Mr. Hultberg is a free-lance writer in San Antonio, Texas.
The collectivists have not abandoned their ultimate goal—to subordinate the individual to the State.
It has been said that there is a conspiracy in America among powerful elitist bankers to manipulate the political levers of the nation and move our system into a form of government that resembles Communism. For years this has been a common theme among many conservatives. While I doubt such a “Communist conspiracy theory” is a realistic way to view politics, it is fair to say that there is a “collectivist ideological movement” working in America today—a concentrated desire on the part of many people to drastically change America’s concept of limited government.
A political movement, possessed of the size and sophistication that modern collectivism enjoys (whether in the form of socialism, fascism, or welfarism) could not possibly be sustained purely by a lust for power or duplicity among a nation’s political-economic elite. History does not move on so narrow an axis. The human drama is a vast mosaic of personalities, ambitions, ideals, revolutionary technologies, motivational and practical blunders—all intertwined with and driven by ideology.
No group of powerful men has the capacity to move a country toward despotism at will. Political shifts that nations make are only part of the larger cultural direction that their civilization is making. And the cultural direction of a civilization is largely determined by ideological forces that are laid down in the people’s minds by the most prestigious thinkers of the preceding centuries.
As Ludwig von Mises told us decades ago:
The history of mankind is the history of ideas. For it is ideas, theories and doctrines that guide human action, determine the ultimate ends men aim at, and the choice of the means employed for the attainment of these ends. The sensational events which stir the emotions and catch the interest of superficial observers are merely the consummation of ideological changes. There are no such things as abrupt sweeping transformations of human affairs. What is called, in rather misleading terms, a “turning point in history” is the coming on the scene of forces which were already for a long time at work behind the scene. New ideologies, which had already long since superseded the old ones, throw off their last veil and even the dullest people become aware of the changes which they did not notice before.
The “collectivist ideological movement,” operating in America today, exists on a number of levels. Its roots go deep into the human psyche. For example, the collectivist mindset is most prevalent in the academic, media, and entertainment fields, where anti-capitalist ideas can be instilled into unsuspecting minds, prompting them to desire a regimented society, or as Aldous Huxley put it, a “Brave New World,” populated by slaves who do not have to be coerced because they love their servitude.
An Alien Force
A popular and frightening science-fiction movie from the 1950s, called Invasion of the Body Snatchers, gives us an appropriate metaphor for what is taking place in our country. Today’s collectivists are like the aliens in the movie. They are everywhere, and they are not after just our bodies, but the enslavement of our minds. Conceptual sophistries and moral inversions are the mysterious pods that these ideological aliens leave in their wake. They are aliens because they wish to destroy our system of free enterprise and limited government. And even though they believe what they are doing is right, they are not exactly innocent, for they have chosen to ignore the horrendous ramifications of their actions.
They have chosen to ignore the consequences of collectivism by suppressing and disregarding the vast body of literature that explains those consequences and shows how past thinkers have falsified history. They have chosen to promote a government-regimented world in which an all-powerful state dominates. They have chosen to propagandize for a society in which individuals are not allowed to make their own choices, not allowed to spend their earnings as they wish, and not allowed to educate their children as they see fit. This is a slave society, and those who would make excuses for such a society are either of dictatorial or servile inclination. They either want to rule, or to be ruled. But in either case, they are not men and women of the American mold.
An Ideological Shift
The cause of America’s shift to collectivism this past century is not political, but ideological. False ideas in philosophy, economics, and history have seeped into our culture to reshape our world view, our ethical sense, and our economic understanding.
Ironically it is becoming fashionable in certain intellectual circles these days to de-emphasize this power of ideas in the determination of our culture. It is not just conspiratorialists who feel there are other forces more potent in the unfolding of our history. We are told by numerous conventional pundits that technology, pragmatics, diseases, emotional needs, the structure of elites, classes, and ethnic identities are equal—if not more significant factors—in the ultimate construction of social reality.
The anti-ideological argument contends that because of liberalism’s continued entrenchment, abstract principles should be pushed aside strategically in favor of more populist factors. But what such a view fails to consider is that philosophical ideas must first be formulated correctly, and the timing of their entrance on history’s stage must be right. Men are indeed “rationally absorbing” creatures and will respond to the timeless abstracts, but those abstracts must be clearly formulated in light of modern outlooks, and the mass of citizens must be ready for them.
A rudimentary study of history shows us that until the social order is ready for a set of ideas, they will lie dormant and will be rejected when presented, despite the clarity of their truth. Such ideas, if not openly suppressed, will be ignored until the influential citizenry has retreated from all the blind exits and has fully tasted the sourness of life in the absence of those ideas. America has not yet sampled sufficiently the misery of life in the absence of the timeless truths.
The Importance of Ideas
Of course, ideas are not the sole factors responsible for the construction of an era’s cultural and political institutions, but they are far and away the most important factors.
It would be wise to keep Huxley’s admonition on this issue always in mind: “It is in the light of our beliefs about the ultimate nature of reality that we formulate our conceptions of right and wrong; and it is in the light of our conceptions of right and wrong that we frame our conduct, not only in the relations of private life, but also in the sphere of politics and economics. So far from being irrelevant, our metaphysical beliefs are the final determining factor in all our actions.” [emphasis added]
Mises’ premise, then, still stands: “Ideas, theories and doctrines” are the prime determinants of a culture’s direction.
Ideological falsehoods, spawned in nineteenth-century Europe, have infiltrated the collective consciousness of America over the past century to profoundly alter our moral visions of what life is, and what it should be.
Such ideological falsehoods have brought about ethical and psychological turmoil in the minds of people everywhere, a turmoil that has created three powerful forces that have manifested themselves in the collectivist movement. These three forces are moral guilt, envy, and greed.
