from The Psychology of Liberty
by Wes Bertrand © 2000, copylefted 2007

Flawed Political Systems From A Psychological Perspective

With the dominance of the State in the affairs of civilization, specific methods of governing the populace arose. Political systems solidified, and economies were influenced by the structure of government and its dealings with citizens.

Every political structure yields a definite psychological context in which ideas are developed and transmitted. To better understand our current ideological and psychological environments, let us inspect some of the basic premises involved in various political structures. This will put the main issues into perspective and provide a clearer picture about why certain forms of government have been propagated so vigorously. Of course, the use of physical force remains a constant throughout these societies. The submission to the will of the State in one way or another predominates all of them.

Monarchies and dictatorships are more formal examples of the tribal mentality. They place control of land and people in the hands of one or a few persons. The rulers that lust for power over others are thus granted their wishes; they may gain a spurious sense of mastery and false sense of self-worth as a result.

Many people under such rule may actually agree with the idea of having a ruler—though they may not agree with their particular political plight and the particular person ruling over them. Many accept being connected to a territory of rule because it reassures them that at least someone is in control of reality in some grand way; someone can make important decisions for them. They also may view an oppressive political system as comfortable and safe in its own twisted way. Forced togetherness and mutual suffering may allay worries about having to go against the system. Such circumstances can distract people from the task of having to think and judge on their own.

Under monarchies and dictatorships people surrender—and are forced to surrender—many freedoms in exchange for purported safety and security; at least this is the idea. No matter how much is provided for them by greatly revered royalty or leaders, most still live in dismal conditions.

For the individual, giving up freedom not only means less opportunities. It also means giving up a piece of self. For every rule that restricts rational behavior, a human mind is held back from whatever it could have experienced and accomplished.

Yet most have been indoctrinated with the idea that the rights of Dictator, King (or God) and country precede rights of the individual—always, of course, “for your own good.” Nineteenth century philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche perhaps referred to this sort of mentality in his literary work Thus Spoke Zarathustra:

Some of them will, but most of them are only willed. Some of them are genuine, but most of them are bad actors. There are unconscious actors among them and involuntary actors; the genuine are always rare, especially genuine actors.

And this hypocrisy I found to be the worst among them, that even those who command, hypocritically feign the virtues of those who serve. ‘I serve, you serve, we serve’—thus prays even the hypocrisy of the rulers; and woe, if the first lord is merely the first servant!46(p.281)

People may come to accept this environment when they start to believe that what matters in life is the good of society and service to everything except one’s own self. To do this, they have to distrust their judgments of the obvious. The obvious entails such things as witnessing: all the brutality in the name of King, Dictator, and country; the daily level of unhappiness in people whose routine is to perform duties for the sake of the common good; the excessive reverence and tribute paid to rulers who “protect” people from the “the enemies,” but who really keep nations of people locked in antagonism; the general avoidance of the deeper meaning of one’s emotional state; and finally, the fervent denouncement of any logical ideas that run counter to what everyone is taught.

Every attempt of a human mind to understand its environment is an attempt to live with a proper state of awareness. When these attempts are foiled—for instance, due to threats of rebuke or castigation—individuals may decide to just concentrate on daily activities, and hope for the best; they may choose to put little conscious thought into anything else. Soon, it becomes easier not to look, not to inspect, and not to identify, than to be conscious of one’s predicament. And it becomes harder and harder to live up to one’s capacity of conceptual awareness.

People under monarchies and dictatorships form rationalizations to ease the feeling that something is deadly wrong with their state of affairs. Without rationalizations people would see their societies for what they truly are: more structured formulations of the tribal mentality that deny and destroy many aspects of the individual.

Only the individual is capable of feeling happiness and acquiring self-esteem. To say that society is more important than these values is to say that society is more important than oneself, which is to say that others are more important than oneself—which is to say that no one’s self is important.

The self is the only entity capable of making statements and therefore the only entity capable of denying itself of primary importance. Yet if the self is declared to be not that important, why are the individual selves of others (i.e., society) more important? Clearly, no logical answer can be given, although a rationale exists: Since any particular self is relatively unimportant, it supposedly cannot be an independent entity capable of keeping itself alive; so, it must depend on other (also ineffective) selves to maintain its existence.

