The Death of the Individual
posted at 5:05 pm on August 31, 2009 by Doctor Zero
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.