May 06, 2003

The Individual, Society and the State

While researching for this post, I came across this article, which is an excellent discussion of the individual, the state, and the nature of authority and its relationship to Liberty. Some money quotes:

The State, every government whatever its form, character or color - be it absolute or constitutional, monarchy or republic, Fascist, Nazi or Bolshevik - is by its very nature conservative, static, intolerant of change and opposed to it. Whatever changes it undergoes are always the result of pressure exerted upon it, pressure strong enough to compel the ruling powers to submit peaceably or otherwise, generally "otherwise" - that is, by revolution. Moreover, the inherent conservatism of govemment, of authority of any kind, unavoidably becomes reactionary. For two reasons: first, because it is in the nature of government not only to retain the power it has, but also to strengthen, widen and perpetuate it, nationally as well as internationally. The stronger authority grows, the greater the State and its power, the less it can tolelate a similar authority or political power along side of itself. The psychology of govemment demands that its influence and prestige constantly grow, at home and abroad, and it exploits every opportunity to increase it. This tendency is motivated by the financial and commercial interests back of the government, represented and served by it.


Our political and social scheme cannot afford to tolerate the individual and his constant quest for innovation. In "self-defense" the State therefore suppresses, persecutes, punishes and even deprives the individual of life. It is aided in this by every institution that stands for the preservation of the existing order. It resorts to every form of violence and force, and its efforts are supported by the "moral indignation" of the majority against the heretic, the social dissenter and the political rebel - the majority for centuries drilled in State worship, trained in discipline and obedience and subdued by the awe of authority in the home, the school, the church and the press.


The "genius of man," which is but another name for personality and individuality, bores its way through all the caverns of dogma, through the thick walls of tradition and custom, defying all taboos, setting authority at naught, facing contumely and the scaffold - ultimately to be blessed as prophet and martyr by succeeding generations. But for the "genuis of man," that inherent, persistent quality of individuality, we would be still roaming the primeval forests.


Man's true liberation, individual and collective, lies in his emancipation from authority and from the belief in it. All human evolution has been a struggle in that direction and for that object. It is not invention and mechanics which constitute development. The ability to travel at the rate of 100 miles an hour is no evidence of being civilized. True civilization is to be measured by the individual, the unit of all social life; by his individuality and the extent to which it is free to have its being to grow and expand unhindered by invasive and coercive authority.

Socially speaking, the criterion of civilization and culture is the degree of liberty and economic opportunity which the individual enjoys; of social and international unity and co-operation unrestricted by man-made laws and other artificial obstacles; by the absence of privileged castes and by the reality of liberty and human dignity; in short, by the true emancipation of the individual.

While I am no fan of anarchism, which is the apparent preferred ideology of the article's author, there is much wheat among the chaff.

Posted by Jeff at May 6, 2003 01:49 PM | Link Cosmos

I stumbled across this blog while surfing for what I could find on the topic of Individual and Society. This is a topic long of interest to me (back to undergraduate days) which I have recently revisited with as much interest as in olden days. To my mind, the relationship of individual and society, group, state, whatever one wants to call the larger entity, is fundamental to civilization; perhaps it is civilization.

I'll bookmark your blog and come back again.

Posted by: Jerry on June 13, 2004 10:02 AM
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