Friday, May 11, 2018

Community Lost

In every age there are certain key words which by their repetitive use and redefinition mark the distinctive channels of faith and thought.

In the nineteenth century, the age of individualism and rationalism, such words as individual, change, progress, reason, and freedom were notable not merely for their wide use as linguistic tools in books, essays, and lectures but for their symbolic value in convictions of immense numbers of men.

The fruits of the Enlightenment, with its roots in the Reformation and Renaissance, were found in two revolutions: the French and the American.  The French was a disaster from the beginning; the American offered a glimpse of the theory applied in its most favorable light.

Not ignoring some noticeable deficiencies (most significantly, slavery in the United States), the west – meaning, for this purpose, primarily the United States and Great Britain – offered a few decades of life for the ideas of liberty, equality and freedom. 

The “key words” noted by Nisbet gained maximum traction and meaning in the nineteenth century, just at the peak of this experiment; that it all came crashing down so quickly thereafter – in 1861 in America and 1914 in Europe – gave testimony to the frailty of this idea of the concept of individual freedom born of the Enlightenment.

What happened?  Why?  It is these questions that Nisbet examines. 

He begins with the focus on “the discrete individual – autonomous, self-sufficing, and stable…”

Competition, individualism, dislocation of status and custom, impersonality, and moral anonymity were hailed by the rationalist…. Man was the primary and solid fact; relationships were purely derivative.

Libertarianism and the non-aggression principle demands nothing more; in application, the idea saw its peak in law and custom in around 1776, and deteriorated only slowly over roughly the next four score and seven years before it came crashing down.  If those who advocate for liberty want to see their advocacy bear fruit, time looking in a mirror is required – because the questions of what happened and why should be even more important to libertarians than they are to Nisbet. 

Reason, founded upon natural interest, would replace the wisdom Burke and his fellow conservatives had claimed to find in historical processes of use and wont, of habit and prejudice.

This underlying faith was foundational to both classical liberalism and communism:

Between philosophers as far removed as Spencer and Marx there was a common faith in the organizational power of history and in the self-sufficiency of the individual…. In man and his natural affinities lay the bases of order and freedom.

Keeping in mind that Nisbet wrote this book in the early 1950s, he notes a different set of words have come to dominate the scene: “disorganization, disintegration, decline, insecurity, breakdown, instability….”  It is difficult to suggest that the words are less applicable today in the west.

This is at the time after two crushing World Wars (or one continuous thirty-year war, as you like).  It was after a devastating economic depression.  It came after man declared his reason supreme over all, reaching its most glorious position with the progressive era.  Man was let down by his civilization on every front: moral, cultural, and economic.  It is no wonder that these new key words came to dominate.

How extraordinary when compared to the optimism of half a century ago, is the present ideology of lament.

“Half a century ago” was before the progressive era took hold.  Sociologists note the disintegration of the family and community; religious leaders note that moral decay is consuming the west.  Nisbet notes what, on the surface, appears to be a contradiction:

Despite the influence and power of the contemporary State there is a true sense in which the present age is more individualistic than any other in European history.

How does individualism have any meaning in a world of overpowering state power?  Yet we see this in an even more exaggerated form in our own time – the state has grown more powerful, and the individual is ever more celebrated (except for white males), and especially for those who cloak themselves with the newest invention of labels.

Maybe it isn’t a contradiction; maybe one requires the other, one gives birth to the other.

The historic triumph of secularism and individualism has presented a set of problems that looms large in contemporary thought. 

Man has been released from “traditional ties of class, religion, and kinship.”  This has made him free.  Instead of resulting in a “creative release,” this has given man a “sense of disenchantment and alienation.”

In Tolstoy’s Ivan Ilyich and in almost all of Dostoevsky’s novels we learn that the greatest of all vices is to claim spiritual and moral autonomy and to cast off the ties that bind man to his fellows.

But that’s Tolstoy and Dostoevsky; what does this have to do with liberty?

So long as a strong cultural heritage existed, and with it a sense of membership, the modern ethic of individualism was tolerable.  [Quoting theologian Paul Tillich] “But when the remnants of a common world broke down, the individual was thrown into complete loneliness and the despair connected with it.”

Paraphrasing Reinhold Niebuhr, the autonomous individual ushers in the age and is then annihilated by it.

