While much of Friedrich Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom focused on correcting erroneous ideas and sloppy thinking that misled (and still mislead) many to support socialistic expansions of government power, that is not all it did. It also reiterated the case for individualism and its economic manifestation—free markets. Since convincing careful thinkers requires such an affirmative case as well as defensive debunking, the book’s diamond 75th anniversary is a propitious time for Americans to remember what only individualism provides, so that we will not continue to follow a path of “replacing what works with what sounds good,” as Thomas Sowell described it.
- The essential features of…individualism…are the respect for the individual man qua man…the recognition of his own views and tastes as supreme in his own sphere…and the belief that it is desirable that men should develop their own individual gifts and bents.
- The attitude of the liberal toward society is like that of the gardener who tends a plant and, in order to create the conditions most favorable to its growth, must know as much as possible about its structure and the way it functions.
- The holder of coercive power should confine himself in general to creating conditions under which the knowledge and initiative of individuals are given the best scope so that they can plan most successfully.
- The successful use of competition as the principle of social organization precludes certain types of coercive interference with economic life.
- Planning and competition can be combined only by planning for competition but not…planning which is to be substituted for competition.
- It is the very complexity of the division of labor under modern conditions which makes competition the only method by which such coordination can be adequately brought about.
- Nobody can consciously balance all the considerations bearing on the decisions of so many individuals…coordination can clearly be effective only by… arrangements which convey to each agent the information he must possess in order effectively to adjust his decisions to those of others…This is precisely what the price system does under competition and what no other system even promises to accomplish.
- The economist…His plea is for a method which effects such co-ordination without the need for an omniscient dictator.
- The various kinds of collectivism…[refuse] to recognize autonomous spheres in which the ends of the individuals are supreme.
- Recognition of the individual as the ultimate judge of his ends…that as far as possible his own views ought to govern his actions…forms the essence of the individualist position.
- What are called “social ends” are…merely identical ends of many individuals…to the achievement of which individuals are willing to contribute…Common action is thus limited to the fields where people agree on common ends.
- The clash between planning and democracy arises simply from the fact that the latter is an obstacle to the suppression of freedom which the direction of economic activity requires.
- The more the state “plans,” the more difficult planning becomes for the individual.
- The important question is whether the individual can foresee the action of the state…that the individual knows precisely how far he will be protected against interference from others, or whether the state is in a position to frustrate individual efforts.
- In a planned society the Rule of Law cannot hold…the use of the government’s coercive powers will no longer be limited and determined by pre-established rules.
- Economic control is not merely control of a sector of human life…it is the control of the means for all our ends.
- To believe that the power which is thus conferred on the state is merely transferred to it from others is erroneous. It is a power which is newly created and which in a competitive society nobody possesses. So long as property is divided among many owners, none of them acting independently has exclusive power to determine the income and position of particular people.
- The power which a multiple millionaire…has over me is very much less than that which the smallest fonctionnaire possesses who wields the coercive power of the state on…whether and how I am to be allowed to live or to work.
- Contrast…two types of security: the limited one, which can be achieved for all, and which is therefore no privilege but a legitimate object of desire; and absolute security, which…if it is provided for some, it becomes a privilege at the expense of others.
- Individualism is thus an attitude of humility…the exact opposite of that intellectual hubris which is at the root of the demand for comprehensive direction of the social process.
- It was men’s submission to the impersonal forces of the market that…has made possible the growth of a civilization without which this could not have developed; it is by thus submitting that we are every day helping to build something that is greater than any one of us can fully comprehend.
- If the democracies themselves abandon the supreme ideal of the freedom and the happiness of the individual…they implicitly admit that their civilization is not worth preserving.
- It is more important to clear away the obstacles with which human folly has encumbered our path and to release the creative energy of individuals than to devise further machinery for “guiding” and “directing” them—to create conditions favorable to progress rather than to “plan progress.”
Friedrich Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom defended the individual—the only ultimate locus of choice, responsibility and morality—as the appropriate focus of efforts toward human improvement, at a time when failing to keep that focus threatened the entire world. That is a lesson we need to remember now as well, when many do not remember the horrors that can lead to, and so support constantly expanding government powers over its citizens, which is in precisely the opposite direction of what once created America as a unique beacon of hope for the world.
If it’s a coincidence that “individual” begins with a letter that’s also a closely associated word, it’s a happy one indeed. Individual and I are inseparable. “I” is the pronoun used to refer to oneself as the speaker, writer, thinker, or actor. Without exception, “I” is an individual, not a group or a collective of any sort.
In keeping with my individuality, I seek to be as independent and self-reliant—a burden to no one—as my abilities allow.
This fact is worth endless celebration. For the profound truth it represents, we should be thankful every waking moment of our lives. I rejoice that I’m not a replica, an appendage, or a cog. Like each and every one of you reading this, I’m a completely specific, utterly unique, self-winding, and inner-motivated one-of-a-kind. No other human in our planet’s history was or is exactly like me or precisely like you, either. I’m not someone’s robot. I will resist efforts to program me or collectivize me into something I’m not. If ever you catch me trying to program or collectivize you, blow the whistle so I come to my senses.