Caste systems (such as in traditional India) are a deplorable phenomenon in the realm of dictatorial social and political systems. Essentially, each person is born into a certain level of economic and social status and is supposed to remain there for the rest of his or her life. In so doing, a person pursues his or her “dharma” (duty), which enables the achievement of an enlightened state (traditionally after death). “Karma” is the result of the good or bad deeds that are passed on to the next reincarnation. Depending on the deeds, one either reaches a state of nirvana or perpetuates the cycle of duty.

On the condition that people repeat the same work, free of any passions or distracting desires, they will be repaid fully when they go out of existence. However symbolic of stagnation such a doctrine may be, it can still have widespread appeal. It says, in effect, “You don’t have to be concerned about your future or your happiness. Just stay where you are and perform your daily routines dutifully. You will have found it all worthwhile when you cash in your chips at the end of your life.”

The most disconcerting phrase, of course, is “at the end of your life.” But people may think that anything has to be better than a life of pain, suffering, and excruciating work. When one’s life is not how one wishes it to be and one seeks relief from all troubles, nonexistence might be deemed acceptable. Since wishing is unlimited, death can be trivialized and made to seem like something other than a blank. It is no secret that many societies have preached that real life and happiness occur after death. Aside from calming people’s nerves about death, such doctrines work to numb realizations that social and political situations are of great consequence.

Other political systems offer conditions said to bring happiness and enlightenment, or at least social tranquility, during people’s lifetimes. Three prominent ones are Communism, Socialism, and Fascism. These are the political systems that many people say are inherently good and desirable in theory; the problem is how to implement them effectively, so that they do not become corrupt. Implementation of supposedly ideal political theories has been a chronic problem. The results always end up being different than what people intended, decaying oftentimes into poverty, barbarism, and misery. The reason for this becomes apparent as one inspects these situations: They all implement coercion in one form or another as a way of life.

One may question the nature of doctrines that promote the use of force (whatever the amount) on others as an ideal way to exist in society. Incidentally, this kind of force is not retaliatory force, that is, force used to thwart force that was initiated. Retaliatory force is life-ensuring self-defense. Any force not used in self-defense—that is, any initiation of force—is necessarily an act of unjustified aggression.

Communism advocates total government ownership of the economy and, therefore, control of all property and trade. Ultimately, this means control of all people. Socialism has often been viewed as interchangeable with Communism, but in most cases it represents a watered-down or less totalitarian system of ownership and control; only parts of the economy have been declared governmental property and domain. Fascism is a third variation of statism in which most aspects of the economy are controlled, regulated, or monitored by government; private ownership of businesses is allowed, but only by the permission and direction of government.

hese three systems supposedly free people from particular troubles. Unfairness, risky decisions, and even the burden of making profits are allegedly diminished, if not extinguished. Yet survival in an advanced civilization (through making profits) has to be accomplished by someone. The question then becomes: who is going to work to sustain whom and at whose expense? A main psychological motive of these three systems is quite clear. It consists of wanting to be taken care of by others through forcible means, and declaring this form of parasitism a “right.” The ablest means for a society to accomplish this desire is by the authority of the State. Rand wrote about the main premise of Socialism:

They extolled the State as the ‘Form of the Good,’ with man as its abject servant, and they proposed as many variants of the socialist state as there had been of the altruist morality. But, in both cases, the variations merely played with the surface, while the cannibal essence remained the same: socialism is the doctrine that man has no right to exist for his own sake, that his life and his work do not belong to him, but belong to society, that the only justification for his existence is his service to society, and that society may dispose of him in any way it pleases for the sake of whatever it deems to be its own tribal, collective good.75(p.43)

Socialistic systems try to erase the logical idea of private property. They deny that individuals have an absolute legal and moral right to themselves and material acquired or created. Instead, these systems uphold the idea of community (or public) property. One’s self becomes part of this “property.” Rather than existing for one’s own sake, one exists for the sake of the State and the common good.

