by Benjamin Marks, Economics.org.au editor-in-chief

The government consists of a gang of men exactly like you and me.
~ H.L. Mencken

I

Imaginary constructs, aggregates, analogies and metaphors can be very helpful in illustrating and explaining things. However, it is very risky. It is a common error to take what is only meant to be of supporting use, and make them a mainstay of the investigation instead.

An innocent and inconsequential example is the phrase that airplanes fly. To “fly” does not just mean to move through the air; it is specifically something a living thing does. It is easier to understand the literally incorrect nature of the analogy by contrasting it with saying that bicycles sprint, boats paddle or submarines swim. Or if we say that cars run, does that mean that motorcycles hop, unicycles tiptoe and a flat tyre can be fixed with pins, splint and plaster? The difference is that the analogy “airplanes fly” is generally accepted in general usage whereas the others are less so.

Many people have mentioned the precariousness of using supporting constructs as explanatory aids. For example, Freud advised:

[W]e should have to be very cautious and not forget that, after all, we are only dealing with analogies and that it is dangerous, not only with men but also with concepts, to tear them away from the sphere in which they have originated and been evolved.1

In the same vein, R.D. Laing observed, “The great danger of thinking about man by means of analogy is that the analogy comes to be put forward as a homology.”2 That is, a superficial similarity in function is commonly mistaken to be a similarity in structure. Government might educate people, give money to the poor, etc., but that does not excuse the fact that whatever it has, it has forcefully taken off those who did not wish to give it to the government. The structure of government is equivalent to that of a protection racket. This should make one suspicious of its function, as Albert Jay Nock said:

One would think people might sometime be led to fathom out the underlying reason why, in general, political organization thrives on policies that would be fatal to non-political organization; and whether ipso facto political organization is not inimical to society.3

The root of much support for government is analogy gone wrong. Like the phrase that airplanes fly, it has become generally accepted, and nobody gives it a second thought. People treat government (or, for that matter, society, nation, etc.) as a concrete entity.

Methodological collectivism is the theory that certain imaginary constructs are more important than human beings and are considered a super-person, being incorrectly given the attributes of a person, at the expense of a person or people. In practice, this super-person ends up being entrusted to certain “representatives.” Some human beings are given the opportunity to decide for others. By treating a collective concept as an individual or superior to one, all sorts of misunderstandings are created. When collective entities are described it can only be metaphorical, otherwise it is an example of methodological collectivism or conceptual realism. As Carl Jung observed:

Words like “society” and “State” are so concretized that they are almost personified … In this way the individual becomes more and more a function of society, which in its turn usurps the function of the real life carrier, whereas, in actual fact, society is nothing more than an abstract idea like the State. Both are hypostatised, that is, have become autonomous.4

“The economy is growing,” “government helps people,” “the nation went to war” and “society is sick” are all examples of analogies commonly used. So what exactly are these collective concepts then? They are descriptions of the manner in which certain individuals act. Mises explained what is meant by “society”:

Men cooperate with one another. The totality of interhuman relations engendered by such cooperation is called society. Society is not an entity in itself. It is an aspect of human action. It does not exist or live outside of the conduct of people. It is an orientation of human action. Society neither thinks nor acts. Individuals in thinking and acting constitute a complex of relations and facts that are called social relations and facts … Now the controversy whether the whole or its parts are logically prior is vain. Logically the notions of a whole and its parts are correlative. As logical concepts they are both apart from time.5

As Frank Chodorov said, “society are people.”6

Why all this emphasis on a seemingly menial point? When you apply it to government and explain what it entails, the case for libertarianism is clinched. Murray Rothbard provided:

[T]he crucial question is not, as so many believe, whether property rights should be private or governmental, but rather whether the necessarily “private” owners are legitimate owners or criminals. For ultimately, there is no entity called “government”; there are only people forming themselves into groups called “governments” and acting in a “governmental” manner. All property is therefore always “private”; the only and critical question is whether it should reside in the hands of criminals or of the proper and legitimate owners.7

With this knowledge of methodological individualism, it is now easy to answer such questions as what areas government should preside over (nothing) and what should be privatised (everything).