Individualism has resulted in masses of normless, unattached, insecure individuals who lose even the capacity for independent, creative living.

What would Nisbet write of today’s condition, more than sixty years after he penned these words?


It seems to me that the peak in individual liberty to be found in the classical liberal era of the nineteenth century may have been achieved by combining the energy of the superficially freed individual with the remnants of community and tradition that remained from earlier times – stretching to the Middle Ages.  As these last remnants of tradition were consumed under the religion of individualism, classical liberalism had no defense to offer the liberty minded.

Man’s nature is grounded in culture, tradition, and community.  I don’t know how to consider the possibility of a libertarian future for man without considering man’s nature.  When searching for a path toward liberty, to consider man’s nature does not weaken libertarian theory, but strengthens it. 

It seems to me that libertarians who run away from this may have an agenda other than liberty in mind.  It seems to me that libertarians who believe this focus dilutes libertarianism are missing the point of advocating for a philosophy of freedom.


Bentham’s boast that he could legislate wisely for all of India from the recesses of his own study was hardly a piece of personal eccentricity.  It sprang from a confidence both in reason and in the ineradicable sameness and stability of individuals everywhere.

To speak of western visions of freedom and liberty as universal demonstrates ignorance; it is a view that will ensure neither freedom for “the other” nor freedom in the west.

There is not freedom possible absent tradition, culture, and community – and these are local.  These are not sufficient for freedom, but a necessary framework.  Man’s desire for community is inherent; it is a need that will be satisfied one way or another.  It can be satisfied naturally, or it will be satisfied by the state – even a tyrannical state. 

This is where we will pick up the story next.


  1. Liberty was formally lost in America when the 18th-century Enlightenment founders made liberty a goal (almost a god) instead of a corollary of implementing Yahweh's perfect law of liberty (Psalm 19:7-11, 119:44-45, James 2:12) as the supreme law of the land.

    "[B]ecause they have transgressed my covenant, and trespassed against my law ... they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind...." (Hosea 8:1,7)

    Today's America is merely reaping the inevitable whirlwind resulting from the wind sown by the constitutional framers.

    For more, see online Chapter 3 "The Preamble: WE THE PEOPLE vs. YAHWEH" of "Bible Law vs, the United States Constitution: The Christian Perspective" at

  2. "There is not freedom possible absent tradition, culture, and community – and these are local. These are not sufficient for freedom, but a necessary framework"

    I agree except that I would say natural (negative) liberty is the framework, or skeleton, and "tradition, culture, and community" are the flesh and blood that give life to a people, making them strong, healthy and happy to the degree they have them. Without the flesh and blood you just have a pile of bones. Now libertines and cosmopolitans have traditions, culture, and communities of their own that stretch into antiquity as well. I just don't think theirs are strong enough to overcome the cancer of the state, nor will they be strong enough to remain in remission once a voluntary private order has been established.

    "...common faith in the organizational power of history and in the self-sufficiency of the individual…. In man and his natural affinities lay the bases of order and freedom."

    Organizational power of history? This has to be the most obscure phrase imaginable. This could literally mean anything. I think to say that Marx believed in the "self sufficiency of the individual" is absurd. I would agree that communism and the socialist doctrines (including fascism) thrive by separating individuals from their various communal and familial groups, atomizing them and rendering them helpless in the face of integration within the larger collectivist state.

    Whether this latter statement makes communism individualistic I cannot say. It depends of what individualism means.

    "How does individualism have any meaning in a world of overpowering state power?"

    The state encourages us to be "free" and individualistic in our social relations, so long as we give up our political freedom. Actually that's not even the bargain they have to sell. They've convinced most that what they're selling is political freedom as well as social freedom. They convince us that we don't need our family, our wives or husbands, or religion. Is your family pissing you off? Forget them, we'll be your safety net. Is your husband cranky and tired when he comes home from work? Leave him! Find a new romantic (unemployed) guy, and we'll make sure your husband has to continue providing you (and your new exciting boyfriends) the resources you were accustomed to under his patriarchal rule. Is the morality of the church a drag on your sexual desires? Abandon your faith! It's all make believe anyway. Come hang with us! We don't care how irresponsible you are with your sexual decisions. Get pregnant by a guy whose last name you don't even know? We've got you covered. That's about the Faustian bargain of state licensed individualism.

