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The Decline and Fall of Collectivism


The study of history has long been an enjoyable activity for me. A conclusion I have drawn from it has been that civilizations are created by individuals; they are destroyed by collectives. One can see such dynamics at work in what has been taking place in recent decades in the collapse of a once life-sustaining Western Civilization. I have discussed this process in previous articles, as well as in two of my books: Boundaries of Order, and The Wizards of Ozymandias. What began as the creation of values that enhance and celebrate life, ended up sanctifying the systems generated by expectations that the preservation of once-successful forms would assure future well-being. Liberty and spontaneity that was essential to creativity became subordinated to the structured, status quo needs of organizations that are now considered to be ends in themselves and, thus, "too big to fail." When individualism was sacrificed to an institutional imperative, Western Civilization began its death-march. I explored this theme in another book, Calculated Chaos: Institutional Threats to Peace and Human Survival.

In a culture grounded in individual liberty, any system that insisted upon the maintenance of existing conditions and not having to adapt to environmental changes would quickly face extinction. But if political institutions are available to help preserve the status quo by forcibly regulating the behavior of others, those able to control the political machinery can overcome this need to remain resilient. By fostering enforceable rules that standardize and make uniform the actions of others, the state gives birth to collectivism, a concept that one dictionary defines as "a doctrine or system that makes the group or state responsible for the social and economic welfare of its members." This idea produces consequences that are detrimental to the long-term vibrancy of cultures that embrace its stifling assumptions. Entropic forces accumulate when the liberty of men and women to adapt themselves to the needs for change are frustrated by the state suppressing behavior; a behavior that is contrary to the interests of those who enjoy political power.  With "entropy" defined as "energy unavailable for productive work," it becomes clear how the state's regulation, control, and prohibition of creative activity contributes to the disintegration of civilizations.

When institutions are shielded from the necessity of remaining resilient and robust, they lose their capacity for being what historian Carroll Quigley called an "instrument of expansion" for producing the values upon which they depend for their survival. When such restraints are extended by law to all members of society, the culture itself becomes burdened with rigidity and ossification, turning civilizations into what historians Will and Ariel Durant termed "stagnant pools left by once life-giving streams." Substitute the words "rust belt" for "stagnant pools," and the metaphor for modern America becomes evident. Life is a continuing process of change, of the capacity to adapt to new situations. One can no more structure life forces in the hope of preserving the dynamic energies that define life than can the owner of a deceased dog hope to preserve the pet by taking it to a taxidermist. 

As with a small child who threatens to hold her breath until a parent meets her demands, the life forces will ultimately prevail in defense of their expression. This is what is occurring in modern Western nations, with unseen influences so deeply embedded in the nature of life as to be immune to conscious efforts to describe them in words. Life is resiliency, and if the living refuse to conduct themselves in harmony with the existential need for flexibility, they will become extinct. Economic history is laden with the examples of firms and industries that refused to adapt to competitive alternatives or creative opportunities and were quickly swept into the dust-bin of failed systems.

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