Friday, November 6, 2015

Individualism Versus Collectivism by Frederick Millar 1906


Posted this October 6 to commemorate the October Revolution

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Among the various agitations of to-day there is none which has gained ground so quickly, and which is so dangerous in its outcome, as socialism; and of socialism that part which perhaps demands more minute attention than any other is the collectivist theory. The system by which all men shall, as it were, be relieved, to a great extent, of certain responsibilities which they now have, and shall be able to cast these upon a theoretical organisation of a social State, is not without its recommendations to a certain class of men, and it is not surprising that it has gained power and significance. To the "unemployed" this theory comes as a relief, which will be the means of easing them greatly, for their lot in life is hard, and they are ready to catch at any straw which appears to offer to them any support. The vision of a State providing a small amount of work for all, and assisting all to live in a similar way, is pleasing to many persons; and men are, consequently, readily captured as disciples of collectivism. The theory has its source in the so-called advancement and enlightenment of the nineteenth century. It is an anachronism in the eyes of a socialist that men should to-day be permitted to fight for themselves and to reap the harvest of their own labour without others, who have done nothing to earn it, sharing the reward of their endeavours. Collectivism, it is urged, will alter this; the capable man will only have the same opportunity of displaying his ability as the incapable and unindustrious man. Thus the fruits of active competition would soon be gone. Under collectivism we should defeat our own ends, for all invention and improvement in our industries would end, as there would be no encouragement for either. The apportionment of every industry, the solemn monotony of all labour, would wear away the spirit of the people, and they would become mere mechanical appliances, worked as though they were cog-wheels in the machinery of the State.

Again, collectivism would destroy that independence of spirit which is the greatest characteristic of the English race. Men would grow dependent on the State, their every action would be regulated by officials, and they would lose their golden heritage of freedom, which has so long been the boast of our countrymen.

It is necessary to inquire into the motives by which this agitation is actuated. In some cases the motives may be of the purest, and may originate in a sincere desire to help mankind. But in many cases the agitation degenerates into a selfish demand raised by malcontents, whose one desire is to secure for themselves an ease which they are too lazy to earn. These people look forward with delight to the millennium of equality, and to the pleasure and ease of uncompetitive labour.

Will "collectivism" stand comparison with "individualism," the great principle to which it is opposed? A slight inquiry will speedily show how utterly false and groundless are the arguments which are urged against the continuance of "individual self-help." It may be contended that individualism breeds a spirit of narrowness and selfishness; that each man, in the struggle for existence, is so thoroughly governed by care for himself that he loses all regard for his fellow-men. But this cannot be asserted as a positive conclusion, for it is well known that only by experience can sympathy be aroused; and hence, when a man has struggled to gain a position, or to keep himself in a certain place, he is imbued with a great sympathy for those who are experiencing similar struggles. The master who has had to struggle through adverse circumstances will surely have greater sympathy with his pupil than the man who has experienced no difficulty whatever.

This influence of self-help in increasing the sympathy between men must surely counteract the selfish influence which it may be said to have, but which is to a great extent over-estimated. In its effects on character individualism is ennobling; it helps to make men bolder, and more fitted for the battle of life. The man who is beholden to the State for protection is in a very weakly position if menaced by any great danger; but he who has learned to help himself needs no protection other than the courage of heart which his energy has instilled into him. Man is fitted that he may support himself, and it is wrong to attempt to rob him of his natural functions.

The dependence on institutions which collectivism causes is the greatest danger of the age. It was no ideal lament of the late Lord Beaconsfield when he said: "We look too much to institutions, and too little to men." We are ever doing so, and never was there a time when we were more inclined to do so.

If there is to be any united help, it can be expended in no better way than in providing each with equal opportunities of attaining success, as far as practicable; and then, leaving them to fight among themselves for headship, will the best men in our country become the pillars of our State. Let men strive to help themselves, and never allow themselves to degenerate into mere puppets, helpless and purposeless, suited only to be tossed about at random on the sea of life.

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