So that was an inflammatory way to end the last post. Understanding exactly what this means takes a few minutes of pretty deep philosophy, but the idea is actually pretty easy to understand. It’s about following individualism in all contexts to its farthest possible conclusions.
If you’re a pure individualist, as the general libertarian perspective is, you believe that all human processes are entirely a matter of individual thinking. All group, national, social, institutional activities reduce without remainder to the thoughts and actions of the individuals that compose all these things.
One implication of this reductive individualism is that there are no social phenomena aside from the sum total of individuals’ beliefs and actions. So the constant mutual antagonism and hostility of black people and police officers across the United States doesn’t have anything to do with some cause that exists at a social level of analysis. There is no social to analyze, so you’ll just chase a bunch of fictions.
The problem of police violence against blacks and other minorities in the United States (or anywhere), for a reductive individualist, is in the individual beliefs of each black civilian and each police officer in each confrontation in isolation. You have to consider each singular confrontation in isolation because generalizing across confrontations for common trends and causes is nonsense, because it refers to social causes and social causes don’t exist.
Reductive individualist thinking is the fundamental reason behind, for one example close to my patriotic heart, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s gutting of our national census’ ability to gather workable information about the population, and his wider ideological hostility to sociology as a science.
Sociology is the science of social causes. Reductive individualism says these causes don’t exist because there are no social causes beyond individuals’ actions and beliefs. So a reductive individualist believes that sociology is a junk science, a con job, a waste of money chasing after non-existent entities. Like society.
There’s also a political motivation to the refusal to believe in social causes. It has to do with the politics of the 19th and early 20th centuries, where progressives saw the state as the means to achieve a perfect society as fast as possible. This is why the libertarian right equates communism and socialism with Nazism.
Before the Second World War, both communist and conservative fascist political movements advanced a vision of the perfect society, and wanted to use the state to achieve it. The state was the means by which a higher consciousness came to exist: the nation, as a unified whole. This concept of the nation overwrote individual identity* with a collective.
* An idea that finds its roots in Georg Hegel’s political philosophy, which saw the development of the European nation-state as a progressive evolution in humanity’s consciousness, an evolution grounded in the universal structure of rationality itself. I don’t think a lot of people fully understand just how weird the 19th century was.
The individualists are right that these collectives don’t exist. Every decision made in the name of a collective’s progress results in terror or fatal sacrifice for too many individuals to be a just path for politics. Physically, the concept of the social collective simply doesn’t fly.
|The morality of a genuinely collective creature would|
be terrifying to humans, though I do explore some of
its implications in my sci-fi work.
Consciousness of yourself as a self at the individual level of action is too integral a part of human cognition, psychologically, neurologically, and biologically speaking, that it’s genuinely impossible for us to subsume our desires and personalities into a collective entity. That kind of self-consciousness is for ants. In humans, it takes so much authoritarian discipline that we essentially become broken organisms.
Yet society does exist. It’s not a collective, but an aggregate. A social movement is the combined physical force of individuals communicating with each other to act together as communities. A social movement is an enormous community, a lobby group organized from person to person in a huge network.
A social movement works to achieve systematic changes in society, because institutions and social systems are aggregates of individual actions and histories. Statist and collective politics take the power of individuals to flow from an origin in states and institutions, higher unities. Social movement politics is literally a flow from the ground, from networks.
Solidarity comes from material relationships between people who mutually understand that they share interests and desires, or that some material condition will benefit them all. Hayek never conceived of this kind of solidarity, even though he used these very techniques to build the international community of think tanks that promote his vision of economics and politics.
The solidarity of aggregates is much more volatile than the solidarity of a true collective would be, though. You don’t see ants striking for higher wages in the fungus farm. Treating humans as a collective breeds resistance and rebellion, but organizing humans as a united aggregate takes constant negotiation and alliance building.
Scratch that last – friendship building.
But there’s an inherent optimism, or at least hope, to the politics of social movements – solidarity, friendship, and the dedication to achieving justice for all from each of us. That optimism isn’t present in collective or statist politics because authoritarian control is always the default method to move people.
And that optimism is, ironically it might seem at first, nowhere in the libertarian right. It’s because of, no matter what a modern liberal will tell you, libertarianism’s thick roots in the liberal philosophy of politics. . . To be continued.