Garry Reed combined a professional technical writing career with a passion for all things libertarian to become the Libertarian Opinionizer.
Philosophical Musings From Your Libertarian Opinionizer
DEFINITION: “Collectivism, any of several types of social organization in which the individual is seen as being subordinate to a social collectivity such as a state, a nation, a race, or a social class. Collectivism may be contrasted with individualism, in which the rights and interests of the individual are emphasized.” -- Encyclopædia Britannica
NOTE: Based on the above definition this article ignores any subtle nuances and uses collectivism, socialism, statism, progressivism as synonyms while individualism, libertarianism, voluntaryism are used as synonyms.
As a metaphor cats, like libertarians, tend to be fiercely independent creatures. There’s a saying that trying to get libertarians to work together is like “herding cats.”
Dogs, like socialists, derive from social wolf-like pack animals. There’s a saying “If you lie down with dogs, you will get up with fleas.”
Domestic cats live with families but remain firmly independent even while continuing to be a part of the family. Domestic dogs live with families but bond with the family and become an integral but subordinate part of the family.
All people are both individual and social. Some are more one than the other. It’s possible that the difference between those who place the interests of the group above the individual and those who place the interests of the individual above the group isn’t political or philosophical or ideological at all but fundamentally psychological and profoundly emotional.
In his book Breaking the Chains of Social Imprisonment Jacob Mahlangu understands that. What drives people to conform, he says, is fear. People feel safe when accepted but threatened when judged.
No Thanks For the Angst
So maybe the key to understanding the total disconnect between collectivists and libertarians can be found in the way fear – angst – is handled in the definition of existentialist philosophy. First the basic philosophy:
existentialism noun, Philosophy, a philosophical attitude associated especially with Heidegger, Jaspers, Marcel, and Sartre, and opposed to rationalism and empiricism, that stresses the individual's unique position as a self-determining agent responsible for the authenticity of his or her choices. – Dictionary.com
Then the definition of existentialist angst:
angst (noun) 1. Existentialist dread – in existentialist philosophy, a feeling of dread arising from an awareness of free choice. – definition from Microsoft Encarta College Dictionary, Memidex Dictionary, Yahoo Answers, Truthdig, Scribd, etc.
So, existentialist angst comes from the knowledge that you have free choice, are responsible for the consequences of your choices but fear making choices because as an existentialist, whether knowingly or not, you can’t make choices based on rationalism (reason) or empiricism (experience).
In contrast, according to an article from No Time 4 Bull those who embrace the Non-Aggression Principle and are therefore naturally anti-statist experience a different kind of angst:
“Libertarian Angst” is the disgust one feels from seeing all kinds of inefficiencies and injustices around him- or herself that would be quickly solved if only people were left free to use their property as they see fit. I believe this "angst" is something unique to libertarians.
For libertarians an awareness of free choice may produce feelings of delight, joy, gratification, personal challenge and other expressions of self-confidence. Of course there will be moments and even long periods of dread, but libertarians tend to be generally rational people who can find ways to work out and overcome the dread based perhaps on – guess what – rationalism (reason) or empiricism (experience) among other processes.
Unfortunately those who accept existentialism as a philosophy, knowingly or unknowingly, aren’t “allowed” to do that. It’s all in the further definitions of existentialism.
So to fully let this cat out of the bag and to beat this dead horse into dog food: Various and endless definitions make it clear that existentialism is not only a philosophy that “stresses the individual's unique position as a self-determining agent responsible for the authenticity of his or her choices” but simultaneously opposes “rationalism and empiricism.”
Thus, an existentialist must see oneself as a distinctly self-owning self-determining self-motivated individual human being whose awareness and life is “not determined but must be freely chosen” while still having absolutely nothing to do with anything resembling logic, reason, personal competence or simple common sense in dealing with ones “freely chosen” existence.
So an existentialist must freely choose not to freely choose reason. No wonder these people wallow in angst; they must freely choose not to freely choose.
So let’s see how this works out. People who know they’re individuals but obligingly reject the reality of their individualism deal with their angst by seeking the emotional comfort to be found in a collectivist herd mentality such as socialism.
On the other hand people who know they’re individuals but blissfully, consciously accept logic, reason and self-ownership as a means of dealing with their individualism seek out social interactions with others who believe as they do and therefore become libertarians.
Or, to encapsulate both:
Existentialist angst is the feeling of dread arising from the continuing requirement of free choice while libertarian angst is the feeling of dread arising from the continuing deprivation of free choice.
Little wonder that it’s impossible for libertarians and socialists to communicate with one another.
Angsters and Elitist Artistes
So maybe this explains all the statists out there; dread not only about making choices for themselves but about the possible consequences and responsibilities that might arise from making the wrong choices. Better to be a worker bee in a hive or a cow in a herd than experiencing angst over free choice and personal responsibility.
It explains why the people commonly known as psychopaths, those who have no consciousness of their own or other people’s emotions, find it so easy to launch mass social, religious and ideological movements that attract thousands and even millions of people. Their followers are inevitably those existentialists wallowing in the dread arising from an awareness of free choice.
