If you believe the basic issue facing the world today is the Ebola pandemic, the Islamic State, an eminent financial collapse, famine, poverty, government corruption, climate change or war you would be wrong. Some times people can’t see the forest for the trees. If you can’t see the forest for the trees, then you can’t see the whole situation clearly because you’re looking too closely at small details, or because you’re too closely involved.
Ayn Rand wrote a short nineteen page paper asking: What is the basic issue facing the world today?
Rand, in her paper makes the case that, “The basic issue in the world today is between two principles: Individualism and Collectivism.” Rand defines these two principles as follows:
- Individualism – Each man exists by his own right and for his own sake, not for the sake of the group.
- Collectivism – Each man exists only by the permission of the group and for the sake of the group.
I had read Ayn Rand’s paper and recently went to the movie theater to see “The Giver“, a film based on a 1993 young adult novel by Lois Lowry. The Giver is set in a society which is at first presented as a Utopian [Collectivist] society and gradually appears more and more dystopian. The novel follows a boy named Jonas through the twelfth and thirteenth years of his life. The society has eliminated pain and strife by converting to “Sameness,” a plan that has also eradicated emotional depth from their lives.
One of the key quotes from The Giver is: We really have to protect people from wrong choices.
For Collectivists this is the key concept for their social system. Rand defines a social system as “a code of laws which men observe in order to live together.” For an individualist the power of society is “limited by the unalienable, individual rights of man.” For the Collectivist “the power of society is unlimited.”
There are several points in the film where the life of a new born child is taken, by lethal injection, because of a perceived defect that may negatively impact the collective. Ayn Rand wrote:
“Under individualism, it is illegal to kill the man and it is legal for him to protect himself. The law is on the side of the right.
Under collectivism, it is legal for the majority to kill a man and it is illegal for him to defend himself.
The law is on the side of a number.
In the first case, the law represents a moral principle.
In the second case, the law represents the idea that there are no moral principles, and men can do anything they please, provided there’s enough of them.
Rand gives examples of each principle. Individualism is embodied in the United States of America by the Declaration of Independence. The examples of Collectivism are the former Soviet Union and Nazi Germany.
Many are concerned that the United States is becoming a Collectivist society. Rand wrote, “When [Collectivism is] applied in practice, a principle which recognizes no morality and no individual rights, can result in nothing except brutality.” Rand notes:
Either the power of society is limited, or it is not. It can’t be both.
Rand and a growing number of Americans understand that the Constitution “is not a document that limits the rights of man – but a document that limits the power of society over man.” Rand defines a right as “that which can be exercised without anyone’s permission.” Inalienable rights means that, “Man cannot be forced to devote his life to the happiness of another man nor of any number of other men. It means that the collective cannot decide what is to be the purpose of man’s existence nor prescribe his choice of happiness.”
What is the shield that protects man’s inalienable rights? Moral Principles.
Rand wrote, “It is true that society can abandon moral principles and turn itself into a herd running amuck to destruction. Just as it is true that a man can cut his own throat any time he chooses. But a man cannot do this if wishes to survive. And society cannot abandon moral principles if it expects to exist… Without a moral code no proper human society is possible. Without the recognition of individual rights no moral code is possible.”
Rand concludes “there can be no social system which is a mixture of Individualism and Collectivism.”
You see the Ebola pandemic, the Islamic State, a financial collapse, famine, poverty, government corruption, climate change and war are all symptoms of Collectivism. The cure for each is Individualism.
RELATED VIDEO: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. perhaps expressed the ideal of individualism best in a three minute sermon titled “The Street Sweeper”. Many believe this was his greatest sermon.
EDITORS NOTE: To download a printable copy of Any Rand’s paper What is the Basic Issue in the World Today, click here. If you are looking for a holiday gift to give yourself, your children, grandchildren or a family member or friend may we suggest giving either the novel The Giver or a DVD of the film or both.