The arrogance of collectivists seems to know no bounds. What’s even worse, their attitudes are so ingrained that they don’t even realize they’re being arrogant. Instead, they see themselves as magnanimous folks helping the collective.
Two completely unrelated stories Monday focused my attention on this. First, I read comments from retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens defending the decision he wrote in the infamous Kelo case — the one that made it legal for local governments to take property from pretty much anybody and give it to private entities to do what they want with it.
Even now, he seems to think that case wasn’t a big deal, even knowing the outcome — that the homes of Kelo and others were taken from them against their will and torn down, all to end up with useless vacant lots. (You might recall that a Connecticut Supreme Court justice who ruled against Kelo sees things differently now.)
The second story that made me focus on the arrogance of collectivists was close to me. Here in the Birmingham area, the city of Birmingham is mostly just the core older parts of town. It’s been losing residents for 50 years. Even though the metro area has a million people now, the core city is down to about 200,000. Although there are wealthy pockets remaining, most people who have the ability have moved to suburbs where the government isn’t so dysfunctional and the schools are still good (at least by modern standards).
The cesspool known as City Hall has announced that it’s holding a series of meetings to “allow public input on Birmingham’s future.” That’s right. The overlords from City Hall are going to graciously allow individuals to come to neighborhood meetings and give input about the rules that should then be imposed on everyone as part of the city’s first “comprehensive plan” in 50 years. I have a plan. How about you just let people decide what to do with their own lives and property — instead of meddling in the ways that have run so many people out into the suburbs?
In both of these stories, the people with power believe they’re doing great things for “the people.” Stevens believes the wants and needs of a city government — the collective — outweigh the wants and needs of individuals to control their own property. The people at Birmingham City Hall probably think they’re being gracious to allow individuals to have input into their great coming collective plan for everyone. (If I know politicians, though, the listening is going to be more about making people feel they’re being listened to than it will have to do with shaping the plan.)
In neither of these stories is there any hint of concern for the rights of individuals to live their own lives and control their own property. The unquestioned (but unspoken) hub around which it all turns is the collective. This is dangerous.
In Ayn Rand’s foreword to “Anthem,” she talks about the moral guilt of people who support collectivism when it seems like the easy and obvious thing to do:
The greatest guilt today is that of people who accept collectivism by moral default; the people who seek protection from the necessity of taking a stand, by refusing to admit to themselves the nature of that which they are accepting; the people who support plans specifically designed to achieve serfdom, but hide behind the empty assertion that they are lovers of freedom, with no concrete meaning attached to the word; the people who believe that the content of ideas need not be examined, that principles need not be defined, and that facts can be eliminated by keeping one’s eyes shut. They expect, when they find themselves in a world of bloody ruins and concentration camps, to escape moral responsibility by wailing: “But I didn’t mean this!“
People who support the collectivism inherent in the coercive state mostly do so out of the best intentions. They’ve been brainwashed to support the state from the moment they stepped into government-run schools and they’ve accepted the collective “frame” of society that teaches that individuals must have their rights trampled for the “leadership” of the collective to get its way.
But what they’re supporting is evil, whether they realize it or not. Every past nation that started down that path has ended up with “bloody ruins and concentration camps,” and I don’t think people in the social democracies are ultimately going to fare any better — if the economy survives long enough to get that bad. When the day comes that things degenerate into real totalitarianism, the people who have been good little patriots — supporting their coercive collectivist government — are going to look at what’s developed out of what they supported, and they’re going to say, “But I didn’t mean this!”
It will be too late by then to object.