Self-proclaimed leaders need only to understand “If I build it they will come” and come they do, in flocks and mobs and hordes and gaggles and multitudes, eagerly seeking someone or something who will make those dreaded choices for them so they can pursue an angst-free albeit mindless groupthink existence.
If they have no “leader” to follow they’ll simply each follow the other, what we’ve come to know as “following the crowd,” like an endless two-dimensional round robin Mobius strip with no beginning or end.
Be Social, Don’t Be Socialist
So if “existentialist angst” simultaneously requires a person to be “responsible for the authenticity of his or her choices” even as it opposes “rationalism and empiricism” how do existentialists deal with their existentialist angst?
Many turn angst into an emotionally superior sophisticated elitist “nuance” by embracing this Urban Dictionary definition of existentialism:
you can use this word in pretty much any context and it will make you sound pretentious and/or confuse the person you're talking to.
it's a technique refined and highly over-utilized by pseudo-intellectuals.
"thoughts of existentialism breezed through my cavern of a mind as i walked under the concave arches in the courtyard of my prestigious university."
"there i was, caught in an existential dilemma. i decided to run the red light."
"i felt that the existentialist undertones in the simpsons represented the decay of religion in society."
Emotional angst has cachet while rational choice is déclassé. If one doesn’t understand the difference one has little future as a scriptwriter in Hollywood or as a painter in the art galleries of SoHo.
This explains why so many people are like all those actors in Hollywood and singers in the music industry and performers on Broadway. They are already strongly emotion-based beings to begin with and the thought of making important life decisions on the basis of reason, logic, or common sense creates enormous existential trepidation for them. The idea of making personal choices brings up a string of “A” words like Angst, Anxiety, Agony, Alarm, Apprehension, Agitation, Anguish and a severe case of “Alternative Aversion.”
Thus collectivism such as statism, fascism, communism, socialism or progressivism becomes right because it just “feels right.”
We can love these angst-based beings for the originality, creativity, imagination, inspiration and emotion that they bring to their art – movies, music, plays, novels, paintings, sculptures – but we certainly don’t want them making life-altering choices for us and imposing those decisions on us. Emotion doesn’t grow food, clothe us from the elements or shelter us from harm. We need reason-based people for that.
The Angst and the Angstless
Throughout history extended families, clans, tribes, countries, nation-states have all become “safe places” for the angst-riddled and un-angst alike.
The un-angst? Yes. Typically, libertarians. Contrary to the silly yammerings of so many angst-addled minions who continually – and safely — repeat whatever all angst-addled others tell them, libertarians are just as social as any other socially-connected people. The only difference is that libertarians are attracted to institutions that, rather than offering escape from choices, actually offer and reward choice-making.
In fact, libertarians actively insist on the freedom to make their own choices and in the process accept the consequences and responsibilities of those choices. Why anti-angsters are so repelled by such people is utterly puzzling to choice-minded people.
So maybe an existentialist, as a person of “choice-without-reason,” can best be described as an “individualist collectivist” who retains self-ownership while seeking escape from dread within a herd mentality, while a libertarian, as a person who embraces both choice and reason, can best be described as a “social individualist” who retains self-ownership while seeking voluntary social interactions with others.
In the end the difference between libertarians and collectivists may have nothing to do with how we think but how we feel. If we are “born with” or early in life develop the need to continually make sense of our lives and all that surrounds us we will likely grow up to be libertarians; if we are “born with” or early in life develop the need to continually be accepted, understood, acknowledged and validated by others we will likely grow up to be collectivists.
So maybe it’s angst that is the heart of the human social vs socialist dilemma.
Not Raining Cats and Dogs: Cats Reign, Dogs are Reined In
Groupthink Vs Freethink
Those with existential angst by definition fear choice, reject choice, hate choice. They have little choice about angst since angst is in their soul. But angst can be defeated when all in their group are like all, where all must agree in the doing, in the saying, in the thinking.
And that is the Groupthink that becomes the soul of the socialist mind.
Those who embrace choice by definition acknowledge choice, accept choice, embrace choice. They have little angst about choice since choice is in their soul. But angst can be defeated when all in their group are unlike all, where all voluntarily chose in the doing, in the saying, in the thinking.
And that is the Freethink that becomes the soul of the libertarian mind.
Some people are more individualist than social; others are more social than individualist. So how about leaving everyone the hell alone to be who they want to be?
Freethink and Groupthink are deeply embedded mindsets. Until these viscerally experienced differences can be accommodated openly in a free voluntary society nothing will or ever can be resolved between collectivist dogs and libertarian cats.
Be social but don’t be socialist.
An Existentialist AND a Free Market Libertarian
MamaLiberty on September 12, 2017:
Very, very interesting, Garry! Excellent analysis. I've thought for a long time that this socialism thing is actually hard wired into a great many people. I've given up trying to reach them with logic or much of anything else.
Everything is a choice, and refusing to make a choice is STILL a choice. :) No wonder socialists are so upset and angry all the time.