Monday, 8 November 2010

Specify, or Be Damned. — Individualism does not specify itself to be in keeping with any particular society, or even with the existence of society at all, but rather it addresses itself only to an unspecified individuality. Such unspecification about what an individual should be is precisely at the heart of individualism’s boast about its being the friend and not the foe of the individual’s freely seeking to be and to do whatever he chooses. “Do what thou wilt”, it says, whereto it may add the black-box phrase, “so long as it harms none”. Now, given a teaching which says that everyone may do as he pleases, irrespective of all truth, reason, goodness, morality, tradition, authority, obedience, bonds, and so forth, “so long as it harms none”, and which, by its boasted lights, does not specify the kind of society which should be upheld, or even that any should be upheld, how is it that anyone could then come to the belief that it might after all stand as a pillar of any society, let alone a particular one, rather than being, as in truth it is, the rot upon all? One might say that here we are at the brink of sheer madness, inbequeathed through many years of listening to silly tales. But leaving aside an understanding of the teaching itself, which might conceivably have taken any name, the very name which it does carry gives us a clue to its drift, namely, that it seeks to uphold the unspecified individual, and not any society, specified or unspecified.
     There are no ends specific to man as man, rather than to what he shares with mere beasts, which can be reached outside of his fellowship with his kind. No speech nor reasoning, let alone higher arts and sciences, would arise if all men stood from the first outside of fellowship. Every man began as a helpless baby and would have died were it not for the society of his kith and kin. Every man was without speech, and would have remained speechless were it not for the same. Every man was without schooling, and would have stayed unschooled. And so on. No man was ever born into a so-called state of nature, as first imagined by Thomas Hobbes, even if this be helpful as a conceptual threshold for the understanding that the closer a society comes in breaking down towards that threshold, the more brutish it becomes. It is nevertheless a figment which has led to misunderstanding and mischief, and it is from it that individualism has grown. Man’s state of nature is the state of society. Man has never been in the so-called state of nature; for he is by nature a social animal and has always been in fellowship. Individualists, having thoughtlessly taken all social things for granted, and having for the most part imbibed unawares some old spirit of seventeenth-century philosophy, often speak as though they rose out of the ground and shaped themselves in isolation, wherein we glimpse also the drunken idea of self-creation born of Romanticism.
But he who is unable to live in society, or who has no need because he is sufficient for himself, must be either a beast or a god: he is no part of a state. [1]
The liberal concept of man as selfstanding being, free to set his own moral ends, is one of the biggest untruths ever told — and yet folk swallow it whole, whereat we might take it that they are greedy for something.
     Individualism is an emptiness which blights the field of personhood, turning men, if they can still be called such, into mere units of the mass to be gathered up in the total state. Man is a social animal; society is required to actualise a man’s potential as a person. There are no pre-social individual persons. In the light of this, we may see individualism as some deeply primitive recrudescence, the tendency of which is to destroy the very conditions by which one can become a human person. A man cannot be a person without the fellowship, community, or society that made him. Unsocialised, man’s potencies are not activated, and he stays at a level close to a beast, bereft of speech and reason, let alone partaking of the higher arts and sciences.
     Individualistic societies are decomposing social bodies in which kinship-ties are loosened and even cut, and which can be held together only by an all-pervasive and socially-alien bureau-technocratic power — the “coldest of all cold monsters”. In defence of these societies, and, by extension, willing or not, of this bureau-technocratic power, liberals, who sometimes call themselves libertarians, claim the greater freedom of these societies, where the largely unexamined and fuzzily-held concept “freedom” is a multivariate reference, unspecified of what, for what, and to what. In individualistic societies there is more freedom in the direction of baser and thrilling appetites, non-specific to mankind, hence the appeal of this freedom to the mass of baser men; and it is these appetites which dissolve kinship and personhood, bringing even greater demands for individualism, which brings greater freedom in the direction of baser and thrilling appetites, and so on, in a downward spiral. In individualistic societies, the freedom in personhood is much lowered, whilst the freedom in beasthood is heightened; and the bonds of kinship are cut whereby men would be men.
     Liberals and libertarians, being the fiercest enemies of the freedom of personhood, and the strongest friends of the freedom of beasthood, that is to say, of the liberal haze-ideal of the “individual” whatever that individual may be, must be defeated if the freedom of the person as person is to be upheld. Liberalism, or rather its essential individualism, has a gut-feeling and a canny nose for the breaking-up of everything, even of the person, and it knows nothing of creation. The ideal of individualism can only belittle persons and bring to the fore a bulk of fittingly-blank individuals of the mass — fittingly blank for bearing the stamp of the bureau-technocratic regime.
     The conformity that is forged today through the atomized individualism that strips men of their personhood has little to do with the collective identity for which men have always yearned. The conformity today is a stopgap and a takeover of this natural yearning. The atomised individual is stripped bare of his humanity — which has hitherto been actualised in society — and left adrift with his “freely-formed” and “-chosen” opinions, which are in truth nothing of the kind. He cannot think for himself, only of himself, because he is suffering a loss. He rebels against conformity in conformity with everyone else.
As the subversive mind is essentially individualistic and isolationistic, so is it essentially collectivistic and identitarian: on the view inherent in it, the curse of division and of being ‘set against one another’ cannot be surmounted except by a ‘fusion into one’; an actual identification of consciousness, of qualities and of interest. In fact, individualism (tending towards egalitarianism) prefigures collectivism from the outset, and again, collectivism is only individualism raised to the high power of an absolute monism centred in ‘all and every one’. [2]
Individualism foreshadows mass-collectivism. With authorities and societies broken down, nothing can stand in the way of pressing the individual units of alienated humanity, thitherto existing as persons, into a mass, each homogenised unit shaped to fit and imprinted with a set of political ideas and economic desires.
     The pluralism which accompanies individualism is a social dysfunction built on subjectivistic-irrationalistic ethics. It denies that mankind has a nature and thereby a natural end to be fulfilled. Only by that denial does it make sense to say that everyone has a right to pursue any goals and practice any values which he pleases so long as he does not seek to foist them upon others. And how is that disorder to be managed? Why, by the totalitarian bureau-technocratic state of liberaldom! But of course it is not true that under liberaldom one can believe whatever one likes, nor especially what it is rational to believe. In liberaldom one can believe anything one likes so long as it makes no odds against liberaldom; one’s unliberal beliefs, if they can still bear that name, are to be mild quirks of the self, slight hues in an otherwise grey smear of bureaucratic massification.
     The task of liberalism from its beginning, namely, the search for neutral ground whereon the life of all mankind can rest, and whereupon everyone can seek his own ends, can find its end only in a true neutrality and indifference, and that is nowhere to be found in man except in his unpersonhood. Wherefore it is that liberalism’s struggle to settle the life of mankind can find its end only in the death of personhood; and it is for this reason that the struggle against liberalism is the final and most profound one. Liberalism is the greatest evil that mankind has yet faced, and there is almost no-one to withstand it. That lack of withstanding, owed to liberalism’s having swayed almost everyone to its side, is partly why it is the greatest evil.