I’m appalled at the ease with which some people speak of their fellow citizens as though they are liquids to be homogenized or tools to be manipulated—not by request but by the force of political power. It’s all for the nebulous collective good, they assure us, but for some reason they are willing to do us harm to achieve it.
A Yearning for Independence
In keeping with my individuality, I seek to be as independent and self-reliant—a burden to no one—as my abilities allow. I will speak for myself and gladly accept responsibility for my actions. And I have rights, the only kind of rights that make any sense: individual rights. I will never willingly forfeit them by jumping into a communal blender for the sake of some abstraction called “society.”
This makes me an enthusiastic and unabashed proponent of individualism and as fierce an opponent of collectivism as you’ll find. In a 2013 article titled “Snowstorms or Snowflakes,” I explained:
A collectivist sees humanity as a snowstorm, and that’s as up-close as he gets if he’s consistent. An individualist sees the storm too, but is immediately drawn to the uniqueness of each snowflake that composes it. The distinction is fraught with profound implications.
If this point is lost on you, then watch the 1998 DreamWorks animated film, Antz. The setting is an ant colony in which all ants are expected to behave as an obedient blob. This is very convenient for the tyrant ants in charge, each of which possesses a very unique personality indeed. The debilitating collectivist mindset is shaken by a single ant who marches to a different drummer—namely, his own self—and ultimately saves the colony through his individual initiative.
Barbatus, voiced by actor Danny Glover, is one of the ants in Antz who lives his entire life as an indistinguishable bit of the collective blob known as the colony. In his last words to Z, the hero of the story voiced by Woody Allen, he says, “Don’t make my mistake, kid. Don’t follow orders your whole life. Think for yourself.”
Reflecting on that poignant moment later, Z sadly confides to another ant, “He just died in my arms like that. You know, I don’t think he ever once, in his life, made his own choice.”
Never to make a choice of your own is, to me, what Hell must be like.
Individuality vs. Collectivism
Individualism embraces human nature, our inherent individuality. Collectivism attempts to thwart it. The largest, most horrendous mass murders in history were collectivist crusades against the individual. Stalin, responsible for a minimum of 20 million murders, is widely reputed to have declared that “One death is a tragedy; a million is a statistic.”
The collectivist disparages the individual. He tells us there’s some higher moral good to “the group,” especially if he gets to define it or run it. Collective entities invariably reduce to very specific individuals telling other individuals what to do—or else!
Individualism is sometimes portrayed as anti-social. Nothing could be further from the truth. FEE’s Dan Sanchez explains:
As individualists have long emphasized, self-interest draws individuals toward mutually advantageous exchanges: toward “doing business” with one another.
After all, it’s the individual, not the collective, who decides to marry, to form a family, to employ people, to enjoy parties and other social get-togethers, to create wealth and trade, and to be neighborly in a thousand ways.
As Ayn Rand warned,
Do not make the mistake of the ignorant who think that an individualist is a man who says: “I’ll do as I please at everybody else’s expense.” An individualist is a man who recognizes the inalienable individual rights of man—his own and those of others.
Celebrate the Individual
I invite you to celebrate the individual, today and every day. It’s who we are, the way we were made, the way we grow, the way we make a difference in the world.
Lawrence W. Reed is President Emeritus at the Foundation for Economic Education
Taxation is something that is steeped into the secular consciousness. It is rarely questioned, and to even consider questioning it is often met with a disapproving reaction, as if you are failing or betraying your society by doing so. You’re not fulfilling your civic duty, or your “social contract”, so to speak. I’ve always found this puzzling, this idea that it’s selfish to want to keep all of the fruits of my labor for myself. Or at least if I’m going to redistribute it charitably, I’m the one making the decision to do so.
On face value, this doesn’t seem like something that anyone would disapprove of, but what I have found is more people than not seem to find the idea of not paying taxes to be absurd and preposterous. An individual who wants to keep their wealth as their own is frowned upon as greedy and non-caring to the community that surrounds them, especially if they have a lot of money.
Whether it’s selfish or not itself is just a matter of perspective of being good or bad, however. Being more concerned about what you will do to eat today as opposed to your neighbor is inherently selfish, but it’s a survival instinct. Everyone by nature cares more immediately about their own well-being than all the billions of others on the planet. This isn’t to say that you don’t care about others, whether they’re friends, family members, or complete strangers, and you may even voluntarily choose to sacrifice yourself for them given the circumstances. But what it is saying is that if your own well-being weren’t of the most immediate and intimate concern, then you would have no fight or flight instinct, and no will to live and survive.
