… is from pages 338-339 of George Will’s 2019 book, The Conservative Sensibility:
The more that individualism can be portrayed as a chimera, the more that any individual’s achievement can be considered derivative from society, the less the achievements warrant respect. And the more society is entitled to conscript – that is, to socialize – whatever portion of the individual’s wealth that it considers its fair share. Society may, as an optional act of political grace, allow the individual to keep the remainder of what society thinks is misleadingly called the individual’s possession. Note that “society” necessarily means society’s collective expression: the government. Note also that government will not be a disinterested judge of what is its proper share of others’ wealth.
DBx: So very true.
“Progressives” and many others hold that the individual is so overwhelmingly a product of society that no individual has much, if any, real influence over what he or she does or doesn’t do, at least economically. How ironic, then, that people who hold this ‘theory’ of the individual and society have as their theory of society only the childish notion that society is the creation of the state and receives its direction from the state.
Such people, in other words, have no real theory of society whatsoever. Society, for such people, is simply the conscious creation of the state. This understanding of society as the conscious product, fashioned through the state, of a collective will is so simplistic as to not be worthy of the term “theory.”
But call it what you will. In this notion of society, the chief and grandest role of the individual is to vote; voting is the primary role of the individual in society.
Individuals vote; majority outcomes arise; the state crafts society according to what the majority wants. And – in this worldview – there is very little that the majority can possibly want that the state ought not commence to deliver. Apart from a (shrinking) handful of select freedoms, such as some freedoms regarding reproduction, the individual is believed to have no rights that trump majoritarian outcomes.
And in this worldview, not only is the state duty-bound to obey the dictates of the majority, the state is assumed to be exempt from economic reality. Is availability of housing thought to be inadequate? No problem. Make housing more abundant than it really is by declaring it so in the form of mandated lower monetary rental rates.
Are some workers paid less than intellectuals and politicians deem adequate? No problem. Make these workers’ skills more valuable by declaring them with minimum-wage statutes to be so.
Is the loss by some workers of jobs to imports believed to be unfair? No problem. Impose tariffs to remedy this unfairness – blind, alas, to the resulting and unfair tariff-induced destruction of jobs elsewhere in the domestic economy, as well as to the resulting reduction in living standards.
To the degree that someone believes that intentions are results and that all results are intended, that someone has no theory of the economy or of society. Amazingly, many of the people who fancy themselves to think most deeply about the economy and society believe, to a high degree, that intentions are results and that all results are intended.
So simple. And so mistaken.