[1] Aristotle, Politica, Bk.I: 1253a:28-9, tr. B. Jowett, in The Works of Aristotle, Vol.X (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1921).
[2] Aurel Kolnai, “Privilege and Liberty” (1949), in Privilege and Liberty and Other Essays in Political Philosophy, ed. D.J. Mahoney (Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 1999), p.21-2.


Steve Nicoloso said...

That was worth the 8 month wait!

Thank you.

Deogolwulf said...

Thanks. I cobbled it together out of some comments I made elsewhere.

alexi de sadesky said...

Glad to see you back in action, Mr Deogolwulf. Tremendous posts! I'm curious, where can we find you making comments elsewhere? Thanks.

Deogolwulf said...

Hello, Mr Sadesky! I don't comment much. Sometimes at UR, sometimes at Mangan's. This post comes from comments made at Nourishing Obscurity, to be found via the sidebar of the other blog.

Alrenous said...

But it is precisely man's sociality that allows individualism to work. Left alone, man seeks camaraderie, closeness, and his kin. Societies arise quite spontaneously.

Instead it is the opposite of individualism that is the issue, for it takes the vast landscape of potential societies and reduces it to one, or indeed less than one, if the recipe is not exactingly correct.

"Individualists, having thoughtlessly taken all social things for granted, and having for the most part imbibed unawares some old spirit of seventeenth-century philosophy, often speak as though they rose out of the ground and shaped themselves in isolation"

A fair complaint. But this is not individualism, this is simply error. The point about learning speech from others is stated without proof - for precisely that it needs none. To ignore it, to be unaware of it, is rank foolishness.

If it is foolishness you wish to rail against, then I'm afraid you'll be at it for quite some time.

The truth of individualism, given man's sociable nature, is simply that no society can rightly prevent a member from leaving. That's it. That's all. This simple truth has few consequences, only one of which is profound, and can certainly not lead to the complex and dire events you ascribe to individualism.

Deogolwulf said...

Are you muddling up individualism with individuality?

“The truth of individualism, given man's sociable nature, is simply that no society can rightly prevent a member from leaving.”

I have no idea what that means — or rather, what it has to do with individualism.