This brings us back to overall selfishness. When you live your life “for the society” first and put your own needs second, it’s ultimately toxic for you AND society. This is because one is going against their intrinsic nature. If you aren’t satisfying your own needs first, and pursuing your own happiness and liberty first, your energy and efficiency in contributing to your environment will significantly decrease, if not transform into something purely destructive.
These ideas about selfishness expand into private property and what you own. The car that you drive is more important for you than anyone else’s car, for example. Your house getting flooded will be of a higher concern for you than if another stranger’s house a mile away floods. This is just the stuff of nature. It’s why you would get angry and perhaps worse if someone just came into your room and started taking your belongings.
Of course, theft can also be considered selfish. But the conflict that occurs during theft happens because one person’s will is clashing against another person’s will. So it’s not selfishness per se that is the problem, but the way that one acts upon it. The question is whether one is being honest with themselves about their intrinsic selfishness or not, and then behaving accordingly. Pretending that it’s not there out of some twisted sense of “altruism” is unhealthy, just as using it in a distorted sense to obtain what you want to the exclusion of the will of others is also unhealthy. Free trade leads to a harmony of will, while theft leads to a clash of will.
Back to taxation.
Interestingly, one may realize that taxation is a twisted sense of altruism via obtaining what is wanted (money for public services) by clashing with the will of others. Sure, there are plenty of enthusiastic citizens out there who will gladly pay their taxes while touting, “who will pay for the roads if I don’t?”, but what is important to note is what their personal consequences will be if they don’t. They will be jailed. No contract was signed that was agreed upon that justifies those consequences. It’s just imposed on the populace through coercive force. (Also, it should be noted that privately funded roads do exist. Crazy, I know.)
Essentially, my commentary boils down to individualism vs. collectivism, which has been at center stage of the core of philosophical and political debates all through human history. Perhaps we need to revisit this age-old debate and contemplate a little deeper. I’m certainly not the first to write about it, but I’m writing about it now because collectivism, which utilizes taxation, is so casually accepted in the coarse consciousness of society at the present time, especially for those who politically lean left and consider themselves “liberal”.
Many younger Americans think collectivism is the answer to all of our current problems. Redistribute everything and spread the wealth. End inequality. Tax the rich harshly to help the poor. It sounds nice and liberal on the surface. But it falls apart when dissected. Is it really liberal to use identity politics as a means of judging people about whether they fall under your mental compartmentalization of being part of the “oppressed class” as opposed to the “capitalist class” (as if capitalism is a class at all)? Identity politics is a collectivist movement. Is it really liberal to use mob mentality and demands to pressure policies into place through harassment of lawmakers and creating spectacles, all in the name of “social justice”? Mob mentality is a collectivist mentality. Is it really liberal for a society to not want to create wealth but to rather just evenly distribute it, which will eventually halt all growth? Socialism is a collectivist movement.
The problem is that collectivism is based on an underlying illusion. For, it is the individual who exists and who strives for the pursuit of happiness and liberty, not “the society”, which is nothing more than a phantom concept. It’s a useful concept, but ultimately it’s a ghost with no literal reality to it. How can a philosophy that is based on a phantom concept be the best answer? Individuals, on the other hand, do have a tangible reality, and the liberties of individuals timelessly get eroded by the sweeping attitudes of collectivism.
Gold and silver being treated as currency is something else that has lasted all through human civilization, up until very recently, that is. Since metals are an element of the Earth, they’re not owned by any central authority. This decentralized nature is the brilliance of it. Decentralization should be the default of any legitimate currency because it keeps the power out of the hands of a small minority who create and control the distribution.
We have temporarily strayed into pure centralization and manipulation of fiat currency, as the dollar is no longer backed by anything (such as precious metals). But I see an inevitable return back to the metals being acknowledged as legitimate at some point in the near future. Why? Because the fact of history is that every fiat currency collapses at some point, and one must remember this at all times, especially at this point in our global economy; the dollar is no longer backed by anything and hyperinflation runs rampant. In the course of the remainder of my lifetime, I could very well see the dollar collapse entirely. The precious metals will then make a huge comeback; hence the inevitability. Whether this ‘near future’ is 5 years, 25 years, or 50 years isn’t relevant in the overall bigger picture. It’s the inevitability that matters.
Cryptocurrency entered this world from the cypher punks. Just as with the metals, a unique and key feature of the idea of cryptocurrency is its decentralization. The first attempt at Bitcoin was BitGold, and indeed, its being treated as digital gold is what was aimed for. Although the original intention of it as a peer-to-peer form of electronic payment that completely supersedes any need for a centralized middle man, such as a bank, has remained, I do believe there is another half of the equation.
Many of the other cryptocurrencies out there, the altcoins, have already started forms of centralization. Some use a system called “governance”, where a select chosen few represent the overall project, as well as maintain ultimate control over all funds, to the trust of everyone else. I find it unbelievable not only that this is taking place at all, but that it is ALREADY taking place in the very early stages of cryptocurrency’s development. This seems to completely defeat the point of what cryptocurrency was all about in the first place, as its very nature is meant to be trustless and without centralization.