    Intellectuals of the 19th and 20th century were often way too imprecise with their language. Terms like individualism and collectivism cause more damage than they remedy due to their imprecision. If communism is individualism then these terms have lost all meaning. This is why I appreciate Hoppe so much. I don't think it is possible to misunderstand what he is talking about.

    1. “I think to say that Marx believed in the "self sufficiency of the individual" is absurd.”

      “The state encourages us to be "free" and individualistic in our social relations…. They convince us that we don't need our family, our wives or husbands, or religion.”

      Perhaps it isn’t so absurd.

    2. Communists are only advocating the destruction of smaller traditional social groups so that integration (moral, political, spiritual) with the larger political collective is possible. Private property is transformed or nationalized into public property. The individual will is subordinated to the collective will.

    3. Orthodox Marxism is not to be confused with the philosophy of the Borg from Star Trek. Marx shared the same priority as libertarians- the liberation of the individual from the class system. Libertarians see this as being accomplished through private property and capitalism while Marx believed it required the abolition of the same.

      Here is an expert from his rebuttal to Max Stirner:

      "Within communist society, the only society in which the genuine and free development of individuals ceases to be a mere phrase, this development is determined precisely by the connection of individuals, a connection which consists partly in the economic prerequisites and partly in the necessary solidarity of the free development of all, and, finally, in the universal character of the activity of individuals on the basis of the existing productive forces. We are, therefore, here concerned with individuals at a definite historical stage of development and by no means merely with individuals chosen at random, even disregarding the indispensable communist revolution, which itself is a general condition for their free development. The individuals’ consciousness of their mutual relations will, of course, likewise be completely changed, and, therefore, will no more be the “principle of love” or dévoûment than it will be egoism.”

    4. On Page 177 of the Hoppe festschrift, de Soto offers a chart. It makes the connections of classical liberalism to libertarianism and communism plain; it puts in a picture what I have written about previously: libertarianism and communism are more connected than advocates of libertarianism care to recognize.

      But it must be recognized if liberty is the objective.

      It is true that one difference is in regards to private property. Both are against hierarchy, but libertarianism limits this to the state while communism does not limit this (in theory, of course).

      Communism promises no hierarchy as the result: a flat org chart of 7 billion individuals.

    5. I wouldn't say that libertarians are against hierarchy. That is misleading.

      We are against aggression, and hence the state in all its forms of organization. To be against hierarchy is to be against reality. We just have a conception of justice which does not give those in positions at the top of the hierarchy a pass when it comes to committing crime. We don't reject hierarchy; we reject the double standard.

      Left libertarians are a different matter...

      I still think you and UC2 are grasping when you compare the similarities of communism and libertarianism. Whether or not one supports private property is the biggest political distinction to be made (I'm open to hearing a bigger one), and these two are found at opposite ends of the spectrum (even in the chart you linked to).

      For instance, I could compare the Church and the communist state by saying they both believe in a rigid hierarchy, a centrally controlled doctrine, and in using the resources of the rich to aid the poor. The Church only qualifies its hierarchy, its doctrine, and its aid to the poor by requiring consent of the parties involved. From this one might infer that the two are very similar, when in reality they are very far apart.

      Here are my concessions:

      I would agree there is a communist strain within the libertarian movement (is there a movement communists haven't infiltrated?), both have a class theory, both are anti-state (in theory), the word "libertarian" has anarcho-communist roots, and both communist and libertarian forebears were considered left wing in opposition to the continuation of monarchy in favor of a democratic republic (a wild miscalculation on the part of classical liberals), but that's about the extent of the similarities.

    6. "Here are my concessions"

      Progress! :-)

      "I would agree there is a communist strain within the libertarian movement..."

      It seems to me different than a "strain.". It is in the roots. I keep in mind the early Rothbard....(no, I am not labeling him a commie). Did you look at the de Soto diagram? Worth a peek.

