George H. Smith

Thoughts on Rand, Government, and Anarchism

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An automobile is an entity, a whole. Take it all apart and spread it out on the floor. It's no longer an automobile, just a bunch of smaller entities which previously had been smaller entities part of a bigger one.

I'd disagree. I'd say it still is the car--and I think my claim is more metaphysical and yours is more epistemological.

It literally is the car. Just like a group of people living in the same region literally are a society--we can only try to improve the accuracy of our conception of this society, and will never have a direct representation in our heads, but there is an objective standard for which to judge society's values.

When I (and I think most people here?) think of "the greater good", I think of irrational desires of society being fulfilled. Meaning I see society making an emotional trade-off which does not achieve any good at all.

I associate, and I think most people do, "the greater good" with a democratic voice that gets what it wants. The problem is, that is in fact a misrepresentation of society. As literally being a group of individuals, a democratic decision cannot even represent the majority except in terms of this limited decision which implies a trade-off that most people are simply not smart enough or experienced enough to understand.

Capitalism is actually the most democratic system there is, but it forces everyone to deal with the reality of trade-offs, and bothers people who want to see big changes, because they know people will be unwilling to make the necessary sacrifices.

Socialism (in its most basic definition of central control) does not just allow people to take advantage of each other, but to screw over themselves without even knowing it by making consequences more abstract--including postponement. To see the real "greater good" one must know what society is, including what an individual is.

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An automobile is an entity, a whole. Take it all apart and spread it out on the floor. It's no longer an automobile, just a bunch of smaller entities which previously had been smaller entities part of a bigger one.

I'd disagree. I'd say it still is the car--and I think my claim is more metaphysical and yours is more epistemological.

It literally is the car.

I associate, and I think most people do, "the greater good" with a democratic voice... To see the real "greater good" one must know what society is, including what an individual is.

But that's just it: metaphysically, there's no such thing as 'society'.

Only man and existence.

Rand: "Society is a large number of men who live together in the same country, and who deal with one another".

Terse... :smile:

"A great deal can be learned about society by studying man, but the process cannot be reversed..."

Right now, we're seeing societies rampaging - groups on other groups - mostly in the name of 'democracy', which is perceived to confer instant wealth - or power - or acceptance - or status - to the inexperienced.

Those individuals among them, who simply want to be left alone are the ones who largely deserve one's sympathy and support, I believe.

It's one important aspect of liberty: to not have others' moralizing decrees forced on one ... by society in mobs.

"To be free, a man must be free of his brothers".

By inference, she may well have extended it to "To be free to co-operate with and embrace his brothers, man must first be free of them".

Lastly,

"Modern collectivists see society as a super-organism, as some supernatural entity apart from and superior

to the sum of its individual parts." AR

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But that's just it: metaphysically, there's no such thing as 'society'.

Only man and existence.

Rand: "Society is a large number of men who live together in the same country, and who deal with one another".

Exactly. She defined society in literal terms. That large number of people actually exist... metaphysically.

"A great deal can be learned about society by studying man, but the process cannot be reversed..."

That's just not true. You learn what people do socially... again, those people exist.

Lastly,

"Modern collectivists see society as a super-organism, as some supernatural entity apart from and superior

to the sum of its individual parts." AR

No, it is exactly equal to the sum of its parts--which is far more than any single part.

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An automobile is an entity, a whole. Take it all apart and spread it out on the floor. It's no longer an automobile, just a bunch of smaller entities which previously had been smaller entities part of a bigger one.

I'd disagree. I'd say it still is the car--and I think my claim is more metaphysical and yours is more epistemological.

I take it back.

If I had never seen a car, and you showed me the parts lying on the floor, I would not think of it as an entity. And if it had never been put together, it definitely would not be "a car".

However, society is not the car taken apart, but the car put together. Society is not a selection of individuals with no ties, it is a group of individuals that live within a particular social system.

