Collectivism doesn’t work for the same reasons that collectivists say we need it. Collectivists say that their aim is to protect the “people” from those evil people that would take advantage of and subjugate them. The reason it won’t work is that you can’t eliminate the most basic impulses of humans. That is the impulse to act in accordance to one’s self interests. We can keep that impulse in check and subdue it in an effort to help others and promote the greater good, but it cannot be totally eliminated.
I believe the unrest we are seeing in this country and what is being displayed in other places around the world is a groundswell of collectivist thought. When you listen to President Obama speak of the “people,” he speaks as if deep down inside all people really want the same thing. He and others that think like him really believe that deep down inside everyone wants peace, justice and equality. Collectivists are trying to make connections between unrest in many of the countries in the Middle East and the public labor disputes in the US. In all of these cases, they say it is the “people” who are rising up and demanding their “rights.”
Collectivists think that if anyone doesn’t feel this way, they can be coaxed into ameliorating their ways through discussion and enlightenment. Because the “people” want this or that, the powerful ought to acquiesce to their demands. I am not excusing excesses and abuses by the powerful. I am highlighting the fact that the only thing that the people uniformly want is exactly that—they want what they want. People want things. Whether it is a multi-millionaire tycoon or a union firefighter, people have interests. Deference is not the natural inclination of man. By default, all people are inclined to act in their own interests.
It is because of this there will always be powerful and the not so powerful. There will always be the influential and those who wield less influence. Unfortunately, there will also always be people who are rich, poor and all points in between. This is because there will always be those who are very skilled at fulfilling their interests. There will also always be those who do a really poor job of working in a way that promotes their interests. This is an unfortunate fact of life.
So, who will be the powerful, influential and wealthy? Collectivists think they can really divvy up everything among the “people” and everyone will be happy. What they often fail to see is that their precious equality is not a naturally occurring phenomenon. Even if they achieve it, someone or something with some amount of power, influence and wealth will have to maintain it. Who is capable of wielding that type of power without ultimately acting in a way that is advantageous to their self interests?
We needn’t single out the powerful. Members of a collective will act in their own self interests just as consistently as individuals. A group of individuals collectively acting in their own self interests without the counterbalance of negative consequences is just as dangerous as a malevolent, oppressive and greedy individual. I am reminded of the words of Thomas Sowell—“liberals would hold us collectively responsible for everything and individually responsible for nothing.” Collectivism, quite naturally, doesn’t work.