Zipline Conservative

November 8, 2008

The Individual v. The Collective (Free Markets, The Common Good…Who Decides)


Individualism, Collectivism,
and Other Murky Labels


By Sheldon Richman (*), MWC News
“Imagine the following person. He believes all individuals should be free to do “anything that’s peaceful” and therefore favors private property, free global markets, freedom of contract, civil liberties, and all the related ideas that come under the label “libertarianism” (or liberalism). Obviously he is not a statist. But is he an individualist and a capitalist or a socialist and a collectivist?
.It sounds like an easy question, but on closer inspection it’s not. Much depends on the context, or the level of analysis at which the question is directed.”
“In summary, the great political debate is not between individualists and collectivists, but between those who see the coercive state as the locus of authority and those who see voluntary society as that locus. Liberals from Adam Smith to Herbert Spencer to F.A. Hayek have emphasized the benefits of free, spontaneous social (market) processes (including the common law) and how those processes are disrupted by the state. Advocates of the supremacy of state over society are properly called statists. Wouldn’t it follow that advocates of the supremacy of society over state should be called socialists? In this regards, I recall that the libertarian James Dale Davidson, founder of the National Taxpayers Union, long ago wrote a book (The Squeeze, as I remember) that called for a “socialization of rules.” By that he meant that the rules and customs of everyday life should be generated, bottom-up, by society, not imposed, top down, by legislators.”     
Word play and riddles, twists and turns to do what…compromise to Socialism as a non-Statist philosophy? Gradualism, I say. Ease the mind of the Individual to accept reasonable compromise for the good of the group. Do it often enough and not much isn’t palatable anymore. There is disdain in Mr. Richmon’s discussion of the Individual….Collective accomplishments are temporary agreements to check your Liberty for the moment…and to always watch for the repetitive push to compromise one too many times…for the collective good.    

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