Green Room

The Death of the Individual

posted at 5:05 pm on August 31, 2009 by

Liberalism has given itself many different names over the years. The American Left and its political vehicle, the Democrat Party, are most accurately described as collectivists. The belief that unites the various factions within the party is their determination to accumulate power in the central government, which they believe is morally and intellectually superior to individual citizens and free enterprise. To accommodate this philosophy, they must break faith with the Founders’ devout belief in individual rights, which are not merely granted by the State, but which transcend it… rights every citizen is born with, which the State must respect.

Collectivism requires the denial that absolute individual rights exist – there can be no such rights, for the existence of one would imply the possibility of others. To quote a popular expression of collectivist philosophy, consider Mr. Spocks’ famous line from Start Trek II: “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one.” This is close, but incorrect in one crucial detail: the collectivist believes that the needs of the many outweigh the rights of the few, or the one.

This is why the death of Mary Jo Kopechne doesn’t trouble liberal intellectuals all that much. In fact, they think you’re a bit childish and primitive for being obsessed with it.

The meme floated by the Left over the past few days, that Kopechne’s death was a reasonable price to pay for Ted Kennedy’s wonderful political career, is a brutally candid expression of the principle that even an individual’s right to live is negotiable – a commodity to be measured against the “needs of the many,” which the Left believes were far better served by Kennedy’s politics than Kopechne’s insignificant little life. The striking thing about the two most infamous expressions of this opinion, by Melissa Lafsky and Joyce Carol Oates, is how breezy they are. They don’t caution the reader to brace himself for an outrageous, controversial assertion, which the author plans to defend. Both Lafsky and Oates are rather wistful in tone. They don’t understand why anyone wouldn’t think Kopechne’s life for Kennedy’s legislative agenda was a sweet trade, the deal of the century for America. As Mark Steyn puts it, the Left doesn’t see why we should dwell on the bit players in the epic saga of Ted Kennedy’s life.

The attempt to dismiss Kopechne’s death as a down payment on Kennedy’s mountain of legislation is not merely an act of political convenience, a smokescreen blown by Democrats eager to paint Kennedy into the “Last Supper” of liberal apostles, with oils of their choosing. The Left is speaking from the dark heart of collectivism, a belief system that will collapse if it acknowledges any area in which the rights of an individual absolutely trump the needs of the State. The modern super-state depended heavily on Ted Kennedy for its existence, as dozens of news anchors have been eager to explain over the last few days. The idea that the epic narrative of the State should be compromised in the name of justice for a random citizen is ludicrous to the Left.

Collectivism is inherently dehumanizing, no matter how benevolent the intentions of the collectivist, because it’s completely incompatible with the notion of unalienable rights. The belief that Kopechne’s life was more valuable than any legislation Ted Kennedy could ever pass, which leads conservatives to denounce the Lasky and Oates pieces as disgusting, is a belief the collectivist can never accept. For one thing, it would do an awful lot of damage to the pro-choice movement. For another, it would lead to uncomfortable questions about other inalienable rights, such as the right to own property. Progressive taxation, the beating heart of modern liberalism, is based on the notion that a millionaire does not have the same property rights as a pauper. You can’t “spread the wealth around” without accepting that the “needs” of those who serve as the bread trump the rights of those who provide the peanut butter.

The Left makes its peace with the opulent, hedonistic lifestyle of people like Ted Kennedy, Michael Moore, and other trust-fund or Hollywood liberals by reasoning that if all virtue resides in the State, then its princes and priests are supremely virtuous by definition, at least in the political, collective sense. Rich rewards are their due. For everyone else, the Constitution and Bill of Rights are infinitely adjustable, as required by the complex needs of a gigantic government that wants to micro-manage the destiny of an even larger nation. When the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of the federal government become Clotho, Atropos, and Lachesis, spinning the loom of fate for millions of citizens, you can expect some threads to be cut rather clumsily.

Collectivism always becomes ugly and brutal. Frankly, every collectivist society before ours became openly murderous. There is no gentle way to deal with the human remainder from every equation the State designs. Liberals criticize capitalism by saying it doesn’t make adequate provisions for taking care of everyone. Neither does liberalism – it only pretends otherwise. Collective politics requires compulsion, which in turn requires the death of compassion for the inconvenient individual.