      Did I ever offer to you my post on left-libertarians? Just in case, here it is:

    7. >Whether or not one supports private property is the biggest political distinction to be made

      But my point is precisely that it isn't the biggest distinction to be made. Private Property in the political sense is not an end but a means to an end (political autonomy of the individual). Marxist want the same thing (they use "possession" instead of property). The idea is that there will be only one class and the individuals in that class will have autonomy because they are in full possession of the products of their labor. I grant Libertarians have a far more coherent understanding of how Marxist economic theory will play out in practice than Marxists do but you have to give the Devil his due and understand that the ideal these ppl are shooting for is not that different than what libertarians want, the distinction is in the means which is less significant than the ends. The mere existence of both left-libertarians and explicit libertarian-communists should be a big clue as to the copacetic nature of these world views on the essential level.

    8. "the distinction is in the means which is less significant than the ends." - UC2

      So theoretical results are more important than practical ones? Interesting line of argument coming from a political conservative. Besides, I don't agree the ends are similar between libertarians and communists. Communists reject the division of labor and thought that everyone should be able to do everything: a gardener today, a mechanic tomorrow, a judge on Saturday, an artist the next day. I think they even talked about changing each hour. This is obviously ridiculous.

      "The idea is that there will be only one class..." UC2

      In the sense that libertarians believe that all societies can be broken down into two classes: producers and predators; or net tax payers and net tax receivers, we do point to a future where only one of these is licit. But from this it does not follow that we are advocating an egalitarian horizontal or unstratified society devoid of a natural aristocracy. Quite to the contrary, those of us in the Rothbardian tradition, including and especially Hoppe, have no qualms with a natural hierarchy and in fact deem it necessary to a well functioning society.

      "the ideal these ppl are shooting for is not that different than what libertarians want" - UC2

      The ideal is very different. See Rothbard for more on this in his essay "Egalitarianism as a Revolt Against Nature",%20and%20Other%20Essays_2.pdf

      If we are going to talk similarities perhaps I should mention that communism and fascism are very much closer in both theory and practice than is libertarianism to either. The application of each fascism and communism in the real world was nearly indistinguishable, taking the form of a democratically installed dictatorship. Perhaps communism was worse.

    9. BM,

      "Progress! :-)"

      I give credit where credit is due, but in this case, I've had these concessions since the early days of my journey into self education. This was no revelation for me. Rothbard and Hoppe were never dishonest about these kinds of superficial similarities, and often used them as a way of distinguishing between libertarian and other forms of political organization. I did enjoy your essay on left libertarianism though. It is a good consolidation of resources. You had pointed me to it in the past. Thanks for the reference. =)

      I did look at the de Soto diagram. There's nothing in it I disagree with, but it still doesn't link libertarians and communists anymore than others. I'm not sure what it is you wanted me to see in it. In fact, it places libertarianism and communism at a catercorner or a polar opposite. Anarcho-communism is closer, though still a polar opposite in the spectrum of property (which he rightly shows to be the most important distinction), but this ideology is hopelessly doomed by its rejection of economics and logically inconsistent view of ethics and reality in general. It is truly Utopian.

      Anarcho-communists, as Rothbard pointed out in his essay "Anarcho-Communism," are faced with an insoluble problem. How can they eradicate private property and the state? Or rather, how can they find the means of toppling the state without private wealth, or conversely, once they've eradicated private property by means of the state, how will they then get rid of it?

      It ends of up that communism and anarcho-communism are exactly the same, because anarcho-communists invariably choose to end private property by means of the state rather than attack the validity of the state with private wealth. Communism was always supposed to be anarchism. The term just got muddled up in the aggressive state socialism employed to bring it about (which never did wither away like Marx prophesied).

      "Anarcho-Communism" p 199,%20and%20Other%20Essays_2.pdf

      I'm just not convinced. If it is meaningful to you to make this comparison, especially to cast light on the perils of left libertarianism, then please continue to do so. It certainly won't diminish my respect and admiration of your work and purpose.

    10. ATL, the issue for me is precisely the perils of left-libertarianism and what this implies for any "movement" toward liberty.

      I see the connection arise in two places. The first is in property rights. Many “libertarians” write openly in favor of open borders; tolerance (in the leftist sense of the term); of businesses having to serve ALL customers merely because they are open for business; curing past property injustices despite having no direct victim – we even have libertarians who make this claim about current Israel based on Jews having been in the Promised Land 2000 years ago.

      They basically write against private property rights. Libertarianism without private property rights is communism.

