Those politicos that align themselves to the right side of the political spectrum often accuse their counterparts on the left of “collectivism”. Collectivism, for those that may be unaware, is the belief that the individual has a duty to community/group/society/nation/etc regardless of the wishes or beliefs of that individual. Popular terms for this mentality are socialism and communism. Collectivism is adverse to individual freedoms and views some version of a “greater good” as the most important facet of existence. We hear Republicans/Conservatives call people like President Obama a “socialist” or a “progressive” (another term that has come to embody the values of collectivism). While these accusations may be true, I find it curious that the Right can point fingers seemingly innocently when they themselves engage in collectivist thought as well.
Conservatives might disagree with this assessment, but the facts speak otherwise. Institutions such as public education, morality, devotion to the military, support of public police and fire companies, etc are all examples of conservative collectivism. In the wake of such events as 9/11 there was an influx in conservative support for many of these groups, the police and fire departments highest among them. Most of the arguments made in defense of these institutions come in the form of “protection”; whether it be protection for people, a moral code, a holy book, a national identity, a religious belief, our children’s futures, or against threats to our lives. Yet we see that year after year there is actually an increase of problems in all these areas. Communities are fractured by violence or difference in governing styles. People of differing faiths verbally (or physically) battle. Even within the same faiths we see schisms occurring on a regular basis. The military being used to support imperialist endeavors throughout the world is viewed as being unnecessary by some, but vital by others. The list could go on.
My theme here is that there are certain institutions in our political environment that are held sacrosanct by conservatives. The question is: why? Why is it right to steal money from individuals through taxation and spend it on education when it’s considered not right to do the same to spend it on health care? Why is it right to expect a duty to your local community when it’s considered wrong to expect a duty to the poor and destitute? Why is it right to promote the Bible via state mandate over other holy books like the Koran, the Tibetan Book of the Dead, or the Talmud?
It’s dualities like these that lead me to believe that conservatives are equally guilty when it comes to collectivist thought. The dangers of the conservative collectivist mentality are similar to some of my other caveats regarding anti-individualism. Firstly, and most obviously, is that it forsakes the wishes and beliefs of an individual. Examples of this range from state-mandated curriculum for not only public and private schools, but home schooled students as well; the expectation that the state should promote the Ten Commandments through legislation and the judiciary or allow the Bible to be the main (or only) religious book taught in schools regardless of whether or not that school is in a Christian community; that the duty of each person is to promote the goals and aspirations of the community regardless of their financial situation, family situation, or personal beliefs.
Secondly, conservative collectivism promotes centralized government. Similar to my first caveat, this takes away liberties of individuals to live a sovereign life free of coercion. But more importantly, it reduces the corporate mentality of all those people within that community or nation down to a simple formula. Economic activity is, thus, boiled down to mere equations and statistics. Individual needs and wants are left by the wayside while the central planners hold the power to dictate what is to happen. We get a glimpse of this on a local level with pet projects such as parks, greenbelts, historical areas, or the exclusion of “unwanted” businesses form the community. The people only have a say in the matter insofar as they get to vote out one person in hopes that the next is better. But this is hardly a form of checks and balances when policies like taxation are perpetrated regardless of who’s in power.
At this point, many conservative collectivists like to assert that they are for a “locally-based” government rather than a federal or state government. They say this in hopes of tuning down their socialist ideology; after all, public education is better if the town or city mandates it rather than bureaucrats in DC or Ottawa. To this I say that a dictator isn’t restricted in his abilities by the amount of territory he controls. A town council or community planning board is just as easily corrupted by power and the ability to tax as is the Congress or White House. And this argument does very little to rebut my first point concerning the violation of the individual. A mandate in education is still in violation of a persons’ right to educate themselves how they wish, no matter if it’s done by a mayor or board member.
Thirdly, the economic distortions that this centrally controlled community or nation would achieve would be no different than those we see today. The laws of economics don’t cease to work merely because you’ve applied them to religion, education, the military, or a local community. Again, there is nothing stopping economic or financial corruption from taking place in a town that decides to have its own central bank printing fiat currency or its own version of the Department of Education. This is tantamount to saying that a nation of smaller proportion to ours is less capable of economic destruction than we are. To that, I’d point you to my article last week concerning Algeria. The number of people being ruled is not the chief factor. Scale matters not. Price controls, taxation, tariffs, deficit spending, inflation, bankruptcy, and other pitfalls invade institutions like education just like they invade institutions like health care. People are still overlooked and not cared for as well as having their rights trampled by central bureaucrats promoting good intentions.
So what is the solution to conservative collectivist thought if there are no institutions that are sacrosanct? My suggestion would be to allow individualism to work. An individual is the only person that best knows his or her needs and wants. One person may promote education over health care in their life. Another may support Christian doctrine and thought while another may be a devout Muslim. In other words, allow a free economy to operate how it wishes. This implies that the economy is the people, all acting individually from one another, yet still in a corporate way.
In the case of education, a child may be best suited at a school that offers high level art classes as opposed to a strict doctrine of math and science. In a free economy, the child (or its parents) would have the ability to send them to a school that values the arts over other things. And that school would be managed and run by a competent board that existed to provide a service that its customers wanted. If this school fails to meet the demands of the customers, they lose business to a competing school, and may even end up bankrupt. Those schools that offer the best product for the lowest cost would survive and flourish; all the while its customers would be equipped to do the things they excel at.
The same would be true in a parochial school that offers a religious bent on its curriculum. Muslim or Jewish areas wanting religious education would be serviced by schools offering Islamic or Jewish studies, classes, and events. Likewise for Christians.
Police and fire departments would operate under the profit-loss system as well. A department wrongfully apprehending people or failing to respond to a fire would be taken over by their competitors. Those offering quicker response times, fairer arrests, lower mistakes, better equipment, and higher quality of overall service would be the victors, while all others would be left behind.
This theoretical system is not utopian, as some like to insist. Utopianism is not a rational objective; nor is it even possible. The crux of my argument is that conservatives are in violation of the sovereignty of individuals when it comes to the institutions I’ve listed above. There are alternatives to the systems we have in place; namely the free market and the emphasis on individualism. If we allow each person or group to come to the marketplace and purchase the things they wish in order to better their lives in the ways they see fit, not only would many of the problems we face with dropping test scores and religious in-fighting and petty arguments cease to exist, but the rights of people would be protected by decentralizing power and investing it in each and every person.
Ideologies such as nationalism, socialism, protectionism, and partisanism promote hate and violence because it creates needless conflict between people and groups that would otherwise not exist. Contrary to what conservatives believe, their collectivist endeavors damage the communities that they’re trying to protect.
The preceding article was originally posted at the now-defunct site http://www.anti-state.ca in January 2011. The Author has chosen to re-publish it here to once again inspire thought and rekindle the passion that existed at anti-state.ca.