Moral guilt was formally introduced into the ranks of the intellectual elite (as Ayn Rand has shown) by Auguste Comte’s philosophy of altruism, which extols sacrifice of the individual to the collective as man’s highest moral purpose. Envy and greed are just two of the psychological vices of humans, lurking always beneath the surface of their natures to be inflamed by the right mixture of irrational ideas.
Auguste Comte (1798-1857) was a French philosopher and founding father of sociology, which he believed would become the “Queen of all Sciences.” He advocated substituting the worship of Humanity for God, and preached that man’s highest moral duty was to sacrifice his desires for Humanity’s good. He coined the term altruism for his moral vision. This vision has dominated generation after generation of intellectuals, inculcating in them extreme distaste for any policies that advocate the primacy of the individual, and creating in them moral guilt for their possession of individual wealth, power, and status. If one wishes to grasp the reason for the extreme enmity that collectivist liberals exhibit toward America and capitalism today, here lies one of its strongest roots. Altruism dominates the collectivist mind.
The collectivist ideological movement that prevails today thus draws its strength to a great degree from two dominant personality types of the twentieth century: those overcome by profound feelings of moral guilt because of their superior talent, brains, energy, and resultant social status, and those overcome by profound feelings of envy and greed in the unfolding realities of life.
The guilt-driven group is comprised of academics, writers, artists, publishers, politicians, media personalities, movie stars and directors, foundation heads, old money heirs (like the Kennedys, Rockefellers, and Fords), and a great many successful first-generation businessmen.
The envy-greed driven group is comprised of increasing numbers of indolent men and women throughout the middle and lower classes—what earlier generations referred to as “sluggards” or “idlers”—those able-bodied citizens who resent the fact that in a free society they must endure years of hard, productive work to achieve security and elevated social status.
There are, of course, many men and women in both the middle and lower classes of society who are noble, hard-working, highly motivated citizens—the “strivers” of the world, who accept the moral law that one gets out of life what he puts into it. “Strivers” are possessed of strong characters and properly suppress inherent envy and greed, while “idlers” are possessed of weaker characters, and eagerly indulge their envy and greed, allowing such emotions to form their political policy.
The collectivist ideological movement works in this way: Large numbers of highly talented humans, driven by intense guilt over the status and wealth their talent has gained them, have tacitly formed a powerful faction with those who are weak-minded and easily susceptible to envy and greed.
The number of idlers in America used to be fairly small. Throughout the early part of our history, envy and greed were shameful emotions to indulge. Young people were taught the moral law that a man gets out of life what he puts into it. Thus they became “strivers” as they grew into adults. But since the turn of the century, the number of young people growing into “idlers” has been rapidly expanding due to socialist justifications in the schools, moral confusion in the churches, and material bribes in the political arena.
As a result, strivers are now in the minority in America, and because our country has shifted during the twentieth century into much more of a pure democracy where the largest gang of voters gets to dictate its desires to the rest of the populace—the collectivist vision has become especially virulent. Sluggards, due to their numerical strength at the polls, now have the ability to vote themselves endless entitlements and favors from the pockets of the strivers.
The guilt-driven thus form a tacit union with the envy-greed driven to extirpate their respective personal demons. Liberal elites and the non-producers join together to milk the nation’s productive men and women.
This is the real evil that is destroying America—the union of liberal elites and the masses to politically collectivize our economy. Its primary causes are the malevolent envy and greed that human beings are so susceptible to, and which are being propagandistically inflamed by the talent-laden establishment because of its own feelings of moral guilt—feelings which have evolved out of philosophical misconceptions, such as altruism, handed down in our universities over the past 100 years.
Anyone who doubts this analysis need only ask himself: Why are those on the political left not content with merely correcting the flaws of the original American vision? Why are they not satisfied with merely assuring equal rights for all minorities and all women? Why do they also advocate massive redistribution of individual wealth and the regimentation of our economy through stifling bureaucracies? If they were really champions of freedom, prosperity, and justice, then should they not fight for equal rights and free enterprise, rather than the forced collectivization of society into a centralized welfare state?
The historical evidence is abundantly clear by now. Capitalism works! It produces phenomenal wealth and allows men and women to be free to live as they please. As any objective study of history and economics shows, all the problems attributed to capitalism (inflation, depressions, monopolies, shortages, corruption) are not caused by the free market, but by government intervention into the marketplace.
Why would anyone of genuine intellect and integrity wish to eradicate such a free and prosperous society? The only conclusion is that despite their vehement fight for the liberation of blacks and women from the “shackles of the nineteenth century,” advocates of the liberal welfare state are, at heart, loathers of freedom. All the values that sustain civilized life (freedom, strength of will, independence, honor) are now endlessly denigrated with sophistries designed to make us socially accept sloth, servility, and weakness. The world of sanity and rationality gives way to the regimental nightmares of Orwellian “newspeak” and “political correctness.”
History is tossed down the memory hole by our “intellectuals” whose perspectives extend no further than the previous decade. Oliver Wendell Holmes’ “one-story intellects”—the fact-mongers, memorizers, statisticians, and calculators—wheel and deal from the corridors of power and TV talk shows, spewing out prescriptions for government confiscations of our earnings and absurd partnerships to merge government bureaucracies, incapable of creativity with highly innovative private companies.
Communism fell to the only fate its nature could have produced—brutal starvation and political chaos. Yet our intellectual class still claims they can get the socialist utopia right the next time. We now can have freedom without risk, plenty without work, and hope without heartache.
Such are the illusions of modernity’s short-range mentalities. Such is the fate of those who believe knowledge is numbers and truth a remnant of primitive times, that technology is a substitute for values and security more precious than liberty. But these tyrannical pretensions did not just accidentally come about. Mises’ “consummation of ideological changes” is upon us.