The salvation of the world consists in the salvation of the individual soul.
– Carl Jung
Whether you believe that Western Civilization is dead, or only in a state of irreversible entropy, it should be evident that much of our culture no longer serves the interests of human beings. The major cause, which may lead to the extinction of our species, is found in our willingness to identify with abstractions which, by their very nature, reside beyond ourselves. Whether we find our identities in our race, gender, age, ideologies and other belief systems, nationality, economic interests, political parties, social/political causes, or other products of our thinking, we divide ourselves from one another and generate conflict. My book, Calculated Chaos: Institutional Threats to Peace and Human Survival, elaborated upon how we create institutions, through which we organize ourselves based upon our identities. Because the existence of institutions depends upon these divisions, their interests require the constant creation of conflicts that are so destructive to the lives of human beings.
Is it possible for us to learn to live in other ways? We are social creatures for whom organizing with others is both necessary and beneficial. But on what basis do we organize? Because of the “division of labor” principle, Robinson Crusoe and Friday could each live more productive lives by exchanging their surpluses with one another, than if each tried to be isolated and “self-sufficient.” Why is this so? Might there be some underlying factor that facilitates this.
Franz Oppenheimer identified the two basic means by which people can acquire wealth in the world:  the “economic means,” and  the “political means.” The “economic means” consists of relationships in which individuals voluntarily engage in transactions for the exchange of goods and services. The “political means” involve the forced taking of wealth belonging to one person and bestowing it upon another. In mutually-exclusive ways, these two methods implicate a principle whose support for or violation of determines the comparative civility of a culture: the private ownership of property. The “economic means” are premised on contracts (i.e., two or more persons freely exchanging ownership claims with one another), while the “political means” are grounded in confiscation (i.e., the taking of property by theft). Calculated Chaos: Inst... Best Price: $3.81 Buy New $41.95 (as of 11:25 EDT - Details)
Every legal or social dispute, every conflict between/among two or more persons, is grounded in the fundamental property question: who gets to make decisions about what? I am half-finished writing a book, to be titled From Abortion to Zoning: How All Political Issues Are Property Questions. As my wife persists in reminding me to complete this book, I shall undoubtedly do so fairly soon. The distinction between “victimizing” and “victimless” crimes turns on a very simple point: was there a trespass to the property interests of a person? “Murder” is the violent taking of a victim’s ownership of self; while “prostitution” – being based on contract – does not. In fact, for the state to punish the prostitute or her customer would, itself, be an act of victimization!
The owners of the Established Order cannot tolerate so basic an explanation for our social disorder as is found in the systematically-organized violation of private property interests. If individuals became aware of how the well-being of the state – and of those who own and control it – is dependent upon the trespass, regulation, or taking of property claims; they might extend their aroused curiosity to all that the state touches. To avoid so lethal a blow to its powers, statists have had to disguise political issues and policies as something other than property violations. The practice of “abortions” becomes defined not as the taking of the self-ownership of an unborn child, but as a “women’s rights” question. Acts of “pollution,” by which a manufacturer disposes of the waste byproducts of its activities by dumping them onto the air, lands, or rivers to be transported to the lands of others – a practice properly described as “socializing” unwanted costs – becomes redefined as an “environmental” concern. A baker’s refusal to do business with a gay couple – an exercise of a property owner’s choice as to whom to share his property interests – becomes designated as a “civil rights” matter.
Once social practices are deprived of analyses based on property principles, we deprive ourselves of the means for individuals to have control of their lives. Within the political arena, individualism is replaced by collectivism, wherein the power-seekers who are most adept at mobilizing mobs into action, will use violent means to preempt individual choices regarding their own lives. When this occurs, the In Restraint of Trade:... Best Price: $53.19 Buy New $19.00 (as of 05:00 EDT - Details) resolution of disputes – many of which have been carefully contrived by statists – is taken as an opportunity for the state to intervene to “balance” the “competing interests.” The property principle does not respect the need to “balance” the “interests” of a trespasser and victim. If individuals should have differences regarding the ownership or use of an item of property, it is the economic means that allow the parties to freely negotiate their respective interests without resorting to violence.
