This brings us to the third suspect in the philosophical lineup: the collectivists.
Collectivism is the political theory that states that the will of the people is omnipotent, an individual must obey; that society as a whole, not the individual, is the unit of moral value.
Altruism demands that an individual serve others, but doesn’t stipulate whether those others should be one’s family, or the homeless, or society as a whole. Collectivism states that, in politics, society comes first and the individual must obey. Collectivism is the application of the altruist ethics to politics.
The collectivist view that society’s will is omnipotent is a necessary result of modern and contemporary philosophy. The immediate and most obvious influence here belongs to Marx.
According to Marx, and to all Communist theory, the individual is and should be subordinate to society. Marx is a strict determinist in his view of human nature, holding that social and economic forces “condition” man, shaping every aspect of his character, personality and life. Since society is his master, it stands to reason that a man should spend his life as its slave, obeying its every command. An individual has no value in himself; he is merely a splintered fragment of the group; he must serve its needs.
But where does this view originate? How did truth become a matter of what the group believes? What about an individual discovering reality as it is and on his own, regardless of the group he belongs to? How did truth become social?
The answer lies in the theories of the German philosopher who dominated the thinking of the nineteenth century in general and of Karl Marx in particular. That philosopher is G.W.F. Hegel.
Hegel holds that truth evolves – that it changes for different groups at different periods. Tenth-century Christians, who understand the cause of an earthquake in terms of God’s will, inhabit a different universe than twentieth century westerners who understand the upheaval in terms of geological shifts. Since the basic concepts by means of which men understand their world change, differing cultures hold differing world views. An individual is raised in a culture, he is steeped in its world view, he absorbs it, he understands the world by means of its concepts. Truth is social.
But a rational man, here, too, will raise a question. How is it that truth is now conceived as something created – not discovered, but created – by man? Philosophers of an earlier age had held that facts exist independently, and that truth is born when human beings discover these facts. But Hegel says that each society creates its own truth. How did truth change from something discovered by the mind to a thing created by it? Who is responsible for so momentous a transformation?
The answer comes as no surprise. The man responsible for this epistemological revolution is Immanuel Kant.
The human mind, Kant says, has certain built-in concepts – or categories, as he calls them – that it imposes on our sense experience. Among these is the concept of “entity.” The mind imposes this concept on incoming sensations, thereby creating the world of objects that we experience. Do these objects exist in some independent realm? Who knows. All we know is the subjective world, the world created by our mind. The mind is an instrument of distortion.
Ayn Rand addresses this theory in For The New Intellectual:
Even apart from the fact that Kant’s theory of the “categories” as the source of man’s concepts was a preposterous invention, his argument amounted to a negation, not only of man’s con- sciousness, but of any consciousness, of consciousness as such. His argument, in essence, ran as follows: man is limited to a consciousness of a specific nature, which perceives by specific means and no others, therefore, his consciousness is not valid; man is blind, because he has eyes – deaf, because he has ears – deluded, because he has a mind – and the things he perceives do not exist, because he perceives them.
For Kant, the human mind is simultaneously omnipotent and helpless, all-knowing and hopelessly ignorant. Man is the creator, therefore the master, of the world of things as they appear to him, but he is permanently cut off from the world of things as they are “in themselves.” He can never know independently existing reality; he knows only the realm of appearance.
The essence of Kant’s influence, and the key to understanding the last two hundred years, is his theory that the human species, as a collective, creates its own reality. The world man occupies is not controlled by any single human consciousness, but by society as a whole. God has been dethroned by Kant and society elevated to the role of creator and governor of the human world.
Hegel applies this social primacy of consciousness view to politics. If the collective creates the world, Hegel argues, then it is logical to conclude that the collective must be the source of right and wrong and that it must be all-powerful regarding social issues. The group as a whole, and its emissary, the state, gives orders and the individual obeys. This is the birth of state-worship in modern Western culture.
Marx applies this social primacy of consciousness view to economics. If the collective creates the world, Marx argues, then it is logical to conclude that the collective must be supreme in economics. The economic needs of the people as a whole possess primacy, and the individual must serve. The function of the state is to enforce the economic obligations of the individual to the people. This is the birth of socialism.
Observe the fundamental premises of the Kantian philosophy: reality is unknowable, the mind is inefficacious. Man cannot know reality; he cannot choose the good. He is useless and valueless. The individual is nothing more than a fragment of the group, an interchangeable part with no value in himself.
