Individualism has long appealed to me, and of late, I’ve been trying to study key figures who’ve written about it in the past. I practically wallowed in Ayn Rand for years, and of course did some reading on Thomas Hobbes. Via other writers’ works and essays, I bumped into Tibor R. Machan who passed away in 2016 as the US presidential election kicked into high gear with the energy of a muscle car blowing past my 176-horsepower vehicle on I-95.
I ended up reading an essay by Machan, and then I read a tribute about Machan by Jeffrey A. Tucker. By the end of my reading session, I realized Tucker’s essay and parts of Machan’s are more beneficial than any politician’s statement when it comes to matters of race and ‘social justice’.
I recalled a conversation I had with a friend about race shortly before the ‘Corona-tine’ kicked in and in person socializing evaporated.
My friend asked my thoughts on racism. I have a mixed family, so I think that’s how I got quizzed about it. This was before the killing of George Floyd.
I explained I don’t think about racism much. I think about individuals a lot. I have never and will never make an assessment of a person on one attribute—the color of skin. That makes no sense to me. I do not believe making an assessment of a person based on skin color is a rational process.
I first expressed those thoughts when I was in junior high school many years ago. Our small Southern town’s newspaper accepted an Op-Ed I wrote on civil rights. I’ve published many writings since then, but the most valuable to me is that essay. I don’t think any prize I won or any publication I succeeded with comes close to sparking the excitement I felt when that column was published.
At present the country’s political front porch is rife with talk of racism, angst about racism, and perhaps most worrisome, viewing every negative exchange between people with different complexions as a manifestation of racism. Think tanks will wax eloquently about our problems, and politicians will stump to the high heavens in hopes of driving anyone and everyone out to the polls in November.
I once told an individual whose skin color is different from mine that slavery was enabled in virtually every country on Earth because it was permitted by the ruling powers. That term, ruling powers, is where I think all Americans should start when it comes to discussing infringement on anyone’s liberty.
That leads me back to the worth and power of the individual. In Machan’s essay Atomistic Individualism: Anatomy of a Smear, he wrote about one darling of leftist professors, Karl Marx:
“Marx’s ideas had their college try, of course, but they got bogged down, ultimately, because it turns out that human individuality is essential to understanding what a just society must be. When you ignore human individuality you get a top-down authoritarian or totalitarian state that is incapable of figuring out what is good for a human society; this is to be expected when a polity misunderstands human nature and treats us all as if we were members of an ant colony.”
In contrast, Machan seems to be talking directly in my ear with this:
“A central feature of human nature is individuality—each of us is unique. This kind of being needs a free society to flourish.”
Much of Machan’s essay seeks to upend the dismissal of individualism by critics who cite Thomas Hobbes’ writings. Machan points out, among other flaws, that Hobbes’ concept of individualism “eliminates morality from human life.”
Another passage in Machan’s essay summed up one of the ideas I find so appealing about individualism:
“No community, whether the family, tribe, ethnic group, club, religious order, nation, or humanity at large, has priority over the adult individual’s personal responsibility to decide what to do in his life. Those communities are in fact derivative of the decisions and choices made by innumerable individuals.”
That is logical. I do not belong to the community unless I choose to. I owe the community nothing unless I choose to owe it. This idea is a major problem for a number of my dear ones who consider themselves “liberal” or “conservative.”
By the time I found Tucker’s essay, I was enthralled with Machan and I was very sad to learn that he’d passed away. Tucker raises some excellent points in his tribute to Machan. I’d say one conversation all Americans should be having involves questions Tucker put forth:
“[U] under what conditions are you willing to use the force of law, the coercion of the state, to impose your views on others? If you are willing to do that, are you also willing to consider the costs of doing so and take responsibility for the results?”
Noting Machan’s libertarianism, Tucker wrote, “a good rule of thumb: the law only pertains where there is aggression on life and property.”
Other questions Tucker raises include, “[T]o what extent are you willing to use the violence of the state to impress your vision of virtue, tradition, religion, and order on the rest of the population?”
Of course no such questions were raised in what I viewed as near-worthless debates ahead of the election in 2016.
As Americans talk about criminal justice reform and related issues, perhaps we should admit to ourselves that all the talk and policies in the past have brought us to this moment. It’s too easy to blame Barack Obama or Donald Trump for the problems we have right now.
What we should be doing is casting a close, objective eye on the power of the state and asking ourselves what we are willing to yield to accept someone else’s vision of what all our lives should be like. There can be no guarantee of equal outcome without authoritarianism and massive redistribution of wealth. As long as we invest resources in a bureaucracy growing larger and more powerful by the day, we will not see anything remotely resembling Utopia.
Every negative issue creating conflict in our society right now was made possible, directly or indirectly, by the power of the state. That idea is where a productive conversation might begin.
(Kay B. Day/June 24, 2020)
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