An Insurmountable Obstacle

Be it the gargantuan or minuscule kind, collectives face an insurmountable obstacle in their governance.  There simply is no way for everyone in the collective to get proper representation.
Communitarians, for example, who are today’s version of people who believe the tribe is the most fitting group for people, always show their inability to provide all members with proper representation when their leaders and spokesmen keep using the pronoun “we” as they talk of their system and the policies they recommend for it.


weA recent example of the use of term “we” as a collectivist political slogan. Who exactly is “we”?


Even though “we” refers to everyone in the community, the people making use of it are clearly not all but just the self-anointed leaders.  “We will pursue peaceful lives,” said by one or two people who have decided to speak for everyone just will not count as a promise from all to do so.  “We will take care of everyone” similarly fails to be convincing since only the defenders of communitarianism give voice to the sentiment.

Individualism is unavoidable because when sentences are spoken, individuals and not choruses speak them. Sure, now and then the mob is forced to shout out slogans together but these aren’t at all convincing.

I recall when I was about 12 all the school children in Budapest had to gather almost every Saturday at a huge place called Heroes’ Plaza where Stalin used to show up on his visits to Hungary.  And we were all forced to shout together, “Our dear father Stalin.”  But no one believed this nonsense, it was a farce and the only reason we stuck it out for the duration of the parade is that if we bolted, our teachers would dock our grades.


stalinSchool children marching in praise of comrade Stalin, one of history’s greatest mass murderers

Photo credit: Topham


Even in North Korea, where they still force people to come together in these humongous parades, it only appears they are all together, one! The clothing they wear makes it appear so, all blue denim, but in fact those in charge get to wear silk blue pajamas while the garb of the rest is made of progressively less fancy fabric!


crowds-attend-funeral-procession-late-north-korean-leader-kim-jong-il-pyongyangNorth Koreans desperately feigning emotions at the death of their previous “dear leader” Kim Jong-Il. Insufficient expressions of sadness could lead to involuntary vacations in a forced labor camp.

Photo credit: Reuters / KCNA


Avid Academic Promoters of Communitarianism

Still, there are people who keep up the propaganda in favor of “the community” and against the individual, spreading the lie that individualism means some kind of isolationism or, as one world famous Canadian critic calls it, “atomism.”  (This critic is Charles Taylor, a philosopher from McGill University who quite bizarrely received the highly coveted and hefty Templeton Prize a few years ago!).


charles taylorCommunitarian philosopher Charles Taylor: he just knows that his plan is best for “us”. If you disagree, you’re an evil “atomist”.

Photo credit: Ryan Remiorz / The Canadian Press


Now if communitarianism is so obviously false to the facts of human community life, why is it promoted to avidly by some pretty high level academics in philosophy and politics?  Well, I don’t know most of these folks personally but the few I do know seem clearly to be intent upon becoming leaders of the community. In short, they see communitarianism as a means to furthering their own ends, ends that may not be so awful but are, nonetheless, just their ends and few others in the community share them.

Indeed, whenever the public (or common or community) interest or good is being promoted, one can be reasonably certain that what is really being advocated is that all members of the community accept the agenda being pushed by one or two people.  “The community supports” or “We pursue” is all about what that these leaders support or pursue, nothing more.  Yes, they will usually have a few others on their team but hardly ever all those who make up the community. But pretending that they speak for the community, they can intimidate the rest and remove effective resistance to the alleged will of the group or collective.


communitarianism 2

An “official” definition of communitarianism – what it conveniently fails to mention is who exactly is going to determine what “actions or policies” will serve “the betterment of the community as a whole”. The promoters of this ideology (and similar collectivist ideologies) all believe that is is they alone who are in possession of the “correct plan” and if only the authorities would implement it, heaven on earth would ensue.


Plain fact is human beings are individuals, first and foremost, once they reach adulthood.  They have minds of their own and unless these minds are shut down by force or its threat (intimidation), they tend to think up different goals for themselves to pursue.

A just human community is one in which the peaceful goals of all the members can be pursued.  All this talk of the community, the public, “we” and so forth amounts to some people’s efforts to obscure that fact and secure for themselves control over others.  Maybe the intent behind it is benign, but the outcome is a disaster.


stalin, school childrenComrade Stalin just loved to be depicted with happy school children. Nevertheless, the system he presided over was indeed a complete disaster.

Painting by Konstantin Titov


Image captions by PT


Dr. Tibor R. Machan has recently been appointed senior fellow at the Heartland Institute (Arlington Heights, IL) and has worked as a Hoover Institution research fellow, is Professor Emeritus, Department of Philosophy, Auburn University, Alabama, and has held the R. C. Hoiles Endowed Chair in Business Ethics and Free Enterprise at the Argyros School of Business & Economics, Chapman University from 1997 to 2014.




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3 Responses to “A Fallacy of Collectivism”

  • Libertarianism is no different, it’s just an egocentric version of collectivism.

    • Crysangle:

      Trouble is that as soon as you use the word ‘ people’ you are creating a subset, which is therefore a collective. Libertarianism implies of a collective devoted to libertarian philosophy ( as as an individual there is only the authentic self) , and if you want to pursue meanings you could say that to follow any presented philosophy is a form of collective action, as in ‘ be an individual, just like everyone else’. In fact that phrase is a good discriminator as well as being a warning to false illusion.
      The same could be said when using the word community, it has a vast array of potential meaning. Communities form and exist quite naturally, there is always a common benefit understood in that arrangement, the word means originally ‘ together strength’. The trouble starts with the ‘ isms’ of any kind, they imply this creation of a subset and invite its governance.
      So I personally don’t need to be granted ‘ liberty’, it has always been mine, whether I am encaged by another or walking a mountain top. Yet libertarian philosophy advocates allowing the maximum of freedom in any construct of society, that means egotistical and generous will both do nicely, as long as the barrier of positively harming another is not crossed. Much better to recognize ego and the difficulty it presents to others, than to pretend you can master its direction in the name of all, as that leads to dictatorship.

      A community is infinitely more brutalized by the habitual employment of punishment than by the occasional occurrence of crime. ( Oscar Wilde)

    • Tibor Machan:

      What does this mean? Seems like gobbledygook to me.

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