The individual cannot know reality; therefore, he is helpless; independence is impossible. The group creates reality; it is omnipotent; the individual must render blind obedience to it.
This is the essence of Kant. This represents an all-out attack on the mind and on man. What logically follows, and what historically does follow, is a culture of destruction; an orgy of hatred, a full-scale war on every requirement of man’s survival. Kant and his heirs attack the mind, the root cause of all human values. His contemporary followers necessarily attack every consequence of that cause. The statists attack freedom; the socialists attack the profit motive; the ethnicity-worshippers and racists attack individualism; the multiculturalists attack Western Civilization; the modern artists attack objectivity; the feminists attack masculinity; the environmentalists attack science, technology, progress and prosperity.
The modern collectivists are nihilists. Nazis and Communists slaughter millions and lay waste to continents. Their purpose is neither to steal money nor to exalt God. Their purpose is to destroy the mind and to rain destruction. In The Ominous Parallels, Leonard Peikoff gives an eloquent description of the modernist mentality:
The term that captures twentieth-century culture – the term that names the modern soul is: nihilism.
“Nihilism” in this context means hatred, the hatred of values and of their root, reason. Hatred is not the same as disapproval, contempt or anger. Hatred is loathing combined with fear, and with the desire to lash out at the hated object, to wound, to disfigure, to destroy it.
The essence and impelling premise of the nihilist-modern is the quest for destruction, the destruction of all values, of values as such, and of the mind. It is a destruction he seeks for the sake of destruction, not as a means, but as an end.
This is the deepest reason why the modernists are, without exception, collectivists in their politics – because these are the politics of enslaving and destroying the good.
The collectivists deny the efficacy of the mind, thereby attacking the good at its source. Destruction is their goal and their result; the body counts in China, Russia, Germany, and Cambodia bear grim testimony to this.
Unfortunately, this ideology continues to dominate modern culture. How is this possible? How can a philosophy of destruction gain power over productive men?
It is important to grasp that this power is not the product of any positive action or productive achievement on the part of the evil. The power of evil is based on a negative, a vacuum – on the ignorance and philosophical confusions of honest men. The pro-reason thinkers of the Renaissance and Enlightenment failed to provide reason with a proper philosophical foundation, leaving it open to the attacks of Kant. The scientists, the inventors, the industrialists, et al., are not innovative philosophers; they accepted the moral codes taught them; they unwittingly sanctioned the creeds that were destroying them.
These errors, moreover, are not so much a reflection on the ability of the good men as on the difficulty of their task. To discover and validate the foundations of reason requires an extraordinary genius. Once the proper foundations of reason and egoism have been discovered, the errors and confusions on which evil feeds evaporate.
The morality of sacrifice lives on borrowed time.
As soon as productive men identify the evil of the altruist code – and discover a rational, life-giving alternative – its power is easily vanquished. In this respect, things have never been brighter for man. The status of evil has never been more fragile.
Project what would have to be done to refute and defeat the collectivists. First, it would be necessary to formulate a philosophical system that identifies and validates the mind as the root of all good and the individual as the proper beneficiary of his own actions. Then, it would be necessary to express that philosophy in a vividly powerful piece of writing. Yet these two tasks have already been achieved by Ayn Rand in her many nonfiction works and, above all, in Atlas Shrugged. All that remains to be done is to make more of the rational and productive men aware of the existence of her philosophy.
For the first time in history, the rational and the good are fully armed in the battle against evil. Here we finally find the answer to our paradox; now we can understand the nature of the social power held by evil. Ultimately, the evil, the irrational, truly has no power. The evil men’s control of morality is transient; it lives on borrowed time made possible only by the errors of the good. In time, as more honest men grasp the truth, evil’s stranglehold will be easily broken.
The essence of the struggle between good and evil is summed up in Hank Rearden’s words from Atlas Shrugged:
He was seeing the enormity of the smallness of the enemy who was destroying the world. He felt as if, after a journey of years through a landscape of devastation, past the ruins of great factories, the wrecks of powerful engines, the bodies of invincible men, he had come upon the despoiler, expecting to find a giant – and had a rat eager to scurry for cover at the first sound of a human step. If this is what has beaten us, he thought, the guilt is ours.
These words are certainly true. But it is important to focus not on the guilt of the good men in this respect, but instead on the enormous advantage they have over evil – and the joy that will be theirs when they sweep aside Kant’s philosophy and start to build a cultural renaissance on the foundations established by the philosophy of Ayn Rand.
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