they own the means of production, and they do all the hard work, bear all the costs, associated with business ownership.
Meanwhile, it's government that actually established policies and controls businesses through various regulations governing land use and zoning, business hours, what products will be legal to manufacture, and the relationship of the labor force to the business. With every year that passed, politicians think up new regulations that are piled on top of old ones, making it harder and harder to operate. And in the end, government takes the profits in the form of taxes.
It works, sort of, maybe not with jackboots and swastikas, but with Suits and ties and button-down collars. Most of the starvation and mass executions eventually ended. But what was left was a flat, repellent, stagnant culture like today's Europe, without much fun of much of a future, that produces poorer goods and services at higher prices every year. It also produces slick operators (you know who they are, the media always tries to represent them as "capitalists") who learn to work the system to their benefit, and, with a bribe here and a favor there, a friend in the legislature, congress, or the White House, grows rich and powerful, as part of what Ayn Rand called the "Aristocracy of Pull".
The originators of fascism had saved left wing collectivism by grafting it onto right wing collectivism. That's what you'll find at the bottom corner of the Nolan-Fritz diamond. It's also what we're living with today, But unlike the wiser, more temperate parasitism of the 1950s or 1960s, government has imposed too many rules, gotten too greedy, and skimmed off trillions of dollars. It's now a serious question whether Western Civilization can survive these self-inflicted wounds.
A word about the right, since that's what this essay is supposed to be about. Following the reasoning of Robert LeFevre, I have thought for many years about the excuses that people give for doing what they do.
In every case, on both sides of the "aisle", the basic assumption is that the rights of the group are more important than the rights (if any) of the individual. We are all sick unto death of the endless litany of justifications—the children, the community, the animals, lovely Mother Gaia—that the left wing collectivists shove at us for depriving us of our lives, our liberty, and our property. I think we may have reached a point, elected a President, who possesses no individuality, no real being of his own, but is made up totally of the collective.
Something like the Borg Queen.
Right wing collectivists vary in the excuses they offer: God and moral rectitude, tradition, honor, the Corps, national security, and the dire looming threats of communism, "Islamofascism", and all those damned immigrants (legal or otherwise, voluntary or otherwise), be they Black, German, Irish, Italian, Chinese, Vietnamese, Mexican, or South American.
The left will gladly have you killed if you resist being taxed to fund national healthcare. The right will gladly have you killed if you resist being taxed to fund a fleet of submersible nuclear aircraft carriers. The operative word, in each case, is "killed". In each case the individual counts for nothing against some "greater" collective good.
And yet society is composed of nothing but individuals. It depends abjectly on the individual's good will in order to continue to exist. If there's nothing in the relationship for the individual, and if the individual is there simply to be looted and sacrificed, at the very least he will stop doing whatever he does that makes him valuable to society. That, of course, is the concept behind Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged.
At the other extreme, he may lash out at his expropriators, and a single individual, especially in a high-tech civilization can do a lot of damage. All anyone has to do is take a look at today's headlines. See libertarian Eric Frank Russell's wonderful novel Wasp for further enlightenment.
That, in the end, is why the Soviet Union collapsed.
That is also why authorities everywhere, left and right, are so afraid of the idea of the individual, and equally, of individualism, and why they're trying so hard to redefine all individual action as "terrorism".
And that is why the so-called "War on Terror"—only the most recent excuse for attempting to turn the United States, and the whole world with it, into a prison with seven billion disarmed, defenseless inmates—will never end. It will never be allowed to end, unless we, the individuals, the individualists, do something to end it, ourselves.