II

Now that we have seen that collective concepts do not exist outside of individuals, we are equipped to tackle the common literal claim, that for the existence of us as individuals we must aim to please society or government. Envy is an excellent example of this inversion of values. In the words of Helmut Schoeck, “envy is an extremely anti-social and destructive emotional state, but it is, at the same time, the most completely socially oriented.”8

Jung said:

It would be ludicrous to maintain that man lives to breathe air. It is equally ludicrous to say that the individual exists for society … When the political aim predominates there can be no doubt that a secondary thing has been made the primary thing … Consciousness, instead of being widened by the withdrawal of projections, is narrowed, because society, a mere condition of human existence, is set up as a goal.9

The anti-individualist wants the continued existence of an imaginary entity rather than the individual. It is clear upon investigation that the anti-capitalist doesn’t really have a clue what he wants. As George Reisman pointed out:

The essential fact to grasp about socialism … is that it is simply an act of destruction … it destroys private ownership and the profit motive, and that is essentially all it does. It has nothing to put in their place. Socialism, in other words, is not actually an alternative economic system to private ownership of the means of production. It is merely a negation of the system based on private ownership.10

David Hume observed, “stability of possession, its translation by consent, and the performance of promises … are … antecedent to government.”11 Franz Oppenheimer elaborated:

There are two fundamentally opposed means whereby man, requiring sustenance, is impelled to obtain the necessary means for satisfying his desires. These are work and robbery, one’s own labor and the forcible appropriation of the labor of others … I propose … to call one’s own labor and the … exchange of one’s own labor for the labor of others, the “economic means” for the satisfaction of needs, while the unrequited appropriation of the labor of others will be called the “political means” … The state is an organization of the political means. No state, therefore, can come into being until the economic means has created a definite number of objects for the satisfaction of needs, which … may be taken away or appropriated.12

Mises followed up with the truism, “The existence of producers is a condition for the survival of conquerors. But the producers could do without the plunderers.”13 He expands:

People can consume only what has been produced. The great problem of our age is precisely this: Who should determine what is to be produced and consumed, the people or the State, the consumers themselves or a paternal government? If one decides in favor of the consumers, one chooses the market economy. If one decides in favor of the government, one chooses socialism. There is no third solution.14

III

When a theory does not begin with the individual, but with a collective, it is impossible for it to conclude anything other than the necessity and primacy of some collective. As Larry Sechrest said, “Parallel reasoning leads to parallel conclusions.”15 By correctly beginning an analysis with the individual, you necessarily defend things like secession. For if any “higher” collective concept were the starting point the notion of an individual seceding would be absurd; it would not be compatible with the theory. And also incompatible would be individual judgement and argument. The extreme parallelism between right and wrong of the individualist-collectivist debate is evident from the outset, as Ludwig von Mises and Stanislav Andreski observed:

There has been a lot of empty talk about the non-existence of differences among men. But there has never been an attempt to organise society according to the egalitarian principle. The author of an egalitarian tract and the leader of an egalitarian party by their very activity contradict the principle to which the pay lip service … In Soviet Russia egalitarianism is proclaimed as one of the main dogmas of the official creed. But Lenin was deified after his death, and Stalin was worshiped in life as no ruler since the days of the declining Roman Empire.16

[T]he word “marxism” contains an implicit negation of Marx’s basic tenet that individuals are unimportant; from which it follows that, having been individuals, Marx and Lenin are unimportant – and therefore those who accept the collectivist view of social causation should forget about them.17

The very acceptance or even the mere suggestion of the collectivist view by any individual is a violation of it. This is one way of approaching Hans-Hermann Hoppe’s argumentation ethics.

This is the second of a four part series designed to give readers the basic tools of libertarianism:

