Uncovering Collectivism

Jim Huntzinger
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Posted: Feb 12, 2018 10:11 AM
Uncovering Collectivism

Friedrich Hayek astutely and accurately wrote in 1935 that,

“[F]or more than half a century the belief that deliberate regulation of all social affairs must necessarily be more successful than the apparent haphazard interplay of independent individuals has continuously gained ground until today there is hardly a political group anywhere in the world which does not want central direction of most human activities in the service of one aim or another.”[1] 

As we will see, this pervasive foolish perception Hayek describes continues to this day.

Although we associate the implementation of collectivism with the 20th century, and our own government collectivist intervention with that period (particularly with the administrations of Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, and Lyndon Johnson) this type of intervention is not unique to that century. Interventionism, as defined by Ludwig von Mises, is “isolated commands of social control (through the regulation of the state) that force the owners of the means of production at their disposal in a way different than they otherwise would.”[2]  From von Mises’ definition, interventionism runs rampant in a massive number of federal policies in America today.

The 19th century had its own collectivist activities as well.  In England in the 1800s, the classical liberal political theorist, Herbert Spencer, was writing adamantly about socialism creeping into British government, and the United States was not far behind.  Spencer articulates excellent observation and projection insights as he acknowledges the changes happening in the British government, and accurately interpolates the direction and damaging results ahead. Spencer precisely describes the overarching social damage done by statism, which is the very phenomenon America has suffered over the past number of decades.  Spencer writes:

"Indeed the more numerous public instrumentalities become, the more is there generated in citizens the notion that everything is to be done for them, and nothing by them.  Each generation is made less familiar with the attainment of desired ends by individual actions or private combinations, and more familiar with the attainment of them by governmental agencies; until eventually, governmental agencies come to be thought of as the only available agencies."[3]

Spencer was recognized by Austrian economist Murray Rothbard for his incisive thoughts. Murray Rothbard, as a classical libertarian, understood that state intervention lead to more state intervention, especially in situations where the state would utterly fail in their objectives.  Spencer writes that “failure does not destroy faith in the agencies employed, but merely suggests more stringent use of such agencies or wider ramifications of them.”[4]  Spencer also directly recognized that economic activity – wealth creation – was the sole domain of the private sector and private individuals functioning in the free-market.  He credits innovation and invention to the private sector and private individuals and perceptively explains:

"It is not to the State that we owe the multitudinous useful inventions from the spade to the telephone; it was not the State which made possible extended navigation by a developed astronomy; it was not the State which made the discoveries in physics, chemistry, and the rest, which guide modern manufacturers; it was not the State which devised the machinery for producing fabrics of every kind, for transferring men and things from place to place, for ministering in a thousand ways to our comforts.  The world-wide transactions conducted in merchants’ offices, the rush of traffic filling our streets, the retail distributing system which brings everything within easy reach and delivers the necessaries of life daily at our doors, are not of governmental origin.  All these are results of the spontaneous activities of citizens, separate or grouped."[5]

Spencer also gives valid commentary on property rights and how collectivist governments violate property rights of citizens.  He sarcastically wrote that:

"It is the assumption that no man has any claim to his property, not even to that which he has earned by the sweat of his brow, save by permission of the community; and that the community may cancel the claim to any extent it thinks fit.  No defense can be made for this appropriation of A’s possessions for the benefit of B, save one which sets out with the postulate that society as a whole has an absolute right over the possession of each member."[6]

Spencer argues that the tyranny of the legislation in a statist government always “forcibly takes the property of this man for the purpose of giving gratis benefits to that man.”[7]  His ability to foresee the very governmental violation Americans’ property rights is stunning, but in actuality not difficult to predict and project, because history has shown that this is always the case.  Herbert Spencer and our Founding Fathers promoted and understood the liberty behind a limited government.

“The function of Liberalism in the past was that of putting a limit to the powers of kings. The function of true Liberalism in the future will be that of putting a limit to the powers of Parliaments.”[8]

According to Spencer “Every man has freedom to do all that he wills, provided he infringes not the equal freedom of any other man.”[9]  But as Hayek forbiddingly observes: “The world of today is just interventionist chaos.”[10]

[1] Friedrich A. Hayek, 2009 (Originally published in 1948), Individualism and Economic Order, “Socialist Calculation I: The Nature and History of the Problem,”1935, (Auburn, AL: Ludwig von Mises Institute), p. 119.

[2] Ludwig von Mises, Richard M. Ebeling, ed., 2012, “The Economic System of Interventionism (July 31, 1930),” Selected Writings of Ludwig von Mises, Vol 1, (Liberty Fund: Indianapolis, IN), p. 304.

[3] Herbert Spencer (Truxtun Beale, ed.), 1916 (originally published in 1884), The Man Versus The State, (New York, NY: Mitchell Kennerley and D. Appleton & Company), pp. 51-52.

[4] Herbert Spencer (Truxtun Beale, ed.), 1916 (originally published in 1884), The Man Versus The State, (New York, NY: Mitchell Kennerley and D. Appleton & Company), p. 48.

[5] Herbert Spencer (Truxtun Beale, ed.), 1916 (originally published in 1884), The Man Versus The State, (New York, NY: Mitchell Kennerley and D. Appleton & Company), pp. 268-269.

[6] Herbert Spencer (Truxtun Beale, ed.), 1916 (originally published in 1884), The Man Versus The State, (New York, NY: Mitchell Kennerley and D. Appleton & Company), p. 282.

[7] Herbert Spencer (Truxtun Beale, ed.), 1916 (originally published in 1884), The Man Versus The State, (New York, NY: Mitchell Kennerley and D. Appleton & Company), p. 281.

[8] Herbert Spencer (Truxtun Beale, ed.), 1916 (originally published in 1884), The Man Versus The State, (New York, NY: Mitchell Kennerley and D. Appleton & Company), p. 218.

[9] Herbert Spencer, 1873 (Originally published in 1851), Social Statics; or, The Conditions Essential to Human Happiness Specified, and the First of Them Developed, (New York, NY: D. Appleton and Company), p. 121.

[10] Friedrich A. Hayek, 2009 (Originally published in 1948), Individualism and Economic Order, “Socialist Calculation I: The Nature and History of the Problem,”1935, (Auburn, AL: Ludwig von Mises Institute), p. 136.