I also believe that these movements towards “governance” have to do with a larger conspiracy. I think that it’s an overarching movement to invoke a paperless society on a global scale, so that everything can be tracked and watched on a connected grid. What was initially an extremely libertarian, anarchist idea got taken by other forces for their own benefit. This is what I believe is happening, and it is a form of selfishness that clashes with the will of others. Not surprisingly, this globalist drive towards a paperless society is a collectivist movement. There seems to be a huge pool of two different forces at work in the crypto space. Both have radically different intentions on the uses of cryptocurrency.
Taxation on precious metals and cryptocurrency is what stops them from being true contenders with the dollar, and is just yet another form of control from those who want to run the world. Instead of being acknowledged as legitimate secondary options of currency, which is what a healthy free market capitalist society would allow, taxing in the form of sales tax on precious metals and income tax on cryptocurrency is thwarting and undermining them both to the benefit of the dollar. Gold and silver are sound money, used for millennia and truly decentralized, thus having no need to be taxed. Cryptocurrencies are in high demand from consumer interest and speculation, and are their own currency due to peer-to-peer agreement and growing mass adoption. Taxation undermines these facts. The only way to legitimize a competition of currencies is to remove extortion methods imposed on the trading of these currencies.
This article originally appeared on Medium: https://medium.com/@cosmosaic/taxation-on-precious-metals-and-cryptocurrency-is-toxic-collectivism-ae24cf1d5267
A recent FOX News Business town hall debate proved once again that no lessons of history will dampen the magic of the socialist’s divine providence. Its magnetic appeal to a man of limited abilities to fulfill his unlimited needs at the expense of the “exploiters of working people” is irresistible.
Without offering a clear definition and ideological purpose of socialism by either side, the discussion had centered on warts and blemishes of a capitalist system. Fixated on the single idea that capitalism is inherently flawed, the socialists advocated its replacement with a government controlled social organization that would presumably ensure universal justice and equality with a plethora of lavish social programs. Although the socialists could not explain how the fulfillment of the egalitarian dreams would be implemented and at what cost, the socialist dreams showed no bounds.
In their quest from reality, the emphasis was not on economics, but on ideological conquest. Therefore any argument, no matter how absurd, ridiculous or simply false, could be thrown forward in support of illusory virtues of socialism.
Marxist economist Richard Wolff at the climactic moment threw down the glove to the host Charles Payne with a bizarre statement that China is an example of successful socialism. “[China] used a very powerful socialist economic model to do one thing, to grow quickly, to stop being poor and to become wealthy,” he said. Yes, it is powerful. The ancient empires had been built on this economic model, which is called slavery. China’s communist regime has been using slave labor, in many instances literally, to convert China into the manufacturing facility of the United States. The reliance on the American market is existential for China. After President Trump closes the trade loopholes, China’s economic model will prove a socialist chimera.
And, there was, of course, the Scandinavian model. The socialist desperate to find success of socialism anywhere pointed out to Scandinavia. Whether the Scandinavian economic model is socialism or capitalism is not even the point. This model is totally foreign to America that has been built on different social and economic principles. The Scandinavian countries given their size — Denmark has a population of the city of Houston – and severe climate, have embraced collectivism as the imperative for survival. The principles of collectivism could easily be confused by some with the ideas of socialism.
Throughout the centuries Scandinavians retained their distinct sense of identity and unique concept of social order. However, what was the imperative then, in modern times is an impediment to innovation and economic progress.
The important distinction is that at the apex of American society stands a heritage of individualism. The United States being a country founded by immigrants looking for freedom from the oppressive political regimes of Europe is a nation with a strong commitment to the values of individual responsibility, personal freedom, and belief in limited government. The acceptance of collectivism would require a massive cultural transformation and a major adjustment in the American DNA — the moral lapse from self-reliance to government dependence that cannot be implemented on a voluntary basis. The whole point of creating the United States was not to be like Europe.
Therefore, the notion that something similar to the Scandinavian social organization could be implemented in this country flouts strategic and historical realities.
Someone even questioned America’s greatness when people lack basic “human rights” such as housing, health care, and food. Despite the host of economic and political challenges no informed and an intelligent observer can deny America’s extraordinary accomplishments in the areas of quality of life, economy, politics and social development.
I used to tell my students that if they cannot express themselves in numbers, they do not know what they are talking about.
Here are some numbers that signify America’s greatness. Just over 100 years ago, in 1913, in the United States:
- The average life expectancy for men was 47 years.
- Only 14 percent of homes had a bathtub.
- Only 8 percent of homes had a telephone.
- Only 6 percent of all Americans had graduated from high school.
- There were only 8,000 cars and 144 miles of paved roads.
- A three-minute call from Denver to New York City cost 11 dollars, while the average wage in the U.S. was 22 cents per hour.
