Individualism is the ethic that, in the west, laid the foundation for massive industrialized societies to emerge from the economic principle of the division of labor... for the abandonment of slavery... and, ultimately, which raised so many people out of poverty.
Under the ancient regime - before the doctrine of individualism and of individual rights in the natural sense came about - the individual never had rights. One may have been part of a family or tribe, where maybe the head had rights in some sense as the citizen of a state.
But the life of an individual was not all that in this state of affairs.
You were expendable. You didn't own yourself. Your patriarch decided your fate. Maybe you were sold into slavery or some type of service as tribute for the king. You likely didn't have a say. Inherently you accepted your fate because you accepted the doctrine of collectivism.
Collectivism was the ethic of the ancient regime - of the pre industrial and pre modern eras.
It is the ethic that spawned communism, fascism, nazism, socialism, and statism of all kinds: from minarchy to totalitarianism... that has killed hundreds of millions of people in its name... that kept mankind in the dark ages and led it into slavery. And it always finds its power in the argument that the whole (or the group or collective) is more important than the individual.
The doctrine of individual rights was the product of the enlightenment, which in turn was the product of the free exchange of thoughts and ideas spurred on by Gutenberg's invention in the age of reason. It was this doctrine that ultimately ended slavery world wide, not Lincoln.
It was the doctrine of the individual's right of self ownership that allowed former peasants and slaves to experience freedom for the first time, allowing individuals to live like the kings did.
The author of a new book demonstrates precisely this.
In "Inventing the Individual: The Origins Of Western Liberalism", Larry Siedentop argues individualism is what's new about the modern age, and what has allowed for the enormous prosperity that has raised millions out of poverty and has freed many of them from the benefactors of the collectivist system. The author notes, about his experience in societies where the individual still has relatively few rights in the current day, that it is a western idea,
"Classical liberal individualism does not exist in the modern world outside of the US and Europe, and it is dying here. The collectivist cultures of the rest of the world differ little from those of ancient Greece and Rome."
Or as Ed Griffin, filmmaker, historian, and author of "The Creature of Jekyll Island" (a book on the origin of the Federal Reserve system as a captured or crony institution), explained at the Fatima Conference in Ontario in 2013, collectivism was one of six dominant themes that were present in his research of "bad" governments, and which continues to permeate the U.N.
But, in particular, what he would point out about this doctrine is that the "group" is an abstraction. What he found, historically, was that wherever the idea was accepted that the individual was expendable or that he or she had to be sacrificed for the good of the many, there always had to be someone who got to dictate the parameters for deciding it all.
This person or small group of people are the benefactors that speak on behalf of the group!
Even in supposed democratic situations there is always a small group of people who would arrogate to themselves the task of speaking for the "group." That's what politics is about.
Of course, Murray Rothbard's rule of oligarchy asserts that all states are ultimately controlled by a small group of people or else they would collapse - for example under mob rule eventually the mob would outgrow the productive classes and the social order would collapse.
But this is something we all know, except for perhaps most people in the west today.
The west now can't seem to get rid of is the collectivist ethic, a remnant of the ancient regime.
That's because it is in the interests of people after power (the predator class) to promote it.
People are hardwired to buy the propaganda because it is where they come from.
The legitimacy of the doctrine is the source of many abuses - still existing in many parts of the uncivilized world, as Siedentop discovered in his travels. As Mr. Griffin said in his lecture, the individual is the cornerstone of a modern and free society, not the group. The group is never more important than the individual because the group does not exist. Only individuals exist.
The group is an abstract concept with an attached meaning. It can be perceived only once it has been intellectualized and defined. I can't see the forest for the trees because the forest does not exist. I can see it once I understand it as a bunch of individual trees but it does not and cannot exist independent from the individual trees. The forest or family is an abstraction.
And who would really choose to die for an abstraction?? What a con collectivism is.
If you look at a crowd of individuals and some of them have red shirts what would that mean?
If I told you it meant they were "the state" and explained that this gave them extra powers you would then perceive a group - but it is an abstraction that requires definition and meaning.
You should then ask why they get to have those extra powers?
It is easier to justify them if you can destroy the doctrine of individual rights.
But this doctrine simply holds that no one other than you is best suited to own you.
Who could argue that?
There are four kinds of ownership Ii can think of:
Collective - We all own you
Nobody owns you including yourself
Someone else (or a group) owns you
You own you
Here's why only #4 can count as the foundation for peaceful society,
Collective ownership of anything is functionally impossible when the members of society become too large - it may be workable in small tribal settings, which is why the syndicalists cling to it, but in a large society the catallactics make it impossible to exercise rule collectively.
Abolishing all modes of ownership would also be impossible primarily because property is natural and inherent, and it would create chaos -since property is also a mode of conflict resolution when it comes to dealing with scarce goods and resources.
I can't think of a sound moral argument that can justify slavery.
That leaves only #4.
Self-ownership seems logical and inherent.
Who else is better suited to owning you - to knowing your needs and making decisions that affect yourself?
It seems only obvious, moreover, that any discussion of justice and ethics has to be rooted in the principle of self ownership. If you abandon that then you abandon everything that has advanced western civilization over the course of the last 200 years. Not only would you abandon industrialization and elements that come along with it (like consumerism), which you may not like, but you would take the world backwards to the era of slavery. That's where collectivism goes. You just have to discount the value of individuals and private property.
Whenever you hear the idea that the whole is worth more than one individual run. There is no whole. There is just one individual with the power to decide which ones are expendable.
He gets this power because of the legitimacy of the doctrine that he promotes as just: that the needs of the collective outweigh the needs and value of the individual.
[Editor's Note: Ed Bugos is TDV's Senior Analyst and writes in the TDV Newsletter}
Original blog can be found HERE