Pop Quiz! Here are three quotes from famous modern politicians. They express, in slightly different words, the same idea. They show us why ideas matter. See if you can identify who said them. As part of my devious scheme to keep you reading, and to emphasize the point of this little essay, I won’t tell you who is responsible for each until the end. You will have less fun if you peek.
A. “We must stop thinking of the individual and start thinking about what is best for society.”
B. “We must abolish the cult of the individual decisively, once and for all.”
C. “This state of mind, which subordinates the interests of the ego to the conservation of the community, is really the first premise for every truly human culture .... we understand only the individual's capacity to make sacrifices for the community, for his fellow man."
The idea that the welfare of the community is more important than that of any individual is has a powerful appeal. Many tales of courage, heroism and self-sacrifice feature a dramatic climax where the hero dies to save his comrades, or even more nobly, to save a group of helpless strangers. We rightly admire selfless courage. Our admiration is rooted in the power of love, a reverence for life and a desire to see our species survive. The truth of the Bible verse in John 15:13, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” needs no elaboration.
We recognize heroism when we see it. The sacrifice of an individual per se isn’t necessarily heroic. There is one critical item necessary for heroism ― something beyond courage and selfless love. The hero has to volunteer.
The sailor who leaps from a lifeboat and drowns so his shipmates can survive is a hero. If the shipmates dump him overboard to save their own skins, it’s a murder.
Twentieth century socialism has seized the idea that the “nation” or “society” is more important than the individual and perverted it into a cruel parody of selfless courage. Using the idea of the preeminence of the group, modern social democracies have turned morality up side down, making sacrifice for the “good of society” a legal duty rather than a heroic ideal.
A good example is how the welfare state has perverted the meaning of “compassion.” Once the word meant “suffering together with another.” Today modern political “compassion” means a vague passive agreement to relieve someone’s distress by having the government send them some money. But forcing one citizen to support another isn’t compassion any more than forcing someone out of a lifeboat is heroism.
Another good example of the consequences of elevating groups above individuals is the perverse notion of justice embodied in affirmative action. Affirmative action discriminates against innocent members of certain groups today to compensate for injustice suffered by innocent members of different groups in the past. This inter-generational eye-for-an-eye theory of justice does far more to institutionalize resentment than it does to right earlier wrongs. Through the miracle of modern democratic group think, and in defiance of the wisdom of the ages, affirmative action wants to prove that two wrongs do make a right.
Groups do not suffer or bleed. Groups do not go to prison or die. It is impossible to discriminate against any group without discriminating against individuals in the group. It is impossible to cause injustice to a group without causing injustice to its individual members. Free societies defend the rights of all individuals to life, liberty and property. In a society where individuals are treated justly no group can be wronged.
It is only by focusing on what is best for “society” or “the nation” or any group, and ignoring the rights of individuals that the horrific crimes committed by governments in this century have been possible.
For what it considered the good of society the German government of the Third Reich murdered over 6 million Europeans including millions of its own citizens and was responsible for the deaths of millions more worldwide. For the good of society the Russian government killed tens of millions, built the Berlin Wall and the Gulag, a system of labor and psychiatric prison camps in which further millions were enslaved and died. Millions more died for the good of society in China under Mao. Still more in the killing fields of Cambodia under Pol Pot.
On that cheerful note, I’ll bet you are ready for the answers to the pop quiz.
Quotation A, “We must stop thinking of the individual and start thinking about what is best for society,” is from former First Lady, Senator Hillary Clinton. Mrs. Clinton is toiling daily, with the help of Democrats and Republicans alike, to promote what is best for society at the expense of individuals all over America. She has an excellent shot at becoming president.
The second quote, B, “We must abolish the cult of the individual decisively, once and for all,” is from Nikita Khruschev, who took over in the 50’s from Joseph Stalin as ruler of the murderous police state in Soviet Russia.
Quotation C, “This state of mind, which subordinates the interests of the ego to the conservation of the community, is really the first premise for every truly human culture.... we understand only the individual's capacity to make sacrifices for the community, for his fellow man,” … Adolph Hitler in a speech in 1933.