A noble society owed Mary Jo Kopechne a measure of undying anger over her death, and should have denied any position of high honor to the man who never repented for his part in it. A truly wise society should work forward, from the inherent rights of the individual, to fair and just laws that respect those rights. Collectivism works backward, from a desired outcome to the elaborate political theories necessary to justify it… and like any other massive vehicle being driven in reverse, it sometimes runs people down.

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The Left are welcome to contest my right to live.

I only request that they do so to my face, not via some faceless bureaucrat tucked away in its’ cubicle in D.C.

Mew

acat on August 31, 2009 at 5:18 PM

Thank you. This subject — even the very title of your piece — has been on my mind for some time. The state (not a government based on consent, but the State, a different beast comprised of intrinsic ambition) is simply not reconcilable with the individual. They are completely, eternally at odds. The state will always militate against the individual — subtly or slyly at first but finally with outright force. Maybe Orwell’s writings can be reduced to this idea. At least I think he said something like it.

rrpjr on August 31, 2009 at 7:36 PM

Dr.Zero,

You don’t deserve to be in the Green Room anymore. With that said, it because you are in the Green Room that you clearly standout. Where ever you are, you are rapidly IMO becoming a major opinion maker whose conservative intellect will become too great to keep under the wraps of this Green Room.

milemarker2020 on August 31, 2009 at 10:10 PM

A noble society owed Mary Jo Kopechne a measure of undying anger over her death…

As a parent, I cry in anguish at this reminder.

publiuspen on August 31, 2009 at 10:15 PM

For an individual to voluntarily give up their life in defense of the community is the definition of heroic.

For a community to demand or force an individual to die for the community is enslavement. (Not talking about a court of law judging a person’s life forfeit because of crimes against the community.)

Skandia Recluse on August 31, 2009 at 10:39 PM

Doc, this is one of the best pieces I’ve ever read at HotAir.

Django on August 31, 2009 at 10:45 PM

Collectivists are self-righteous secular utopians. “Self-righteous” in that they invariably justify the imposition of their vision of utopia on the rest of us by assuring us that they have only the best of intentions (feed the poor, heal the sick, free the (reproductive) slaves). “Secular” in that, despite the occasional National Council of Churches background, they invariably employ the power of the state to coerce the ends so justified. “Utopians” in that they truly believe a perfect society is obtainable in the here and now if only the benighted could be “made” to see things their way. Collectivists acknowledge no limits on their utopian vision. Accordingly, they recognize no limits on the use of state power to realize their utopian vision. Truly, the ends justify the means. The very road to serfdom.

Mongo Mere Pawn on August 31, 2009 at 10:56 PM

Doc, do you know how much you peel back and expose in just the first three paragraphs of this wonderful excursion? GOP leaders, do you see how a proper, concise, conservative ideology is not restricting but freeing? Doc, was able to move from broad principle to narrow application with such ease and with very few steps, as to make the conclusion almost feel tautological. Doc. you provide such a service to our long battle against collectivism in defense of the individual and the precious rights granted to him by his creator. Thank you. I know this is all somewhat sappy, but that’s honestly how refreshing it is to read your stuff.

Weight of Glory on August 31, 2009 at 11:06 PM

A noble society owed Mary Jo Kopechne a measure of undying anger over her death, and should have denied any position of high honor to the man who never repented for his part in it. A truly wise society should work forward, from the inherent rights of the individual, to fair and just laws that respect those rights. Collectivism works backward, from a desired outcome to the elaborate political theories necessary to justify it… and like any other massive vehicle being driven in reverse, it sometimes runs people down.

Word.

Weight of Glory on August 31, 2009 at 11:09 PM

Where ever you are, you are rapidly IMO becoming a major opinion maker whose conservative intellect will become too great to keep under the wraps of this Green Room.

milemarker2020 on August 31, 2009 at 10:10 PM

+1

Doctor Zero is among the upper echelon of conservative voices, IMO.

