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Collectivism, Freedom, and Happiness

Collectivism, Freedom, and Happiness

Andrew Bissell

2 Mins
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January 25, 2011

Question: Can pure happiness be attained through selfishness and possessiveness rather than truth and love? Does Objectivism ’s individual mean that a collectivist is cowardly and inferior? Can you imagine an independent India or South Africa without collectivist personalities like Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and many more?

Answer: Happiness is a complex emotion that proceeds from living one’s life with success and intensity. To achieve it, one must correctly identify the values that contribute to one’s life and vigorously work to realize them. This is a selfish process, and happiness is not to be found in sacrificing one’s desires, time and values—in essence, one’s life—to the demands or whims of others.

Objectivism counsels a rational concern and striving for one’s own selfish interest, not “possessiveness” per se. There is no dichotomy or conflict between “selfishness” and “truth and love.” Honesty—adherence to truth—is an important virtue in cultivating one’s own good character. Love is an intensely selfish experience that provides one with a kind of spiritual and emotion fuel. In a sense, selfishness, truth, and love are all compatible and mutually reinforcing values.

Are collectivists cowardly? Well, I wouldn’t tag them all with those labels, but there are certain aspects of the collectivist morality that lend themselves to that description. In general, collectivism says that people are unable to practice self-government and assume responsibility for their own actions and is fearful that—left to their own devices—they will fail to secure even their most basic needs of survival. I think there is a certain cowardice at work when a collectivist claims that people must be controlled, that they cannot live by their own effort, and that they certainly should not be permitted to try, besides.

Are collectivists inferior? Throughout history, few collectivists have made significant or innovative achievements. The Caesars, Napoleons, and Stalins of the world generally achieve fame and power by manipulating and controlling other people, and rarely create new material goods or systems of thought. And as far as their moral conclusions are concerned, collectivists are certainly inferior to individualists.

The fight for independence requires organization and charismatic leadership, but it does not demand a collectivist personality.

I can imagine an independent India or South Africa without a collectivist leader, because other nations have achieved independence on a foundation of liberty and individual freedom. The American Revolution was one of the first successful anti-colonial rebellions and was led by such individualist Founding Fathers as Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. The fight for independence requires organization and charismatic leadership, but it does not demand a collectivist personality.

The Indian and South African battles for independence had noble beginnings, but once those countries had expelled their oppressors and won their “freedom,” they went from control by foreign empires to control by bloated socialistic governments. South Africa’s original independence was rendered empty by the white government’s racism. Today, ongoing collectivist pressures are making it hard to liberalize the economy and are still dividing the country on racial and ethnic lines. India, free from colonialist control for over fifty years, is just beginning to liberalize its economy after years of autarkic, stagnant socialism. The collectivism of Gandhi and Nehru was not an historical necessity. Instead, it had tragically unnecessary implications for the people of India.

As unrelated as they may seem, the achievement of personal happiness and the successful founding of a new political order are both dependent on the recognition of man’s right to live life for his own sake, neither granting nor taking the unearned from others. It is this morality—rational selfishness—that serves as the basis for individual success and national prosperity.