When I tell people that there is no such concept as individualism, I am usually met with some form of the straw man fallacy. No, I am not saying I have the right as an individual to walk up to you and punch you in the face; that should be obvious. Usually the person arguing, “I have rights as an individual!” is just spouting a bumper sticker slogan and has never taken the time to think through what exactly individual rights means, both in reference to himself or others.
Most people who invoke “their rights” are talking about a form of “Natural Rights” which, as the name implies, they see as being derived from a deity or nature. A good definition for Natural Rights would be:
Natural rights are those that are not dependent on the laws or customs of any particular culture or government, and so are universal, fundamental and inalienable.
So, what are Natural Rights essentially? In relation to how a society is organized, they are yet another theory that we must consider. I would hope that most honest, grounded thinkers would agree with that. Do I agree that there are rights that fall under the umbrella of Natural Rights that are valid? Absolutely! But as I said, these natural rights are theories based on the ideas of men. Hence, there will be people who disagree that such things as Natural Rights exist. And these are the people who must be considered, and included, if you are going to have order in a society. Why do I say this?
When a person invokes any or all of these Natural Rights with regard to their individual person and you call on them to defend this claim, they will invoke “gotcha” questions that contain the aforementioned bumper sticker slogans, such as, “Are you saying ‘might makes right’?” If that is your response to “you have to defend your claim,” you are possessed by whatever ideology to which you hold. And the individualists who scream “are you saying ‘might make right’!?” are prone to making statements such as “all interactions must be voluntary.” Even if I agreed with that statement, what is their plan for enforcing that maxim?
A society is made of individuals, and individuals like to form groups. Basing a society upon individualism, Natural Rights and/or voluntary interactions is a recipe for disaster unless you are confident that everyone in your society is on board. We know that people may change their minds over time as their personal circumstances change. We also know that every individual is self-interested, and if one cannot achieve their interests as individuals, they will find people who share those interests and plot to make their interests materialize. History shows us that a small, well-organized group can and will rise up to subvert the order upon which the community was established. It is empirically true that the masses cannot organize as well as a small cadre of people who have a vision and are willing to act upon it. The fact that the society was established upon a “live and let live” ethos (individualism and voluntaryism) allows said cadre to conspire and plan, as it would be against the morality of the community to preemptively put an end to their scheme.
How do you combat this if your goal is a society based upon voluntary interactions? I can’t see any answer outside of violating the first principle of only having voluntary interactions. A system of gatekeeping is essential to any organization. In business, it’s the job interview; and in politics, it is a threat of discipline/censure for stepping out of line. Honestly, once you understand the folly inherent to the idea of a voluntary society whose first principles are based upon “you leave me alone and I’ll leave you alone,” the aforementioned self-interested, small organized group may just be plotting to implement the necessary gatekeeping mechanisms to mitigate the potential damage such a flawed structure for human organization would produce.
As important as individual rights may be to the individual, the individual is a poor defender of them. One’s rights are best protected by a collective, and a collective’s structure demands an individual or group at its head who makes decisions that may be preemptive when it comes to the safety of the group or individuals within it. However you may try to explain it away, that person or group has just become the sovereign.
Categories: Culture Wars/Current Controversies
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