FloatingRock on August 31, 2009 at 11:29 PM

Dr. Zero,

You have a rare gift. Your essays are brilliant and cuts to the bone in exposing the empty foundations of the Left. I read the piece by Oates and as a former boxer, I have read many of her books on such as she is a great fan of the sport. Her piece shocked me and you nailed her tone (breezy). The aloofness of the Left’s rationale is so commonplace nowadays that it begs to be exposed for what it is. I hope you write a book!

Opposite Day on August 31, 2009 at 11:58 PM

I have to say among writers I am most impressed with your style and manner of presenting your points.

Well said.

One Angry Christian on September 1, 2009 at 12:06 AM

I sure wish I had Doc Zero’s e-mail address so I could point out that he spelled it “Start Trek.”

Other than that, I couldn’t agree more. We now know that causing one woman’s death is worth 40 years of liberal policies. Statist calculus has been stripped bare.

Jim Treacher on September 1, 2009 at 12:29 AM

Paging Sarah Palin…we found your new speechwriter.

jimmy the notable on September 1, 2009 at 12:46 AM

Collectivism fosters oppression; collectivism fosters servitude; collectivism fosters cruelty; perhaps even more abominable is the fact that it fosters idiocy.

Tav on September 1, 2009 at 12:52 AM

Think of the madness of Nick Berg’s father blaming George Bush for his son’s death. Always sticking with the message, no matter what kind of pretzel you have to twist yourself.

Excellent read as always.

tessa on September 1, 2009 at 1:19 AM

This essay/post is the best thing yet to appear on HotAir.

Excellent.

Lourdes on September 1, 2009 at 1:56 AM

Checkmate. It’s becoming more and more and more and more questionable as to whether it’s still ridiculous to be kicking and screaming about a potential shift toward communist rule, or fear to do so because the line of INTENT is beginning to gotten far too blurry.

JCred on September 1, 2009 at 3:55 AM

Checkmate. It’s becoming more and more and more and more questionable as to whether it’s still way early to be kicking and screaming about a shift toward communist rule, or fear to do so because the line of INTENT is beginning far too blurry.

edited verbiage

JCred on September 1, 2009 at 3:59 AM

I always looked at Collectivism as Communism wrapped in Socialism leading down the road to serfdom. What will Liberals come up with next, that’s not a 161 year old failure?

BDU-33 on September 1, 2009 at 5:08 AM

For one thing, it would do an awful lot of damage to the pro-choice movement.

The one false note in an otherwise splendid excoriation.

Myno on September 1, 2009 at 6:08 AM

As usual Doc, you’ve hit it on the head.

Browncoatone on September 1, 2009 at 6:27 AM

Have you noticed simplesimon et al. are strangely quiet after a Doctor Zero post?

ncborn on September 1, 2009 at 6:49 AM

It is truly a gift that you have Dr. Zero. Excellent article. You need to author a book of your observations – I will buy 10 copies.

Mary Jo never had a chance to live her life, marry, bear children, experience love and happiness and also disappointment and difficult choices. I weep for her memory and I am utterly baffled that a country as fine as America continues to celebrate monsters and their insipid hive mentalities over the pure perfection of individual life.

Ris4victory on September 1, 2009 at 7:38 AM

I swear, by my life and my love of it, that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.

/Mary Jo Kopechne (maybe, if she’d lived long enough to be able to write something like that on paper. Would she willingly give her life for Ted Kennedy’s later ‘successes’? If she were visited by one of Marley’s ghosts, and asked to choose, before her untimely death, given the future’s history, would she have chosen to asphyxiate in a bubble of air in the bottom of a foul, dark lake? For Ted? Ted Kennedy reveled in living his life in spite of the death of Mary Jo Kopechne; a death that would’ve ended the career of most any other politician, especially one with an ‘R’ after the name. The Kennedy name; I hope it lives on only in infamy.

Oh, and that’s Ayn Rand’s quote, really.)

Serr8d on September 1, 2009 at 7:43 AM

Brilliant! Again. Thank you for putting into words what we all know to be true. As I continue to discuss and debate the Left’s agenda with family and friends, it becomes more and more obvious the true evil behind that agenda.

The Left is rapidly approaching the point at which humans offer virginal sacrifices to appease the gods.

gopmom on September 1, 2009 at 8:10 AM

“The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one.”

