I recently had the opportunity to hear Cornel West speak in Baker Hall. While I disagreed with much of what he had to say I admired his passion and charisma. It was apparent that he felt strongly about the issues he discussed — a characteristic many unfortunately lack. Veneration aside, I was struck by something he mentioned briefly at the beginning of his talk. West spoke about various political candidates, their pros and cons, and finally presented a trichotomy of views he believes are the only apparent choices, namely neo-fascism, neo-liberalism and neo-populism.
He described neo-fascism as supporting militarism, racism, nationalism and big business. He associated this viewpoint with Donald Trump. He claimed neo-liberalism is a centric, unprincipled, market-focused ideology that goes along to get along — he associated this viewpoint with Hillary Clinton. He finally pointed to neo-populism, a viewpoint that seeks to use the government as an instrument to help the most vulnerable and associated this with Bernie Sanders. After hearing these accounts, I recoiled. I do not deny the truth in his analysis, but the only response I can muster is “this is no choice at all.” I should say that this rejection is two-fold. First, all of these are choices reprehensible. Second, what West has presented is a true but mistaken analysis. It is this second point that I would like to expound upon.
While these three ideologies may be apparently distinct in their particular political manifestations, they all have the same philosophical root: collectivism. Each advocates the supremacy of the group. The neo-fascists support the clan or country, the neo-liberals support the wealthy and powerful, and the neo-populists support the weak and vulnerable. Moreover, all three speak of a mystical sense of duty which they claim is beyond question. The neo-fascists claim duty to the nation, while the neo-liberals and neo-populists claim a duty to your fellow man. Again, do not be fooled by their particular platforms. It is all fundamentally a collectivist ideology made manifest in one form or another. After all, it is not such a great leap to move from “I don’t like you because of the color of your skin” to “I don’t like you because you are more economically secure than I” — especially given modern sociological, philosophical and psychological theories of determinism supported by many whereby your bank account is in fact only a crude accident of birth. The reason these ideas are so closely knit is precisely because they make the group or clan the basic unit worth valuing. Honest intellectuals recognize that Adolf Hitler’s Germany and Joseph Stalin’s Russia were two sides of the same socialist coin — one flipped by a collectivist, I might add. Just as those 20th Century ideologies were superficially distinct yet principally akin, so too are these 21st Century neo-ideologies.
Given this state of politics as outlined by West, one must recognize the utter failure of the American intellectuals to stand for individualism. Over the course of 20th century we saw the constant erosion of individualism with the rise of welfare states, increased regulation of all sectors of life, and constant submission of individual liberty for the sake of national security. This progressive movement has largely encapsulated the entirety of politics — the result has been the dominant collective perspective in the political sphere as outlined above. It is in this respect that “political progressive” is a false moniker, however. Indeed, those progressives who have advocated the above positions, i.e. collectivism are the penultimate conservatives — the only ideology to be even more conservative being barbarism. After all, “progression to tribalism” is no progression at all, but a harsh regression to a time of poverty, ruling classes and socio-political oppression.
For the sake of achieving political and social stability America must embrace individualism — more so than ever in our history. The neo-liberals and neo-populists commonly claim we must defend minorities at all costs, but they fail to recognize the smallest minority of all: the individual. Moreover, consider the quote West cited by Lord Acton, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Odd that we refuse power to a tyrant but when faced with the proposal to make the collective the source of power we blindly accept. We should not be ignorant to the fact that a collective is just as fallible as a dictator, and it wields its power with an order of magnitude much greater than any one tyrant ever could.
— Vincent Graziano, ’18, CAS Philosophy and Mathematics