- The four leading causes of death were tuberculosis and diarrhea
Innovation and prosperity are the defining characteristics of capitalism. Socialism, on the other hand, isn’t known for innovation, has never created prosperity and ideologically wealth creation isn’t its purpose. The purpose of socialism is economic equality.
Ironically, very few people, including economist Richard Wolff, realize that wealth and economic equality are mutually exclusive. Economic equality can only be in poverty. Socialism has proven it every time it has been tried and no amounts of falsehood can change its record.
Alexander G. Markovsky is a senior fellow at the London Center for Policy Research.
Despite what we may hear from mainstream economists, the study of economics is by and large for and about the individual.
Each time we are confronted with economists in the media, we are bombarded with charts and graphs and overly-complicated terms all meant to make us feel as though we need these “experts” to understand economic concepts like production, consumption, and the transfer of wealth. But this is hardly the case. And while these experts will often make us feel like the sky is falling unless we follow their advice, much of this is just a sign of elitism and a love of central planning.
As Hunter Hastings writes:
“We are taught in school that economics is about grand aggregations of statistics like Gross Domestic Product, and the employment level, and the inflation rate, and how government designs and implements policies to affect these aggregates. That’s just an excuse for government intervention, regulation, taxation, and the continued employment of economists as policy advisors.”
In reality, economics is not, or at least should not be, about central planning or policy that serves the “collective good,” because if we are honest with ourselves, there is no way to identify the wants and needs of groups of people. We can only identify the wants and needs of each individual actor, which is why all economic decision-making must begin with the individual human being — a concept lost on many state actors.
Unfortunately, many economists make the mistake of looking at economics in terms of the collective, forgetting that the individual is the basis for which all things are possible. And that groups of people are, in reality, not a tangible unit of measurement.
Economics is very much a social science that looks at how producers and consumers interact with one another to best meet each other’s needs. But these interactions happen on the individual level. And unless we start small, observing the individual’s role in this process, we cannot hope to understand the economy as a whole.
For producers to adequately determine the needs of the consumer, they must understand the wants and needs of the individual consumer first. After all, there can be no collective without the individual units of which it is comprised.
In economic terms, this is described as methodological individualism, which is the theory that explains that “social and economic phenomena can be explained by reference to the actions of individuals rather than groups or collectives.”
Elaborating on this, Libertarianism.org explains that this theory:
“…does not claim that only the individual human being is real or that social phenomena do not exist. It simply holds that the individual human being alone is able to think, feel, and act. We can impute actions, purposes, and values only to individuals; when we apply these terms to society, we enter the domain of metaphor.”
While this theory was originally developed by Joseph Schumpeter, it was his predecessor, Carl Menger, who founded the Austrian school of economics, who truly originated the idea. In 1889, he wrote, “There is no economic phenomenon that does not ultimately find its origin and measure in the economically acting human and his economic deliberations.”
Health Care Policy
There is, perhaps, no greater example of how detrimental it is to view economic policy in terms of the collective, rather than the individual, than health care. The entire premise for Obamacare and other versions of universal medicine are based on the presumption that the collective good is more important than the individual.
But, in reality, this “collective good” does not actually exist. And by assuming that the best health care policies must be crafted on the basis of what is good for groups of people instead of what each individual health care consumer wants and needs, you cannot logically hope to make any progress in this field.
It is for this reason that these policies have been such a failure. The government assumes that cost is the bottom line for health care consumers and have operated on this premise. Cost is one component in an individual’s hierarchy of needs, but there are many more elements, especially when there is urgent need for care. Focusing exclusively on cost completely negates the subjective wants of each individual person. No state apparatus can determine this for the collective. Only the producer, working in tandem with the consumer, can create options that truly fulfill their needs.
It is for this reason that we have seen the rise in services like direct pay care, where physicians take out the middleman, whether that be an insurance provider, government, or both, and instead work with actual patients to agree on the cost of care and what services are valued the most. Once producers work with individual consumers to better understand these wants, this concept can be expanded to include more individuals. But it is important to note that even large groups of people are really just several individual units. This idea that as a collective we think and act as one is not only wrong, but it greatly distorts the market process. There is no collective, there are only individuals, and when economists ignore this most important fact it is at their own peril.
As sociologist Georg Simmel said, “Groping for something tangible, we found only individuals and between them nothing but empty space.”
Ever since Donald Trump took office in January, the political Left has rediscovered their dread of state power.
The potential for tyranny is hardly a monopoly of Right-leaning politicians.
After the bombastic billionaire was elected to what is arguably the most powerful office in the world, many on the Left began warning of an imminent dystopian future. In fact, following Trump’s win in November, sales of George Orwell’s 1984 skyrocketed to unprecedented levels as comparisons between present-day America and Orwell’s fictional nation of Oceania have become commonplace rhetoric.
Suddenly, any story featuring authoritarian rule has become symbolic of the Trump regime and the rights we will certainly lose under his reign.
