The War Against Individuals

I tell my students not to expect the world to run up and give them a great big hug when they succeed in business or otherwise distinguish themselves with accomplishment. Rather they should expect people to resent, oppose, and finally confiscate what they have created.

Cynical? I don’t think so. Look around us. From a millionaire “surtax” to form-based building codes, hordes of envious meddlers scheme daily to take what they have not earned and control what they did not create.

At the root of this trend is more than just an admonition encouraging goodwill toward one another. It is an assault on the sanctity of the individual. Human beings are infinitely better off when they work together agreeably, but they need not be enslaved to one another to realize the benefits of mutual cooperation.

In many ways, the history of man is the history of a war against individuality. Bound together for millennia in coercive units–tribes, villages, cities, and nations–the individual labored under the yoke of the collective. It was only with the emergence of the Renaissance that Church and State were successfully challenged as the final arbiter of truth for humanity. The result was an explosion of creativity and industry unthinkable while robe and royalty ruled.

Few today, with the exception of a few Wall Street “Occupiers” actually advocate state-enforced collectivism. The collapse of the old Soviet Union in 1989 showed everyone–or should have–that socialism was dead. Yet from the ashes of the Great Experiment arose a more sinister strain of the disease of collectivism. We are not fully inoculated.

Elizabeth Warren and her ilk are trotting out for public consumption a version of collectivist thinking that intoxicates the Left with a renewed vigor for considering each individual’s life just another part of a vastly superior aim–the group. Her recent quote is worth repeating:

“You built a factory out there? Good for you,” she says. “But I want to be clear: you moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for; you hired workers the rest of us paid to educate; you were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory, and hire someone to protect against this, because of the work the rest of us did.”

She continues: “Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea? God bless. Keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.”

I have already pointed out the glaring weaknesses in Warren’s arguments in an earlier blog. The fascinating thing to me is that anyone would declare him/herself a partner to any such “social contract.” Wait, maybe I do understand now. As Joseph Schumpeter once said, capitalism will survive only to the point where more people benefit from taking than creating. We are at that point now.

As Wall Street is “occupied” and Warren waxes socialistic, the energy and life drain from our nation. Clamoring for “me” sounds tacky. Clamoring for “us” is respectable, at least in some circles. The collectivists need to remember that an individual is behind every act of creation. Kill off the individual and we will rot like tomatoes in the sun. Every individual with the audacity to respect him/herself needs to assert it on every front until the collectivists learn to live like men and women, not ants in a colony.

About Terry Noel

I am an Associate Professor of Management and Quantitative Methods at Illinois State University. My specialty is entrepreneurship.
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2 Responses to The War Against Individuals

  1. Nice post Terry. Spot on!


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