      Second is in culture and tradition. Many libertarians connect libertarianism with various libertine lifestyles, and do this in a favorable, supportive manner. Yet we see that communism today makes it inroads not via direct attacks on private property rights but via the culture. It is Gramsci and the Frankfurt School.

      The libertine lifestyle will not support liberty, it will do the opposite – and Gramsci is right, not the libertine libertarians.

      Now, you and I might say “these are not really libertarians” (at least for the first group, as the second group is not acting in violation of the NAP). But your opinion on this is irrelevant; many people look at these as libertarians. If I listed the names, it would almost be a who’s who.

      I caution that the two – libertarianism and communism – are closer than many libertarians want to believe, and precisely for these two reasons. Libertarians think that they can play with this fire and not get burned, but they are mistaken. They don’t even realize that they are playing with fire.

    11. BM,

      I agree with the unsuitability of leftism (even in purely cultural form) and liberty. The problem for the liberty movement is that its prescription for a political order is such a radical departure from where politics has evolved at the present, that many who find their way into accepting it are social outcasts, sometimes for good reasons. Communism is in a similar boat I suppose, though it is on the opposite side of the spectrum.

      "Libertarianism without private property rights is communism."

      True, but anything that rejects private property rights in principle is basically communism. I will say that 'libertarians' who reject property rights are no such thing. My voice is small, and perhaps meaningless, but it holds to the standard of liberty set forth by Rothbard (and many many others).

      "Libertarians think that they can play with this fire and not get burned, but they are mistaken."

      I hear what you are saying. I've long considered reaching out to the left as more trouble than it's worth. Rothbard would attest to the dismal failure that was his attempt to court the New Left. The result was that no one converted his way, and many on his side converted leftward. Also, these anti-state lefties soon (and without much ado) abandoned their anti-state and peaceful leanings once there was no danger of them being drafted into the Vietnam War.

  3. >How does individualism have any meaning in a world of overpowering state power?

    I have tried making this point here in the past. Sure the modern state is Tyranical in terms of its police powers etc but the "individual" is object of all social policies rather than the the "whole." The individual is to be "liberated" from all bonds to intermediate authority. The State is a revolutionary instrument to free the individual from marriage, patriarchy, and ultimately from moral law. In America when the managers claim to be doing something for the "common good" it's couched in terms of what is good for "individuals." Consider the American-Zionist propaganda against Iran. They don't consider what is good for Iran as a whole (largely because they don't actually want anything good for Iran) but what is good for the Iranian woman who rejects wearing a Hijab. A sexual revolution in Iran would be good not for the population as a whole but for the liberated individuals (no advocates of the sexual revolution ever bother to argue it's good for the whole- the organic bonds between men, women, family etc, only for the collection of individuals who added together constitute the whole).
    Examples of this logic include: no fault divorce (liberate individual from marriage and family), gay marriage (liberate individuals from "prejudice" and natural law), miscegenation propaganda (liberate individuals from their race) etc

    In general the liberal state is full of contradictions. We know this and it's because power has its own logic that doesn't always have a neat and tiddy liberal rationalization. This is why America is full of lies. It is an empire but it can't admit to being one because it's ideological foundation is liberalism. Rather than openly exercising power it needs liberal platitudes for everything, there is no conquest there is liberation of individuals on behalf of their "human rights," there is no authority or rulers only democratically elected representatives of the people, no torture only "enhanced interrogation techniques" etc. You get the idea.

    1. "I have tried making this point here in the past."

      Some of us catch on slowly. :-)

  4. Hi ATM

    "I would agree that communism and the socialist doctrines (including fascism) thrive by separating individuals from their various communal and familial groups, atomizing them and rendering them helpless in the face of integration within the larger collectivist state."

    And I'd also agree, if only the atomizing effect of the welfare state that you describe could be directly attributed to Marxism. But it can't. In fact, Marxism was opposed to the welfare state because it would keep "capitalism" alive.

    Apart from that, revolutionary socialists from Marx to Hitler (statists and non-statists) have always expressed views with a strong emphasis on family and community. Hence their common opposition to "capitalism" (echoed by UC2.0's comments in the other topic).

