Each Together IV: A Family of Millions, Research Time, 21/09/2017

I’m not going to answer that question about our mortal desire for immortality right away. I don’t really have one right now. When I do, it’ll probably involve some complex examination of the relationship between memory, personality, culture, history, and knowledge of the past.

Instead, I want to riff on a few more ideas I encountered about community, social unity, and nationhood in the early chapters of The Human Condition. I’ll lay it out with a bold, blanket statement that I feel isn’t getting through to enough of popular culture as it should.

Humanity in servitude is a mass of indistinguishable organs.
My blanket statement:

There are a ton of people who hate all forms of socialism and even just basic caring for your community because they think it’s all creeping communism. And I’m sick of that ignorant shit.

I mean, there are clear sources for this. Ever since Friedrich Hayek helped launch the Mt Pelerin Society and the network of think tanks it inspired, that notion has flooded our popular culture through pretty much all channels of media.

It’s been in the right wing ever since The Road to Serfdom blew up – that any form of collective action or identity contains the conceptual seeds of totalitarian communism. Whether it’s a trade union, a single-payer state-funded health care system, or even simple community organizing to lobby a government or a private company.

For Hayek, solidarity is the same as communism. So it’s gone for a growing chunk of conservative North America. The idea began in the populist work of a Nobel Prize winning economist, and is now in the mouths of dim-witted pundits with terrible moustaches.

At least when Hayek was talking about this, his ideas had some bite. They were wrong, but they bit.

Here’s how the most brutal communism conceives of humanity. Each person has no real meaning in their lives as individuals. Our authentic roles are as members of a class, so our individual personalities express only our general class interests. Because class interests are fundamentally shared, each of our lives are indistinguishable from each other.

Friedrich Hayek gets his Nobel Prize in Economics in 1974.
For Hayek and the modern North American right wing that followed him, this is the ideology of any political philosophy which accepts any kind of collective action or identity. They see this in the labour movement and marxism.

But Karl Marx didn’t invent this concept. Hannah Arendt identifies the root of how comradeship becomes collectivization in nationalist movements and the modern concept of nation itself.

The heritage is pretty straightforward. European society was dominated by feudal relationships through the medieval period. The ethics of these feudal societies were based on paternal responsibility expressed on the scale of entire towns.

The local lord or royal is the father, and the only political relationship of which anyone is capable is subjection. The community consists of one paterfamilias and all others are bowed heads. The lord has the unquestioned authority of a household head, and all members of the community are one family.

As lords disappeared, says Arendt, the morality of subjection and the community as family persisted. That morality became a force of peer pressure to conformity in your identity and political beliefs.

A political morality of subjection, without a monarch to which we’re subject, becomes subjection to the popular morality itself. Dissent of any kind is considered immoral. It would be dissent from the only body that makes your existence legitimate – the nation.

A community of millions who subject themselves to the will of all, as popular morality expresses it. That’s the vision of the dedicated nationalist. Human dignity is only realized in the achievements of the nation itself. This is the ideology that brought us racialization, colonialism, and the two Great Wars of the 20th century.

The nationalism that consumes the modern Western right wing makes them more like their boogeyman communists than the social democrats they hate.


  1. I think you're wrong about anti-communists, Adam. Many American conservatives are huge promoters of "community". What they are against is state-run communities. Their reasons are not just "ignorant shit". What they don't like is collective action divorced from personal responsibility. They don't like schemes in which the failure of a collective project has no individual cost.

    People like Stossel, as I recall, are against publicly funded stadiums as much as they are against publicly funded healthcare. They want individuals to invest their energies in these things, because this is the only way to curb the moral hazard. There must be a personal risk assessment.

    1. I think you and I might literally be referring to different groups of people. You're talking about a general individualistic view of social and political action that (while I don't agree with all of its principles), I'm quite okay with. I have quite a few more conservative old friends who think this way, and we're still close, and agree on a lot of issues.

      The right-wing folks that I'm talking about are the more radical ones who are the most influential right now. I mean the radical libertarians who tried, over a couple of years of online conversation in forums and social media, to convert me to their radical views. They really did believe that collective action of any kind – especially union, labour, and racial justice activist organizing – was a form of communism that erased individuality. They really believed that paying taxes to support any kind of government activity (aside from the military) was a form of theft. They really believed that Barack Obama was a full-on Stalin-style communist. They owned arsenals of weapons because they were genuinely paranoid that Revenue Canada would raid their homes Waco-style at some point over unpaid taxes.

      You're talking about a generally individualist pro-market point of view and morality. I'm talking about the most radical. A popular post I wrote about my experience with these guys is here:

  2. I'm not talking about any particular group, I guess. I'm just talking about a reasonable reading of Hayek and Stossel. I'm not sure you experience with the radical fringe represent the core political issue. But I'm happy to defer to your experience of their particular views.

    I'm sure you can find people who are paranoid about state power among the readers of Hayek and Stossel, but their writings aren't the source of that paranoia. I think the people you are talking about are a small minority, whose importance pales in comparison to the conservatives you respect. I think your argument would be stronger if you addressed yourself to them, rather than dismissing the followers of people you somewhat uncharitably call "dim-witted pundits".

    Most conservative/libertarian pundits that I know assert the right of "unions, labour, and racial justice activists" to assemble and organize. What they are against is *laws* that give them vicarious state power. They don't like minimum wage laws, for example, and some, if you scratch them, will even say they have concerns about forced desegregation of private businesses. They completely understand (and don't fear) the self-interest that drives USW and BLM. They don't argue for smashing these organizations by force. They are happy to let them rally and assemble. They just want to be able to hire and fire as they choose.