The state of nature is not the halcyon, bucolic life of myth. Existentially, the state of nature is a place of predators and prey. To escape that uncertainty, predators or prey can join together in mutual association, forming societies. Associations of individuals seeking escape from the state of nature can take one of two existential forms: Collectivist or Individualist.
In a collective existential state, society is one living organism: society and its members are one, and individuals exist only as inextricable parts of collective society. Society itself is alive – so by extension, the rights to liberty and property are also vested in society. Collective societies may grant privilege to members, but they may not recognize individual rights. All rights fall to the living collective society.¹
A collective society must have self-preservation as its primary function, and disentanglement of a collective is the death of something that had life.² In a collective existential state individuals are integral to the community: societal authority must control who joins or leaves the society. Collective societies without strong borders and powerful immune systems lack protection from external and internal threats. Let either its borders or its internal ‘immune system’ fail, and a collective society will bleed out its energy or be overwhelmed by parasites. Allowing departure enables internal threats to reposition themselves as external threats. Allowing departure allows the most productive and capable producers to escape with their skills to where they may benefit the enemies of the collective. This is why, as collectivist societies approach ideological purity, they invariably embrace genocide.
In an Individualist existential state, life is unique for each individual. Individuals are entitled to their own personal life and have no authority over the personal life of anyone else, regardless of whether acting alone or en masse. All individuals are entitled to their own unique liberty, and have no natural right to the liberty of any other person. An individual who is denied liberty is denied that much of their life. Individuals may spend a portion of their life accumulating property. In an individualist existential state each individual must be entitled to own property, and must not forcibly take the property of any other person. If an individual is denied any of their property, they are denied the portion of their liberty and life spent creating or acquiring it. Life equals liberty equals property.
Individuals by nature hold differing opinions on where the boundaries between unique individuals lie. For mutual benefit, individuals may cooperatively and consensually recognize acceptable locations for those boundaries, and these agreed-upon boundaries mark the scope of mutually recognized rights. To secure these boundaries/rights, individuals create governments. Governments created with the consent of individuals legitimately continue to exist only by such consent. A government exceeding its charter usurps individual prerogative and can, by the nature of the deed, only be collectivist – a mutant entity engaging in conquest. Once an initially individualist government abandons its proper function of maintaining the boundaries between individuals, it becomes a slime mold, devoid of cellular partitions, voraciously feeding on the individuals it was charged to protect.
Existential Individualists are only obligated to recognize the authority of governments to which they have consented. Individualists born or conscripted into a government they reject are not morally obligated to accept its authority, but neither do they individually have the might necessary to stand in defiance. Having dissolved the ties that bound them to an association/government – however flawed it may have been – unassociated individualists revert to the state of nature. There are no rights in a state of nature: rights are the creation of individuals acting in voluntary association. You cannot physically claim a right to act unimpeded, you can only recognize the rights of others as restraints on yourself. In a state of nature, might rules. Rights cannot be gathered to one’s self, only extended to others.
There is no possible compromise between Individualism and Collectivism. Regardless of how determinedly, or even how intentionally, various members of a fractured society are pushing towards either existential collectivism or existential individualism, the two choices are exclusionary. Every activity choice is alternatively good or evil, depending on whether you hold an Individualist or a Collectivist system of values: splitting the difference is irreconcilable. Traditionally, ‘conservative’ collectivists have held that social activity must be under collective control, and ‘liberal’ collectivists have held that financial activity must be under collective control. Each specific right can only be assigned to one or the other sphere; to the unique individuals or to the amorphous collective. To compromise successfully on the Collectivist/Individualist dichotomy, each possible human activity must be assigned uniformly by all individuals to either the collective or the individual sphere.
Collectivism/Individualism is not a scale between one and the other. It is not an adjustable lever. Collectivist/Individualist is an incomprehensibly long line of switches, one for each possible human activity. ‘Compromise’ is agreeing on how each of those switches should be set, not how far a single lever should be pushed. Universal agreement to all of the myriad distinct points in need of ‘compromise’ is only possible under an imposed order. Every compromise with Collectivism brings more synchronization, lessens human uniqueness and advances the destruction of individuality desired by the Collectivists. Even if some of the switches are set to ‘individual’, the precedent of collective will is established. Thoughtful Collectivists know this and demand ever more compromise.
Even now, mainstream defenders of the Constitution and of the individual right to life, liberty and property, do not recognize the single-minded purpose underlying the manifold attacks on individual liberty. They listen to the journalists, K-12 educators, academics, mega-corporation executives, trade unions, and even visibly corrupted politicians – yet still believe the rampant growth of government accompanying every deed is rooted in benign, albeit misguided good intentions. Whether by inattention or psychological denial, individualists have not yet recognized the coherent force of organic collectivism, which is taking on life that transcends any of its expendable members. Even if the intentions of some of the expendable members are benign, the collective entity has evolved to the point that it actively destroys threats and nurtures processes that advance it.
Either Collectivists and Individualists must segregate and live apart, or one of these groups must prevail. Reconciliation through deliberation is not possible. It never was.
¹ That society itself has life is self-evident to a collectivist – yet inconceivable to an individualist. This is the source of confusion and misunderstanding when individualists encounter reverential collectivist attitudes towards ‘society’. Individualists see society as a means of human interaction, collectivists see society as the repository of humanness.
² Death of leaders and other leadership transitions are deeply traumatic in collective societies, even when the fallen authority terrorized and terrified the members. The death of many vile despots has been met with massive and genuine outpourings of grief from their collective victims. Deeply immersed in the collective consciousness, when part of it dies, part of them dies in proportion to the magnitude of the authoritarian presence.