Under Communism and many aspects of Socialism (and to a lesser degree, any welfare system), goods and trade are put into the State’s community chest, from which the needs of the people will be attended to in order of necessity. Hence, no one will have to compete against others for “selfish” profits, and no one will have to pay out of his or her own pocket. Instead, all people work directly for each other’s benefit. People work, and government deals with the distribution of money. Greed, which is commonly attributed to capitalism, will supposedly be a thing of the past. Now the only competition concerns who receives what from the community chest (and when).

Basically, society has become a collective whole whereby it fulfills needs by exploiting the individuals who comprise it. Government consequently faces the impossible and immoral job of determining who should be sacrificed to whom. Another impossible task is determining how to allocate workers and resources most effectively and efficiently so that people can live comfortably. The notion of centralized planning has been the unattainable dream of despots everywhere.

Need can be a very relative and subjective experience. It depends on the personal context of each individual, the circumstances of which often have been chosen by that individual. Since need is the supreme factor in distribution in all the variations of Socialism, individuals are enticed to create needs out of nowhere. Government then rations goods and services and has people stand in line. Naturally, this brings about a dramatic state of unfulfillment. Because one person’s productive work goes to someone in allegedly greater need, there is fundamentally no incentive to improve one’s work, or life.

Since one is not allowed to provide for oneself, one must be provided for by someone else—in principle. Such a dependence-oriented economics can only fashion a society of dependence-oriented psychologies. Abdication of self-responsibility and independence can occur when people are forced to meet each other’s material needs. More productive members of society then choose to bear the extra burden, slack off, or completely withdraw their participation.82 (For a brilliantly thorough anecdote of this whole situation, see the Twentieth Century Motor Company exposition in Rand’s novel, Atlas Shrugged.)

People would not advocate a socialistic system if they believed it harmed their self-confidence and self-respect. Instead, they commonly see it as a way to help them cope with uncertainties. Most of these uncertainties, however, were created by this political system in the first place. Inevitably, such a system propels individuals into upholding a harmful cycle of unreality—one that negates the fact that people are independent entities who can think, judge, and work to sustain their own lives.

Some might contend that, since humans are social animals, they must depend on each other in order to live; a socialistic system just implements this fact. But this overlooks that the only moral (and hence the only beneficial and respectful) way to deal with others is voluntarily—since the use of force is the negation of mind and life. Treating human beings as human beings is the only conceivable way to bring about understanding and goodwill, and thus prosperity.

Yet the retort might be made that some people are incapable of thinking, judging, and working to sustain themselves; so, we ought to have a society that caters to this fact. But the amount of grown people incapable of living independently is very small. Moreover, the only way individuals should be helped is by others voluntarily helping them. To coerce people to provide their time, labor, and money for so-called moral reasons makes no sense. Naturally it fosters resentment and cruelty.

Not only is any welfare State an utter perversion of generosity and goodwill, but also it is an inversion of cause and effect for the actions of volitional beings. Individuals are helped because others decide it is appropriate to lend assistance—not because individuals forcibly demand to be helped. Private charities are quite adept at persuading people to help individuals. Naturally this fosters genuine compassion and generosity.

To be directly dependent economically on the group for survival hardly encourages independent thought, judgment, and a work ethic (let alone enlightenment and happiness). In fact, just the opposite typically occurs: institutionalized laziness, psychological stagnation, and in Nietzsche’s words, “poverty, filth, and wretched contentment.” Inspection of communistic nations vividly reveals this.

In response to the manifest coercion and tyranny of the State, a more refined version of Communism was also idealized—true or pure communism, as Karl Marx saw it. Marxism would forcibly turn the ownership of business enterprises from their proprietors over to labor. Marx held that employees should own the fruits of their labors. He thought that simple monetary compensation is insufficient and even exploitative.

Marxism also holds that true communism has no need for authoritarian government. Government is seen as the main cause of Communist downfall; it simply corrupts the whole ideological system. The wealth and power (from the community chest) go to the politicians and bureaucrats, rather than to the people who really deserve it. In this respect, advocates of Marxism are right: Authoritarian government does essentially rob people of their personal resources and goals.

However, one primary idea of Marxism (and of any other collectivistic doctrine) is that of altruism. Altruism holds that to provide for and give to others, rather than oneself, is better and more desirable. By extension, others are supposed to sacrifice in return. As mentioned, this creates many forms of dependency and expectations among perfectly capable individuals.

