May 06, 2003

Time to Drop our Old Animosities...

and pick up new ones, more suited to the times. The far left and the far right have joined to defend tyrants and curtail US power. The ACLU has joined with Dick Armey and Orring Hatch to defend civil liberties. The old left/right divide no longer works. "Centrist" and "Extremist" don't really work, and "Idiotarian" doesn't satisfy (used by either side), because these are value judgements that the sides will not agree on. (Both sides have to accept the term for it to be meaningful as a basis of debate.)

Since the key factor in the current political meta-debate is to what extent state sovereignty is absolute vs. predicated on the representative nature of a given country, and since this turns on whether it should be the state or the individual who forms the basic unit of sovereignty, I suggest we use the terms "collectivist" and "individualist".

Collectivists believe, like Noam Chomsky, that the individual exists to serve the state's economic policies, for the moral betterment of society; or believe, like Pat Buchanan, that the state exists to curb the moral imperfections of individuals, for the moral betterment of society. The key is that a collectivist believes that the state exists to contain and channel the individual into a path determined by society (and hence by the state), so as to collectively better all. Brian Carnell observes the same phenomenon, in the context of attitudes towards corporations.

I don't yet have good sources spelling out the collectivist concept of the place of the indidual and the state, or their concept on the role of government. This is mainly because it is dreadful reading through the writings of Marx, Engles, Chomsky, Buchanan, Robertson, et al. When I get them, I will quote them.

Individualists believe that people individually hold and retain all rights, except those voluntarily surrendered to the state or to other organizations. In other words, all organizations are voluntary and have only such power as the people comprising the organization choose to grant to the organization. The state exists for the purpose of achieving what individuals could not achieve, such as mediating disputes, ensuring individual rights against each other and the state itself, and providing domestic security and security from invasion.

The individualist concept of the place of the indidual and the state is based upon:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

The individualist concept of the role of government is:
to...establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity

So unless anyone can come up with better terms, I am going to use "collectivist" and "individualist".

UPDATE (5/12): Michael Totten describes the new divide as "Liberators" and "Destroyers." I have to stick with my original terms, though, good as these are, because the Destroyers would not self-identify that way. Still, you should read his essay.

Posted by Jeff at May 6, 2003 01:34 PM | Link Cosmos
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