Footnotes

  1. Sigmund Freud, Civilisation and Its Discontents, trans. and ed. James Strachey (New York: Norton, 1989), p. 110. See also Ludwig von Mises, Human Action (Auburn, Ala.: Mises Institute, 1998), p. 238.
  2. R.D. Laing, The Politics of Experience (Middlesex: Penguin Books, 1990), p. 44.
  3. Albert Jay Nock, Journal of Forgotten Days: 1934-1935 (Hinsdale, Illinois: Henry Regnery Company, 1948), p. 58.
  4. C.G. Jung, The Undiscovered Self, trans. R.F.C. Hull (Middlesex: Mentor Books, 1959), pp. 88, 26.
  5. Ludwig von Mises, Theory and History (Auburn, Ala.: Mises Institute, 1985), p. 251; and Ludwig von Mises, Human Action (Auburn, Ala.: Mises Institute, 1998), p. 42.
  6. Frank Chodorov, The Rise and Fall of Society (New York: Devon-Adair, 1959), p. 29.
  7. Murray Rothbard, The Ethics of Liberty (New York: New York University Press, 2002), p. 56.
  8. Helmut Schoeck, Envy, trans. Martin Secker et al. (Indianapolis, Ind.: Liberty Fund, 1987), p. 305.
  9. C.G. Jung, The Practice of Psychotherapy, trans. R.F.C. Hull, ed. Herbert Read, Michael Fordham, Gerhard Adler (London: Routledge & Kegan, 1970), vol. 16 of Collected Works, pp. 106-07.
  10. George Reisman, Capitalism (Ottawa, Ill.: Jameson Books, 1998), pp. 268-69.
  11. David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, ed. Ernest C. Mossner (London: Penguin Classics, 1985), bk. III, sect. VIII, para. III, p. 592.
  12. Franz Oppenheimer, The State, trans. John Gitterman (San Francisco, Cal.: Fox & Wilkes, 1997), pp. 14-15.
  13. Ludwig von Mises, Human Action (Auburn, Ala.: Mises Institute, 1998), p. 646.
  14. Ludwig von Mises, Economic Freedom and Interventionism, ed. Bettina Bien Greaves (New York: Foundation for Economic Education, 1990), p. 47.
  15. Larry J. Sechrest, “Praxeology, Economics, and Law,” The Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics, vol. 7, no. 4 (Winter 2004), p. 36.
  16. Ludwig von Mises, Theory and History (Auburn, Ala.: Mises Institute, 1985), p. 331.
  17. Stanislav Andreski, Social Sciences as Sorcery (New York: St. Martins Press, 1973), p. 185.
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  2. Why Sports Fans Should Be Libertarians
  3. Ron Manners’ Heroic Misadventures
  4. Government Schools Teach Fascism Perfectly
  5. Deport Government to Solve Immigration Problem
  6. The Drugs Problem Problem
  7. Self-Defeating Campaigning
  8. Gittinomics: Economics for Gits
  9. Exclusive Ross Gittins Interview on The Happy Economist
  10. Population Puzzle Solved
  11. An Open Letter to the CIS
  12. Principled Foreign Policy Options: Reinvade or Shut Up and Get Out
  13. WORLD EXCLUSIVE: Political Corruption Exposed!
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  16. A Thorough Review Without Spoilers of Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps
  17. Dead Reckoning and Government: A Proposal for Electoral Reform
  18. Quadrant Defends State Schooling
  19. The MPS 2010 Consensus
  20. Slogans for Property Rights Funeral
  21. Government is Impossible: Introduction
  22. Government is Criminal: Part 1
  23. Exclusive John Howard Interview on Lazarus Rising
  24. Response to Senator Cory Bernardi and the IPA
  25. Earn $$$$$ by Justifying Government Against Anarchocapitalism: Survey
  26. Statism is Secrecy: WikiLeaks vs Economics.org.au
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  29. Ronald Kitching Obituary
  30. The Minarchist Case for Anarchism
  31. Libertarianism in a 300-word rant
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  33. Libertarianism In An Executive Summary
  34. The Banking Bubble Blow-by-Blow
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  37. An Open Letter to Dick Smith
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  40. "He says if I leave him due to politics, I should leave the country too."
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  42. "Hey, Mr Anarchocapitalist, show me a society without government"
  43. The Three Epoch-Making Events of the Modern Libertarian Movement
  44. Government is Criminal: Part 2 - Methodological Individualism
  45. Government is Criminal: Part 3 - Subjective Utility
  46. Government is Criminal: Part 4 - Praxeological Synonyms
  47. Government is in a State of Anarchy
  48. Limited Government is Absolute Government
  49. Why the 2012 double Nobel laureate is coming to Sydney
  50. Exclusive Oliver Marc Hartwich Interview on Hans-Hermann Hoppe
  51. A Critique of the Opening Two Sentences of the "About CIS" Page on The Centre for Independent Studies' Website, www.cis.org.au
  52. An invitation for ANDEV members to the Mises Seminar
  53. Sell the ABC to Rupert Murdoch: Lid Blown on ABC Funding Disgrace!
  54. www.inCISe.org.au, The Centre for Independent Studies new blog
  55. The Unconstitutionality of Government in Australia (demonstrated in under 300 words)
  56. The Best Libertarian Film Is ...
  57. Launch Southeast Asian Military Operations to Free Australian Drug Dealers and Consumers
  58. Workers Party Reunion Intro
  59. Hoppe's Inarticulate Australian Critics: The Hon Dr Peter Phelps, Dr Steven Kates and James Paterson
  60. Vice Magazine Westralian Secession Interview
  61. Sideshow to Dr Steven Kates' criticism of the Mises Seminar: Davidson vs Hoppe on Adam Smith
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  65. Neville Kennard Obituary
  66. Contrarian Conformism
  67. An invitation for Dick Smith, the IPA and other Walter Block fans to the 2nd Australian Mises Seminar
  68. Westralian mining legend Ron Manners of Mannkal belongs in The Property and Freedom Society
  69. What would Bert Kelly think of the Mises Seminar and Walter Block?
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  72. Sam Kennard wins North Sydney by-election by unanimous consent
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