Individualism, Collectivism, and War
My working definition for individualism is
- The recognition that human action is based on the individual.
- A social order based on the independent action of the individual.
Because (1) implicitly assumes that individualism is a fact of nature, this leaves me with defining collectivism in opposition to (2):
A social order based on centralized social and economic control.
Because this social order must be constructed in opposition to human nature (insofar as human action really is independent), the "control" of this definition requires extortion, psychological programming, or elimination of individuals who do not comply with the central plan.
If collectivism runs against human nature, why is it so common? The idea is maintained not only by a ruling class of central organizers, but appears to be accepted by those who do not benefit from centralized control. I believe it is due to the way our minds work to form general concepts.
Individual experience is limited by location, time, and intellectual framework. Through human language, we can share experience with other individuals. But our minds are too limited to hold the totality of the objective world, so we try to extract essential rules by which we can understand our observations and predict future events.
Thus, we will say things like, "The French eat cheese and drink wine," even if we find counter examples of residents of France who do not consume either. We are taking mental and linguistic shortcuts to explain the prevalence of wine and cheese consumption by individuals in France. This is appropriate for casual language only and is not rigorous.
My working definition of crime is
An action intended to harm another individual.
I was given this definition by an Objectivist once in conversation and have stuck with it. If anyone can point me toward a better definition from libertarian literature I would appreciate it; I am not certain that intent plays such a simple role.
But intent is immaterial to the point I am making about crimes. By virtue of them being an action, crimes are committed by an individual. By virtue of being the object of harm, the victim of a crime is an individual.
An armed conflict between collectives.
To stretch the talk of guilt or innocence or victimhood to cover collectives is as sloppy as talking about "the French drinking wine". We should not use such terms when discussing war, unless it is with the caveat that we are discussing, for example, historical wars in intentionally vague terms. If someone identifies a guilty collective who must be punished through war, they are either simply wrong or intentionally trying to manipulate you.
This leaves me with the conclusion that war is never legitimate. Defensive use of force is legitimate, and individuals may coordinate their defense or hire specialists to assist in defense against one or more aggressors. But individuals cannot escape responsibility for their actions simply because they belong to a collective. Likewise, individuals cannot justly be the targets of force simply because they belong to a collective. War is not a legitimate use of force because it is by definition collective.
It points out yet again how Statists can get things exactly backwards. Contrary to their slogans about service being a sign of responsibility, the Statist who supports war is actually claiming that soldiers can escape responsibility for their actions by belonging to a collective. They will maintain that the collective is supported by sufficient force of arms to protect those who serve it from any repercussions for their actions. But though they may provide some physical protection for those who serve, they cannot protect against the moral judgment of others or even the self-judgment of those who serve. Short of killing each individual who perceives reality differently than the sanctioned collective view, the Statist cannot provide escape from the fact that aggression has consequences.