But the potential for tyranny is hardly a monopoly of Right-leaning politicians; it comes from all ideologies based on compulsory government. This means the Left is not immune to claims of authoritarian rule.
But now, a popular new series is adding to the Trump hysteria while neglecting to recognize that without government force, no such dystopian society would be able to exist.
A Handmaid’s Tale
Based on Margaret Atwood’s novel of the same name, Hulu’s new series The Handmaid’s Tale has become the latest sensation in a culture obsessed with watching a series and then discussing the show’s content on social media.
In the series, fertile women are forced to become birthing vessels for the state.
Set in the not-so-distant future, the series takes its viewers to an unrecognizable America. Like the masses in the story, the show’s audience is not entirely sure how the situation got so bad. Reflecting reality, viewers do, however, understand that whatever initial crisis led to this totalitarian takeover, the situation was worsened by perpetual war.
Somewhere along the line, America was plagued with infertility due to a toxic environment, leading to a population crisis. At the same time, a cult-like group of religious zealots have begun blaming modern “degenerate” culture for the problem and calling for a return to a more puritanical era.
As fertility continues to decline, this riotous collective begins to rise in influence in what was formerly known as Cambridge, Massachusetts. Continuing to blame society’s uninhibited and free loving culture for the inability to procreate, the radicals believe that in order to remedy the problem, women who are still deemed “able” to bear children must be forced into procreating for those at the very top of society.
After the United States government is ultimately overthrown, a new theocracy is born where the Bible is used to justify what is essentially rape of the worst kind. Not only are these selected handmaids expected to bear children for important and well-established men and their wives, they are also told that they should feel blessed to have been given the privilege to do so.
The premise of this new society is built on the biblical story of Rachel, Jacob, and Bilah. The story tells of Rachel’s desire to have children with her husband Jacob, only to find that she is unable to conceive. In desperation, Rachel asks Jacob to go into their servant Bilah’s room and conceive a child with her which will be raised as their very own.
In The Handmaid’s Tale, this allegory is put into practice and all fertile women are taken from their former lives and forced to become birthing vessels for the state.
Pop Culture Parallels
For those who fear that Trump is some sort of principled ideologue, and not just a power hungry lover of attention, they have made parallels between the show’s content and the culture of fear that is so prevalent now that the country has a new president.
Shortly after the series began airing, various articles were written, explaining how the show’s content reflects the reality we are now living with in the era of Trump. Even the book’s author has chimed into the discussion and given her thoughts on how the story relates to the new leader of the free world.
Since the plot focuses on women being oppressed in an outdated patriarchal hierarchy, the theme of the story resonated with the many on the Left, who fear that the Trump Administration will pass restrictive laws against women’s reproductive rights. Even though there has been little evidence to support this claim, the popularity of the recent women’s march proves just how real this perceived fear has become.
When Atwood originally wrote the book, she was residing in West Berlin surrounded by the Berlin Wall. Having traveled behind the Iron Curtain during this time, she was no stranger to the dangers of the Soviet police state and the heightened surveillance so prevalent in collectivist regimes.
Yet, even though the Soviets were more closely aligned with Left-leaning ideologies that, once again, focused on the collective and not the individual, somehow any oppressive regime is now a historical warning against Trump.
In her article written for the New York Times titled What “The Handmaid’s Tale” Means in the Age of Trump, Atwood herself even attempts to make parallels between the book’s premise and the election of Donald Trump.
“In the wake of the recent American election, fears and anxieties proliferate. Basic civil liberties are seen as endangered, along with many of the rights for women won over the past decades, and indeed the past centuries,” Atwood writes.
Since both the book and the series it inspired are narrated as if the main character, a handmaid named Offred, is recording her story in hopes that others will find it, Atwood attempts to draw comparisons between her story and other similar historical and literary instances by saying,
Robinson Crusoe keeps a journal. So did Samuel Pepys, in which he chronicled the Great Fire of London. So did many who lived during the Black Death, although their accounts often stop abruptly. So did Roméo Dallaire, who chronicled both the Rwandan genocide and the world’s indifference to it. So did Anne Frank, hidden in her secret annex.
This rhetoric seems par for the course, at least for the next four – possibly eight – years. But this is nothing new.
The same comparisons were used by the Tea Party during the early Obama Administration years, proof that neither side is immune to hypocrisy.
Squashing the Individual
For any tyrannical government coming to power, destroying any semblance of individuality is the first step to establishing authoritarian rule.
One would be hard-pressed to find any fictional dystopian setting where the individual is protected ahead of the collective. In fact, in many instances, a crisis is used to convince the masses that national security and personal security can only be obtained through the sacrifice of one’s own self.
The same is true in The Handmaid’s Tale, where the good of the state is put ahead of the individual. True, this new form of government may be centered around a false interpretation of the Bible and not a constitution, but at the end of the day, religious tyranny escalating to the point where rule of will is dictated by a select few is still state abuse.
