It’s All About Choices, Stupid
Tibor R. Machan
There is a phony conflict afoot that statists are fond of bringing up when they try to discredit the free society. It is about the individual versus the community. Champions of human liberty are often mis-characterized as denying the significance of human community life. As if individualists advocated that people live like hermits, apart from their fellows, in solitude.
Of course, individualists do not advocate anything of the kind. What they insist upon is that human beings be understood as choosing their associations instead of being simply herded into groups that some of them prefer to be part of.
Nearly everyone is better off living in the company of others. Hardly any human activity is carried out isolated from others and even when it appears like it, others are usually surrounding it, supporting it, helping it along, and so forth. Solitary existence isn’t the objective which individualists are promoting.
What individualists are seeking is a kind of society in which people can make a choice as to what groups they will join, for how long, where, etc. And, yes, they also want to be left in peace for a good bit instead of being dragged into the company of others when they’d rather carry forth on their own. Writers, composers, painters, and the like are among these. Again, the bottom line is that one size doesn’t fit all!
There are animals that naturally exists linked to others of their species, like ants or termites or many varieties of fish. But with humans what makes them distinctive is that they make choices about these matters–will one be part of a choir of sing in a trio or alone? Will one be a hiker by oneself or with a bunch of friends? You get the point.
What the communitarians types want is for them to dictate the kind of groups everyone must be part of. They detest the possibility of people making up their own minds about such matters since free choice runs the risk of noncompliance and to bring others on board for their journey of their own free will requires successful persuasion, something that cannot be guaranteed.
The communitarians want to be in charge of everyone’s destiny. Their imperialism is contrary to human nature and whenever they try it, all hell breaks loose and we get gulags and concentration camps instead of peaceful communities and companionships. Here is a good outline of their social political philosophy:
“We need to see society as an extension of ourselves , an invisible part of our anatomy that assists us every day without dominating us and that, like our own arms and legs, we tend when injured, and whose welfare reconsider at all times. The relation resembles that of a violinist to his instrument–useful but more than something useful, cared for like an esteemed friend. If such a part of us fails, we do not discard it for a peg leg, nor are we fired from our job because we cannot play hopscotch. We may be a disposable member of the symphony, but our violin is us to us. The relation is somethings–oh dear–called love.” (See, William H. Gass, “Double Vision,” Harper’s Magazine, Oct. 2012, p. 78.)
This passage comes from a prominent contemporary public philosopher who I have heard has been close to some Democratic presidents in recent years. In any case, his ideas are close to Mr. Obama’s famous quip that we are all in it together and his repeated blather about how no one achieves success on his own–remember “You didn’t build that.”
The important point is not to argue about how much people draw from each other as they make their way through life. What is crucial is that in a genuinely free country when they draw on each others contributions they do this of their own free will and are not lumped together by some philosopher king, like it or not.