Wisdom From Rothbard on the Arizona Tragedy

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Once again, after the weekend tragedy in Arizona, the collectivists are showing their true colors.  Take this shrill diatribe by one William Rivers Pitt.  It is an object lesson illustrating how ideologues and fanatics (both “left” and “right”) will callously exploit any tragic series of events as a means to advance their agenda.  It is the ethical stance of the totalitarian True Believer: “the end justifies the means.”

No one at this time fully knows the factual circumstances surrounding what happened in Arizona regarding the alleged perpetrator Jared Loughner’s motive or background.  At this point only unsubstantiated rumors, random noise, and hasty generalizations have been tossed in the media stew surrounding this tragedy.  We may never know the actual motive of Loughner even if he is convicted of these murders and savage assaults, any more than we fully know what was behind other mysterious “lone nut” assassins such as Lee Harvey Oswald, Sirhan B. Sirhan, Mark David Chapman, Arthur Bremer, John Hinkley Jr., etc.  We only know that countless conflicting reports and analyzes of these men have appeared, all countering the lies and cover stories originally told by government officials and the mainstream media.  The ominous thread of “mind control” or “ego-stripping” by hypnosis, psychotropic drugs, electroshock, etc. runs through many of these biographical accounts.  These complicated individuals were not the simple “lone nut” disturbed assassins sold to us by the powers-that-be, whether “Manchurian candidates” or what not.

Is Jared Loughner going to be placed in a convenient and familiar category and sold to the public as yet another ‘brand Q’ assassin?  Only time will tell.  But after enduring 50 years of this repeated pattern of what Timothy Leary described in his book Neuropolitics as “the Outlaw Industry” by the media and the state, how much more can we stand to absorb?

Actions have consequences. Individuals commit crimes, not “society,” “the Far Right,” “the Far Left,” or any other semantic abstractions.  If Loughner is found guilty by a jury of his peers, let him pay the penalty of his actions. William Rivers Pitts’ collectivist diatribe indicting “the Far Right” brought to mind this classic excerpt from Murray N. Rothbard’s For A New Liberty:  The Libertarian Manifesto, published in 1973.

I’ve boldly highlighted the most pertinent and relevant passage:

Society and the Individual

We have talked at length of individual rights; but what, it may be asked, of the “rights of society”? Don’t they supersede the rights of the mere individual? The libertarian, however, is an individualist; he believes that one of the prime errors in social theory is to treat “society” as if it were an actually existing entity. “Society” is sometimes treated as a superior or quasi-divine figure with overriding “rights” of its own; at other times as an existing evil which can be blamed for all the ills of the world. The individualist holds that only individuals exist, think, feel, choose, and act; and that “society” is not a living entity but simply a label for a set of interacting individuals. Treating society as a thing that chooses and acts, then, serves to obscure the real forces at work. If, in a small community, ten people band together to rob and expropriate three others, then this is clearly and evidently a case of a group of individuals acting in concert against another group. In this situation, if the ten people presumed to refer to themselves as “society” acting in “its” interest, the rationale would be laughed out of court; even the  ten robbers would probably be too shamefaced to use this sort of argument. But let their size increase, and this kind of obfuscation becomes rife and succeeds in duping the public.

The fallacious use of a collective noun like “nation,” similar in this respect to “society,” has been trenchantly pointed out by the historian Parker T. Moon:

When one uses the simple monosyllable “France” one thinks of France as a unit, an entity. When . . . we say “France sent her troops to conquer Tunis” — we impute not only unit but personality to the country. The very words conceal the facts and make international relations a glamorous drama in which personalized nations are the actors, and all too easily we forget the flesh-and-blood men and women who are the true actors . . . if we had no such word as “France”. . . then we should more accurately describe the Tunis expedition in some such way as this: “A few of these thirty-eight million persons sent thirty thousand others to conquer Tunis.” This way of putting the fact immediately suggests a question, or rather a series of questions. Who were the “few”? Why did they send the thirty thousand to Tunis? And why did these obey? Empire-building is done not by “nations,” but by men. The problem before us is to discover the men, the active, interested minorities in each nation, who are directly interested in imperialism and then to analyze the reasons why the majorities pay the expense and fight the war necessitated by imperialist expansion.

The individualist view of “society” has been summed up in the phrase: “Society” is everyone but yourself. Put thus bluntly, this analysis can be used to consider those cases where “society” is treated, not only as a superhero with superrights, but as a supervillain on whose shoulders massive blame is placed. Consider the typical view that not the individual criminal, but “society,” is responsible for his crime. Take, for example, the case where Smith robs or murders Jones. The “old-fashioned” view is that Smith is responsible for his act. The modern liberal counters that “society” is responsible. This sounds both sophisticated and humanitarian, until we apply the individualist perspective. Then we see that what liberals are really saying is that everyone but Smith, including of course the victim Jones, is responsible for the crime. Put this baldly, almost everyone would recognize the absurdity of this position. But conjuring up the fictive entity “society” obfuscates this process. As the sociologist Arnold W. Green puts it: “It would follow, then, that if society is responsible for crime, and criminals are not responsible for crime, only those members of society who do not commit crime can be held responsible for crime. Nonsense this obvious can be circumvented only by conjuring up society as devil, as evil being apart from people and what they do.”

The great American libertarian writer Frank Chodorov stressed this view of society when he wrote that “Society Are People.”

Society is a collective concept and nothing else; it is a convenience for designating a number of people. So, too, is family or crowd or gang, or any other name we give to an agglomeration of persons. Society . . . is not an extra “person”; if the census totals a hundred million, that’s all there are, not one more, for there cannot be any accretion to Society except by procreation. The concept of Society as a metaphysical person falls flat when we observe that Society disappears when the component parts disperse; as in the case of a “ghost town” or of a civilization we learn about by the artifacts they left behind. When the individuals disappear so does the whole. The whole has no separate existence. Using the collective noun with a singular verb leads us into a trap of the imagination; we are prone to personalize the collectivity and to think of it as having a body and a psyche of its own.

9:41 pm on January 10, 2011