The Right is just as guilty of political hyperbole as the Left.
Upon being kidnapped by the state, handmaids are stripped of their former identity and are forced to take on the name of the whichever commander they have been assigned. Ofglenn, for example, “belongs” to a commander named Glenn. By taking away each woman’s unique identity, they have taken away any semblance of the lives they had spent their lives building.
Each handmaid must also wear the same red, Puritan-style dress, making them easily identifiable if caught fleeing or found somewhere they ought not to be. Just as with their names, forcing them each to wear the same dress reinforces the idea that the collective is more important than the individual.
Oddly enough, the Left has historically been champions of collectivism, frequently claiming that individuals should be forced to give tax dollars to fund programs that favor the general public welfare. In other words, the group is more important than the individual.
Blame the State
To be sure, there has never been – and will most likely never be – an American president who has not tried, in some capacity, to strip citizens of their rights. After all, as the old saying goes, “absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
For example, many of those who are nervous about the current Administration were defensive of former president Barack Obama. This is the same President who was caught with a secret kill list and who continued the indefinite detention of American citizens. These acts were so blatantly oppressive it is hard to understand why the Left cannot see the hypocrisy.
As the old saying goes, “absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
Likewise, the Right has also neglected their principles when “their guy” makes these same mistakes. When this happens, the same rhetoric is used against the left and many on the Right have no issue compromising individuality for collective “safety.”
But the Right is just as guilty of this as the Left.
George W. Bush frequently put the collective ahead of the individual by placing us in a perpetual state of war and suspending Constitutional rights in the name of national security. Suddenly, any criticism of Bush and his post 9/11 policies were shouted down by those who favored safety over liberty.
Traces and warning signs of dystopian regimes will always be found so long as the state exists. While the Left may currently be attempting to monopolize the entire dystopian genre, the truth of the matter is that dystopias would not be possible if individuals, and not governments, called the shots.
Instead of arguing amongst each other and using hyperbole to further political agendas, the American people would be wise to realize that the mere existence of state power will always leave individuals open to an oppression that reeks of dystopia.
In 1944, economist philosopher F.A. Hayek published his book The Road to Serfdom. The pages of this classic work warn of the dangers our civilization is sure to meet if we continued to subscribe to collectivist ideologies, both in economics and politics.
And while the book issues an ominous warning to its readers, it also ensures that they are not too late to choose a different path. If we can learn from history then we are not doomed to repeat it.
Sometimes the greatest advice lies in failure. And by recognizing how something has gone wrong, we can avoid making the same mistake in the future. This is, perhaps, one of the most useful ways to look at Hayek’s book. By using the book as a warning, we can alter the course of history.
So let us pretend for a moment that we find ourselves at a fork in the road and instead of choosing the path of servitude, we followed the road to individualism. And on this path, individualized education is of the utmost importance.
Against the Individual
In Road to Serfdom, Hayek touches a great deal on how compulsory education has contributed to the destruction of liberty. Today’s public schools are not designed for the individual to thrive. Instead, individuality is stripped in favor of the collective and children are routinely taught that their value is derived from how they benefit the group.
Instead of individualized learning methods, public schools offer a one-size-fits-all model. If your child does not thrive under the state-sanctioned methods, that is too bad. Public schools do not have to cater to market demand because taxpayers are forced to fund them regardless quality.
But what if instead of herding children into large buildings like livestock, chaperoning them from one task to another, we tried a different approach to education. What if instead of one-size-fits-all education there were open-sourced resources available. What if instead of teaching children what to think, we focused instead on teaching them how to think.
As hard as it is to imagine this is possible given the current state of our education system, the free market is already providing what education consumers are looking for, because unlike the government, the market responds to demand, rather than state mandates.
Knowledge has never been as readily accessible as it is today. While education used to be reserved only to those who held a certain status or wealth, that is no longer the case. Sites like Khan Academy exist to teach you anything you want to learn from math and science to coding and blockchain basics.
“Google Courses” is another platform that allows education to be open-sourced and available to those who are interested. There are even Ivy League schools that are now uploading course syllabi and making it available to all.
But even aside from traditional education subjects like math or science, Youtube is providing other types of education as well. Whether you want to learn how to play the guitar, dance, or sew there are hundreds of options waiting for you on YouTube.
The overall goal of education is supposed to help children prepare for their future. But the free market is filled with opportunities for all sorts of different skills. It seems silly to limit children’s exposure only to math, reading, and science when music or other trade skills may be how they choose to create value in the market in the future.
However, Youtube also has many traditional educational resources. Some professors have even opted to record and upload course lectures online, giving the public the same access to these as those paying to take the college course.
Access to all these different educational opportunities is enabling individuals to find the model that best suits them. And when students are put in an environment where they are free to thrive, they usually do.
Collectivism is a poison. I have been appalled to see so many of my friends, both on the left and the right, indulging in it.