Just like you could make a qualification for a tire to be considered part of a car that it must actually be attached to the rest of the parts, you can make a qualification for an individual human to be part of society that he must actually live and be considered a person under the rules of a social system.

You can imagine a "society" and it can be different than "a group of individuals".

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An automobile is an entity, a whole. Take it all apart and spread it out on the floor. It's no longer an automobile, just a bunch of smaller entities which previously had been smaller entities part of a bigger one.

I'd disagree. I'd say it still is the car--and I think my claim is more metaphysical and yours is more epistemological.

I take it back.

If I had never seen a car, and you showed me the parts lying on the floor, I would not think of it as an entity. And if it had never been put together, it definitely would not be "a car".

However, society is not the car taken apart, but the car put together. Society is not a selection of individuals with no ties, it is a group of individuals that live within a particular social system.

Just like you could make a qualification for a tire to be considered part of a car that it must actually be attached to the rest of the parts, you can make a qualification for an individual human to be part of society that he must actually live and be considered a person under the rules of a social system.

You can imagine a "society" and it can be different than "a group of individuals".

There--over there: that!--is a car! There--there really is no "that!" over there--is no "society." Society exists epistemologically and people doing society's things exist metaphysically. I don't deny society's existence, only the way you classify it. This argument is slight and trite and we've both made our positions clear and there is no longer any need for me to keep repeating myself unless I let you be a burr uinder my saddle or a stone in my shoe.

--Brant

hot, bothered and,I admit, stupid over this: I don't usually try to win arguments

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And that!--over there!--is society! You're in it!

Ancient societies are now ideas, if you lived in them you would see their metaphysical side.

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It's hard to rid oneself of last-word itis once you let it get going. It's like a serious relationship: much easier to start than stop (generally speaking).

--Brant

guilty, as charged

(trying--sort of)

(no--really trying; I only need one last word!)

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For those who may be interested, my views on the status of "society" are discussed in a chapter ("Methodological Individualism") in my recent book, The System of Liberty: Themes in the History of Classical Liberalism. Unfortunately, the Amazon preview omits a page here and there, but it will give you a general idea.

http://tiny.cc/6xaf0w

Ghs

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Leave it to George not to let some of liberty's greatest defenders be forgotten!

Great book! buy two or three and give one to your university library which probably doesn't have a clue!

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I have argued for years that we find undercurrents of Hobbesianism in Rand's political theory. Of course, this doesn't mean that she read Hobbes and took some ideas from him; nor is this my point. I am talking about recurring themes in the history of political theory. Now, I know that this kind of historical analysis annoys many O'ists, who regard such digressions as irrelevant. But they are not irrelevant; on the contrary, it is by exploring the history of ideas that we can see how their inner logic has generated new ideas that were never intended. There are many examples of this in the history of libertarian thought, as ideas intended to advance a free society became major arguments against a free society.

I find intellectual history absolutely fascinating and essential for understanding the development of moral, religious and political systems. You and Rothbard are some of the only non-religious libertarians I know who show the theological tendencies which find new life in liberalism, socialism and various individualist and collectivist movements. I think understanding the origins and implications of these ideas, implicitly built into our formulations, can help us to understand history better as well as avoid falling into ideological traps that such theories seem prone to.

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But that's just it: metaphysically, there's no such thing as 'society'.

Only man and existence.

Rand: "Society is a large number of men who live together in the same country, and who deal with one another".

Exactly. She defined society in literal terms. That large number of people actually exist... metaphysically.

I think what you're trying to say here is that what she said is quite obvious.

"A great deal can be learned about society by studying man, but the process cannot be reversed..."

That's just not true. You learn what people do socially... again, those people exist.

Lastly,

"Modern collectivists see society as a super-organism, as some supernatural entity apart from and superior

to the sum of its individual parts." AR

No, it is exactly equal to the sum of its parts--which is far more than any single part.

From the Wikipedia article on society:

A society, or a human society, is a group of people involved with each other through persistent relations, or a large social grouping sharing the same geographical or social territory, subject to the same political authority and dominant cultural expectations.

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