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The Death Cult of Collectivism

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The reproach of individualism is commonly leveled against economics on the basis of an alleged irreconcilable conflict between the interests of society and those of the individual.

Classical and subjectivist economics, it is said, give an undue priority to the interests of the individual over those of society and generally contend, in conscious denial of the facts, that a harmony of interests prevails between them. It would be the task of genuine science to show that the whole is superior to the parts and that the individual has to subordinate himself to, and conduct himself for, the benefit of society and to sacrifice his selfish private interests to the common good.

In the eyes of those who hold this point of view society must appear as a means designed by Providence to attain ends that are hidden from us. The individual must bow to the will of Providence and must sacrifice his own interests so that its will may be done. His greatest duty is obedience. He must subordinate himself to the leaders and live just as they command.

But who, one must ask, is to be the leader? For many want to lead, and, of course, in different directions and toward different goals.

The collectivists, who never cease to pour scorn and derision on the liberal theory of the harmony of interests, pass over in silence the fact that there are various forms of collectivism and that their interests are in irreconcilable conflict. They laud the Middle Ages and its culture of community and solidarity, and with romantic sentimentality they wax ecstatic over the communal associations “in which the individual was included, and in which he was kept warm and protected like fruit in its rind.”1 But they forget that papacy and empire, for example, opposed each other for hundreds of years and that every individual could find himself at any time in the position of having to choose between them. Were the inhabitants of Milan also “kept warm and protected like fruit in its rind” when they had to hand over their city to Frederick Barbarossa? Are there not various factions fighting today on German soil with bitter anger, each of which claims to represent the only true collectivism?

And do not the Marxian socialists, the national socialists, the church, and many other parties approach every individual with the demand: Join us, for you belong in our ranks, and fight to the death the “false” forms of collectivism?

A collectivist social philosophy that did not designate a definite form of collectivism as true and either treat all others as subordinate to it or condemn them as false would be meaningless and vain. It must always tell the individual: Here you have an unquestionably given goal, because an inner voice has revealed it to me; to it you must sacrifice everything else, yourself above all. Fight to victory or death under the banner of this ideal, and concern yourself with nothing else.

Collectivism, in fact, can be stated in no other way than as partisan dogma in which the commitment to a definite ideal and the condemnation of all others are equally necessary. Loyola did not preach just any faith, but that of the Church of Rome. Lagarde did not advocate nationalism, but what he regarded as German nationalism. Church, nation, state in abstracto are concepts of nominalistic science. The collectivists idolize only the one true church, only the “great” nation—the “chosen” people who have been entrusted by Providence with a special mission—only the true state; everything else they condemn.

For that reason all collectivist doctrines are harbingers of irreconcilable hatred and war to the death.

Excerpted from Epistemological Problems of Economics 
  • 1. Sombart, Der proletarische Sozializmus (10th ed.; Jena, 1924), I, 31.
Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.
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