Over the last several months, I have seen acquaintances and even friends defend tiki torch yielding and self-proclaimed white nationalists. On the other extreme, I have seen friends advocate violence against those who do not agree with them. “We should be punching Nazis,” social media posts have read, without a hint of irony. But the problem with both of these lines of thinking is the dangerous hint of tribalism underlying both.
The second chapter of Hayek’s Road to Serfdom is painfully relevant to our modern day.
But whether you advocate some form of socialism or express nationalist sympathies, both are contrary to the spirit of individualism. Both claim to advance freedom but inevitably lead down the road to serfdom.
The Great Utopia
The second chapter of Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom is painfully relevant to our modern day. While reading, I couldn’t help but wonder what Hayek would have thought about the Charlottesville debacle and all that has unfolded since. This issue of Civil War monuments is almost completely irrelevant here, as I believe the unabashed display of unbridled collectivism would shock Hayek most of all.
“The Great Utopia,” as the chapter is called, refers to the belief that true happiness and equality can only be obtained in a society that sacrifices individual will in favor of “protecting” the collective. For socialists, equality means no one should need to worry about providing life’s necessities. The state provides for all equally and everyone lives happily ever after.
For nationalists or fascists, the same line of thinking occurs, but it is justified by this allegiance and connections to one’s homeland or class or race of people. In order to “secure” the future of your homeland or whatever group you are in support of, you must give your power over to an authority who will ensure lasting security.
And while in 2017 we are still arguing over which flavor of collectivism is better suited for the country, Hayek had in 1944 already laid out the information needed to conclude that neither is compatible with individual liberty.
Collectivism in any form can never represent the interest of the individual.
The Meaning of Freedom
No political or philosophical camp claims to be against freedom. It would be a poor marketing campaign to do so. Instead, each has its own definition of freedom and tailors its context towards that end. But neither represents the interest of the individual.
At the time of writing this book, the threat of nationalism, especially in the form of Nazism, was still very fresh in the minds of the people. Hitler and Mussolini were the perfect caricatures of what “bad guys” were supposed to be. It was for this reason, I believe, that Hayek chose to focus his arguments against collectivism primarily on the socialist agenda.
Everyone at that time recognized that fascism was terrifying; they had been fighting a world war against it. But many found comfort in the false promise of collectivism.
What is so epic, both in Hayek’s day and now, is his ability to call out both groups for being birds of a feather. Since the people already knew what Nazism could reap, it was vital to take this dangerous ideology and compare it with socialism, which was not viewed in quite as negatively a light as nationalism.
“It is rarely remembered now that socialism in its beginnings was frankly authoritarianism,” Hayek points out to a populace that had come to view incremental socialism as a precautionary measure against the authoritarianism of fascism.
Two Roads; One Destination
The historical context in chapter two and its application to today’s political climate seemed to scream and jump out from the page’s of Hayek’s work. How, after all these years, are we still fighting the same fight and participating in the same arguments? Why are we arguing over which brand of collectivism we should choose when the answer seems so apparent?
As Hayek brilliantly sums up in regards to both the socialist and the fascist distortions of the definition of freedom, “Freedom in this sense is, of course, merely another name for power…” So long as either exists, the individual is at risk.
Even those who, at the time, believed socialism could be the answer to fascism were eventually convinced otherwise.
British writer, F.A. Voigt spent years in Europe as a foreign correspondent. After his years of observation, he was forced to conclude that:
Marxism has led to fascism and National Socialism, because, in all essentials, it is Fascism and National Socialism.”
Making a similar point, German writer Peter Drucker wrote:
The complete collapse of the belief in the attainability of freedom and equality through Marxism has forced Russia to travel the same road toward a totalitarian, purely negative, non-economic society unfreedom and inequality which Germany has been following. Not that communism and fascism are essentially the same. Fascism is the stage reached after communism has proved an illusion, and it has proved as much an illusion in Stalinist Russia as in pre-Hitler Germany.
I wish so deeply that my own generation would realize the similarities between the two instead of choosing to unite with one side or the other. History repeats itself. This we know. One of the most beautiful and applicable statues in Washington DC sits outside of the National Archives and reads: “What is past is prologue.” We should understand that this will almost always be the case.
Whether you support one form of tribalism or the next, both undoubtedly end in the same result: a loss of power for the individual.
STAY IN THE KNOW
Fill out the form below to get the CFI Newsletter delivered to your inbox.
Leave us your contact information below to recieve a free copy of CFI's 10-Point Manifesto for Individualism
Join the CFI Mailing List using the form below to recieve a free Sample Chapter of Hunter Hastings' The Interconnected Individualism
Leave us your contact information below to recieve a free copy of Poetic Justice Warrior Society: Freedom's Radicals
The Center for Individualism is a 501(c)3 Non-Profit Organization with a mission to promote Individualism in America. All work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except for material where copyright is reserved by a party other than CFI. Learn More…