In a society organized by political means, you do not own your land, free of governmental restraints. Even the phrase “eminent domain” is defined in terms of “eminent” (i.e., absolute) and “domain” (i.e., area of control). The words have such a legalistic ring to them that we fail to grasp their plundering nature. If one were to substitute the words “the state has a superior claim to your life and everything else you think you own,” the meaning would be clear. In the eyes of the state, you are regarded as little more than a tenant-at-will, privileged to remain in possession for as long as you pay taxes or until the state has other uses for “your” property. In the meantime, the state may legally regulate the use you make of your property; may confiscate it through “asset forfeiture,” or for “public safety;” and deprive you of any semblance of ownership through its powers of eminent domain. The logic of the system has undergone little change since Anglo-Saxon monarchs proclaimed their feudal claims to everything; claims violently defended by Errol Flynn and his merry-men.
Why am I spending so much time on the meaning of property ownership, particularly in an article addressing the nature of “civilized” behavior? The death of Western Civilization is bringing with it consequences that are destructive not just of human well-being in the abstract, but of how you and I, and our children and grandchildren, will live our lives. Civilizations are created by individuals; they are destroyed by collectives. Our culture has steadily transitioned from the economic to the political means of organization. The property concept has degenerated into the fascist definition of legal title resting in private hands, but control exercised by the state. Respect for the inviolability of life – which is expressed only within individuals – has collapsed in the frenetic defense of abortions. The well-being of polar bears, whales, gorillas, and stray cats and dogs, energizes the emotions of many persons more so than does the defense of the most A Libertarian Critique... Buy New $5.50 (as of 09:45 EDT - Details) vulnerable among us: the unborn child. Those who fail to see the more widespread implications of this indifference may one day find their internal organs being auctioned off for purposes “greater” than themselves!
A world in which relationships were determined by contract, has devolved into one governed by edicts (e.g., executive orders, administrative regulations, implied powers). Even the ideas of constitutionalism – the belief that political power could be controlled by written documents – no longer has any meaning. That the Soviet Union, under Stalin’s tyrannical rule, had a written constitution (modeled after the American version) should have tipped off otherwise intelligent minds that words are unable to dissuade violent dispositions! Words must always be interpreted, and when the American state usurped the authority to interpret its own powers (see Marbury v. Madison), it should have surprised no one that governmental powers would receive expanded definitions, while individual liberty would have reduced levels of respect.
Bertolt Brecht got to the essence of the contrast between the economic and political means when declaring: “You know what the problem of peace is? No organization.” Historians have observed how the collapse of civilizations has been fostered by the structuring – a political function – of the productive processes that sustain life. Arnold Toynbee suggested that a civilization begins to collapse when there is “a loss of creative power in the souls of creative individuals” resulting in increased militarism and the emergence of a “universal state,” practices that war against life. Sound familiar?
Whether the remnants of this civilization will continue to get drawn into the “black hole” of earlier cultures will likely depend on whether we are able to learn from the tragic means by which we allowed institutionalized, coercive hubris to preempt individual authority. The creative process – for both individuals and the cultures they produce – depends upon individuals having incentives to create. The property principle encourages such ends, by allowing individuals to freely act in pursuit of purposes they value. That such creative drives are difficult to suppress is reflected in the ongoing autonomous technological inventiveness that has freed up the liberating flow of information among people and, in the process, hastened the collapse of the politically-structured culture.
As we saw in the collapse of the Soviet Union, as well as in the hurried transformation of the seventeenth century Plymouth Colony, individuals are rarely driven by collective sentiments. Neither the cannibalistic premise of “the greatest good for the greatest number,” nor the socialist mantra “from each according his ability, to each according to his need,” can over-ride self-interested motivations. Nor will creative souls have the incentive to “make America great again” other than as an unintended consequence of being creative for their own ends.
Perhaps in the literal ashes of Western Civilization, a more individualized, creative, life-serving civilization will emerge. Such a prospect will only be realized, I suspect, if it is discovered that the vibrancy of a culture depends upon the inviolability of property interests, a concept that is synonymous with the inviolability of the individual.