The idea of expected and even required sharing of goods and services has been a central theme in most political philosophies. It tells a person that he or she does not have an exclusive right to his or her own life. People are encouraged to adhere to a morality that is not designed for the life and happiness of the individual.

When an individual’s life is not held as the central determinant of morality and standard of value, anything outside the self (such as the family, the group, the community, the society, or the country) becomes the standard of deciding good and bad, right and wrong. Consequently, millions of individuals are treated as means to other people’s ends, fodder for other people’s “grand” projects, sacrificial animals for the common good, general welfare, public interest, and so on. Surrender of self and surrender of rational values are unlimited in an ethical system that believes the individual must concentrate on living for the sake of others—who also have no right to exist for their own sake but must exist for the sake of still others—who have no right to live for their own sake either but must exist infinitum.

As noted, Marxism and the other socialistic doctrines do not identify the idea of private property in the absolute sense. Property is a concept millennia old. It was discussed, for instance, by Aristotle and Plato. The ancient Romans made more formal connections between people and their environments. Their legal interpretations helped to make property an established political concept. From that point through the Middle Ages, however, property was not taken to mean anything inviolable (unless one was a king or emperor).94

To this day, neither statist nor Marxist theories treat property as an absolute concept. They do not resolve the contradictions in their interpretations of it. They fail to realize that any type of property necessarily belongs to an individual or a group of consenting individuals, not to the State or some desired goal of others. Nineteenth century Anarchist Max Stirner recognized the implications of Marxism:

By abolishing all private property communism makes me even more dependent on others, on the generality or totality [of society], and, in spite of its attacks on the State, it intends to establish its own State,...a state of affairs which paralyzes my freedom to act and exerts sovereign authority over me. Communism is rightly indignant about the wrongs which I suffer at the hands of individual proprietors, but the power which it will put into the hand of the total society is even more terrible.37(p.21)

With Marxism we see the effects of a collectivistic mentality overriding genuine human identification of what is true and what is false. Individuals are not just parts of society to be utilized however others think is required to benefit the common good. Each person is an individual, and society is the sum of these individuals. Since persons own themselves, necessarily they should be able to utilize themselves as they see fit. The same applies to their property. All other property is basically an extension of the individual, the most personal property.

The right to have property but not the right to use and/or dispose of it (such as in Fascism) plainly makes a mockery of property rights. If a person owns something, it is his or hers to utilize free of any interferences; only laws of justice enforcing individual rights can intervene. If a person does not own it, then either someone else does—whereby the same rules of ownership apply—or it has not been claimed as property by any human being.

Marxism that is not coercively implemented and maintained basically represents a commune. This assumes one is allowed to leave and move to a place that upholds property rights. Individuals voluntarily enter such an environment and consent to the idea of “communal” property, in which everyone has a share in everything. Communes operate according to the specified rules of the group. No delineation is made about final and official possession of property to specific individuals. Because such an arrangement accepts basically a tribal premise, it can be both legally cumbersome as well as morally problematic. For understandable reasons, communes have not flourished. The situation of communal property tends to create economic stagnation, and it certainly deters self-interested achievement.

Rationalizations for the variants of Socialism are smoke screens for underlying psychological processes. They attempt to deny the fact that, as human beings, we all possess a rational, volitional consciousness. Each of us has the task of finding out exactly who we are and what we should do about it. This thinking process cannot be circumvented with impunity, because to deny a fact of reality is to place oneself against reality. Such a policy inevitably leads to rationalizations that temporarily diminish the anxiety evoked by defaults on genuine thought and judgment.

Thus a chronic policy of choosing not to focus on facts can become ingrained. Individuals may learn to serve all interests but their own, that is, their own rational interests. Various national, religious, or community causes may even ask individuals to sacrifice not only their time and money, but also their own lives. The amount of human immolation in most wars throughout history illustrates the enormity of this psychological pattern.

A fundamental shift in the beneficiary of action from self to others (or State or leader or country) occurs when a human consciousness accepts a doctrine that obviates personal responsibility, negates property rights, and destroys individuality—all in the name of the good of the people. When a person accepts the idea that the group is primary—not the individual—the importance of self is likely forgotten.

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