It occurred to me that in my last post I lumped capitalist-individualism and fascism in the same category, and that some readers might be puzzled by this. After all, aren’t individualism and fascism complete opposites?
I would suggest ‘no’. The natural consequence of capitalist-individualism is complete alienation of people from each other – each person not just “thinking only of themselves”, but more importantly feeling only of themselves, rather than feeling ‘at home’ in the group.
And the natural consequence of this lack of social cohesion, this atomisation, is that order can only be maintained by force on a much greater scale. Thus authoritarianism goes hand-in-hand with this sort of ‘individualism’.
Historical examples of this tendency abound. The parties which most forcefully promote ‘the free market’ and support business are also those who most forcefully promote ‘law and order’ and deploy state force. Margaret Thatcher, for example, came to power to ‘roll back the state’, doing so with the help of greater centralisation, authoritarianism, and police power. Don’t infringe the raight to private property, oh no. But launching wars, beating up demonstrators, incarcerating ethnic minorities? All perfectly consistent with respect for the individual.
And conversely, totalitarian governments in practice promote a strong sort of ‘individualism’ – you can’t trust anyone, and any too strong a bond with other individuals, or groups independent of the state, is suspect. There is only you the individual, and the mighty government.
This shouldn’t surprise us though. The very idea of a conflict between collectivism and individualism is laughable. What are collectives made of, except for individuals? “What benefits the individual but harms the group” actually means “what benefits one individuals but harms other individuals”. The good of the group and the good of the individuals that make it up are inextricably linked.
What are in conflict are pseudo-collectivisim, where some people formulate a self-serving idea of ‘the common good’ and impose it on others, and real individualism. But that’s just because pseudo-collectivism is in conflict with real collectivism as well!
Similarly, pseudo-individualism, where some people claim the right to control others (through, e.g., ownership of the means of production) as being their individual freedom, is in very real conflict with collectivism. But it’s also in conflict with genuine individualism – because the freedom that comes from wealth for a few is based on depriving the majority of that same freedom, i.e. harming a greater number of individuals.
I think this pattern extends more widely. Freedom and equality, for example, are so far from being in conflict that they are basically equivalent (I won’t go into how but I can if you insist). But when freedom is misrepresented as ‘freedom to own property’, a conflict is produced. This conflict is then used to mystify and confuse people.
I would even cautiously suggest that all (or almost all) valid values are ultimately equivalent: love, freedom, equality, community, dignity, etc. The conflicts are not conflicts between ideas or values, they are conflicts between different groups’ interests – groups who seek to conceal this conflict by projecting it into the realm of ideas.