    1. >with a strong emphasis on family and community

      In practice it wasn't so. It was not so even in theory in case of Marx. When Marx was speaking about disintegration he was simply quoting Carlyle and Maistre (who served as the primary inspiration for Marx), he did not consider it a bad thing, but rather "a progressive elements of capitalism." Communists always were foremost advocates of degeneracy and considered family an oppressive institution inherently bound to existence of private property. As for the Nazis, see Lebensborn e.V.

    2. Sorry MR, it was so.

      "In 1845, in 'the Condition of the Working Classes in England,' Engels had expressed horror at the destruction of married life [..] it was plainly demoralising for women to go out to work, he argued, especially when the husband was left unemployed at home 'to look after the children and to do the cleaning and cooking' [..] 'In Manchester alone there are many hundreds of men who are condemned to perform household duties. One may well imagine the righteous indignation of the workers being virtually turned into eunuchs. Family relationships are reversed' [..]"

      Chapt: The Tory tradition of Socialism

      An obvious quote from a communist advocate of degeneracy. No wait..

    3. >An obvious quote from a communist advocate of degeneracy. No wait..

      I'm telling you what we were taught at our "Marxism and socialist self-rule" classes in secondary school. It was the official party line. Now, it might well be that Marxism-Leninism deviated from orthodox Marxism in that case too (which is something I was not aware of), but there was no communist worth his salt that didn't believe in female emancipation (International Women's Day is a communist holiday). Communist revolutions granted women legal equality, the right to work, no fault divorce, and the right to abortion (except they sometimes temporarily restricted abortion when they needed more cannon fodder), indeed abortion was more or less the only form of "birth control" in Eastern Europe for a long time, and USSR was (in)famously the first country that legalized abortion. Even what trace amounts of social conservatism existed under socialism came from Stalin, not Marx and Engels. Before Stalin's power grab commies very much were pro-"free" "love" and pro-sodomy. Stalin ended that by declaring them for "bourgeois decadence."

    4. Very interesting MR,

      Your secondary school classes behind the Iron Curtain, but I'm sorry, that doesn't negate the fact of a "nostalgic," Tory Socialism reaction - today an almost forgotten tradition within socialism - to the revolution of laissez-faire capitalism.

      As to your referral to "Lebensborn", is that supposed to constitute some kind of argument? The socialists of the Nazi party prescribed the role of women with their triple-K formula (sounds like cereal breakfast): "Kinder, Küche, Kirche" (Kids, Kitchen, Kurch).
      Wasn't notorious socialist Adenoid Hynkel of the opinion that women ought to behave as guardians of the home and dedicated child-minders? That sound like "atomization" to you? Rather more conservative, innit?

      For that was part of my point @ATM before you added your 2cts, namely: atomizing individuals was not necessarily the way many socialist systems worked. Nazis didn't "atomize" people by "separating them from familial groups," if anything they promoted the German family like h*ll while usurping it into the larger whole of the state.

    5. >Tory Socialism reaction - today an almost forgotten tradition within socialism

      If you want Tory Socialism why name-drop Marx and Engels, why not go exactly to the source they pilfered from? Namely, Carlyle and Maistre?

      [It might be interesting to mention, that this supposedly Counter-Enlightened anti-commercial tradition was very much in line with Enlightenment thought. Rousseau, Adam Ferguson, and even Thomas Jefferson held agrarian anti-commercial views.]

      >As to your referral to "Lebensborn", is that supposed to constitute some kind of argument?

      Sure it is. Nazis encouraging promiscuity among - and giving welfare to - unwed women isn't exactly the hallmark of sane social policy.

  5. > There is not freedom possible absent tradition, culture, and community – and these are local. These are not sufficient for freedom, but a necessary framework. Man’s desire for community is inherent; it is a need that will be satisfied one way or another.

    If we consider that freedom and chaos are in fact the same thing, this becomes more understandable. Man is (should be) on the border between chaos and structure, creating structure from chaos. Looking out into chaos, standing on a solid structure.

    The best structure that reason has found is objective reality, and that includes the social structure that has evolved to propel man forward.

    This also illustrates what has gone wrong: postmodernism has discarded common structure and replaced it by structure-at-will (or individual structure). Ultimately this will drive people crazy. Crazy is when people are 'out there' floating in chaos in their own individual bubble, no common structure, doing seemingly random things with random result. Nothing makes sense anymore.

  6. I think this touches on the points you're getting at.