In that case why do they whine about a little waterboarding? Surely the safety of Americans outweighs the comfort of KSM.

Disturb the Universe on September 1, 2009 at 8:26 AM

On a positive note, I was in the Borders yesterday and happened by the shelves holding the novels assigned in the local schools. Along with the expected umpteen copies of Catcher in the Rye, To Kill A Mockingbird, Night, etc. there were numerous copies of…(drum roll)…Atlas Shrugged.

Disturb the Universe on September 1, 2009 at 8:30 AM

All hail the Commander Collectivist Community-Organizer-in-Chief!

Thanks for nothing, mealy-mouthed, stand-for-nothing, wind-sock mimicking, so-called Independents.

*I pray that our wonderful experiment can withstand The Jug-eared One and his minions and all of the real and manufactured crises past the year 2012.

Please tell your representatives in the House and Senate how you feel. This is a pivotal moment in our collective lives, and our children and their children will be affected by our actions or lack thereof.

This is no time to be complacent.

hillbillyjim on September 1, 2009 at 9:36 AM

Excellent post.

PattyJ on September 1, 2009 at 10:16 AM

For one thing, it would do an awful lot of damage to the pro-choice movement.

The one false note in an otherwise splendid excoriation.

Myno on September 1, 2009 at 6:08 AM

Why?

Jim Treacher on September 1, 2009 at 12:56 PM

Socialist Party of America presidential candidate Norman Thomas in 1948:

“The American people will never knowingly adopt socialism, but under the name of liberalism, they will adopt every fragment of the socialist program until one day America will be a socialist nation without ever knowing how it happened.”

modifiedcontent on September 1, 2009 at 5:56 PM

Why?

I appreciate the point the good Dr. appears to be tacitly making, that there is a parallel argument used by pro-choice advocates, wherein the life of the mother is weighed against the life of the fetus. But the point is not directly applicable in this case. A major issue for pro-choice advocates is the determination of the point at which the fetus gains the moral and hence legal stature of an individual. There is no such issue regarding Mary Jo and Teddy. Hence, the Dr’s original argument is diminished by distraction. The point is not strong enough, within the context of the main article, to have been included, and upon deeper reflection serves only to muddy the outstanding momentum that the original article has without it. IMHO, of course.

Myno on September 1, 2009 at 5:59 PM

Doc,

Absolutely – Spot – 0n, as usual.

Your insight reminds me of the essayist Bill Whittle (or vice-versa).

Either way, it’s a huge compliment.

Thank you for your contributions.

aquaviva on September 2, 2009 at 12:39 AM

Well, I agree with the doctor, but my moonbat SO doesn’t, and she’s written a response.

You miss a big component, which just completely destroys your argument. Liberals don’t believe that concentration of power in the state is morally or intellectually superior to individual rights. They do, however, think it’s the only way to equalize everybody’s rights. Without a strong government, the weakest levels of society suffer, and the strongest (usually the richest and the most powerful) are resistant to giving up their prominence. I guess we (liberals) believe that most people are not quite strong enough, in their hearts or their behavior, to willingly part with their money or their power long enough to benefit the poor, the sick, or the elderly. That’s very different from saying we don’t believe in individual rights. An analogous example is free speech. Many liberals (though not all) believe that all speech is protected (including porn) unless it is harmful. For example, you can say whatever you want about me, but if you yell “FIRE” in a crowded theatre and I’m trampled to death, you’re going to jail. That’s an example of looking out for everybody versus protecting individual rights. You don’t have the RIGHT to put me at risk for death or injury by saying whatever you want in a crowded theatre. Likewise, we think individuals who have benefited from the richness of society and have acquired wealth and power should pay more to support that society than those who have not been so lucky. And you can define “lucky” as inheriting wealth or brain power or perseverence or strength or good health, or whatever. It’s still the luck of the draw, and it’s still the product of a rich and free society. It wouldn’t matter how smart or strong you are, or how hard you worked, for example, if you were born in an African town where your ethnicity was held against you and you could be killed for your name. So to continue the analogy, I don’t believe rich people have the individual right to opt out of paying taxes or even of paying a heavier burden for taxes.

Beth in St. Louis

Al in St. Lou on September 2, 2009 at 9:15 AM