My Ethics Final

June 15, 2009

Anyone who can even pretend to know me should realize the irony in this paper.


Tyler Doyle

Dr. Cohen // Phil-351-03

WC: 1024

The Anthem of Freedom: Collectivism is Slavery

“I owe nothing to my brothers, nor do I gather debts from them. I ask none to live for me, nor do I live for any others. I covet no man’s soul, nor is my soul theirs to covet.” In Anthem, Ayn Rand establishes what she calls the monster of ‘we’.  She asserts that each man is an absolute individual, with no obligations or debts towards other men.  The main character of Anthem rediscovers the concept of individualism and breaks away from his collectivist community. Through an implied natural right of self-realization, Prometheus (the main character) dares to embrace the Unmentionable Word: ego.

The idea of ‘ego’ is central to the theme of Prometheus’ development. From the beginning he has wishes that are not that of the collective will, but are aspirations of his own. He wishes to become a Scholar, something that he desires. With no regard for his wishes, the collective decided that he would best be used as a Street Sweeper, and cast him in to that role. He accepts this, though is disappointed, as he had never known a concept of ‘I’, and merely followed the commands of the collective ‘we’. This is an example of the kind of coercive forces mentioned by Hayek. These forces are necessarily required to maintain the order of the collectivist state. If one individual were to reallocate the goods of the society (in this case occupation and human capital), that individual could leverage a competitive advantage over the state. If this were to occur, the allocation of goods chosen by the group would be disturbed, and shortages or surpluses would follow. If Prometheus were allowed to choose his own occupation, he would be acting on the fuel of his ego, and not that which is in the best interest of the state.

It seems the state derived its power from the fear of the market. The ‘invisible hand’ of market forces ought to guide the properly efficient allocation of goods and services. What happened was as Hayek describes the inevitable road towards an authoritarian coercive force, justified by the need to maintain strict control and order over the markets. The population of this world became increasingly obsessed with equality over efficiency. Just as in The Road to Serfdom the process began with good intentions, and evolved in to a system that can only be sustained by force. The World Council is responsible for the oversight of all the smaller councils, which are in turn in charge of every aspect of life. Occupations, schedules, where people live, what they may own (nothing), are all established and maintained for the good of the ‘we’.

If we establish that every man has a right to pursue his own ego, then it follows that each individual is free to achieve his own end. It is with this principle that the scope of a state is restricted by. No man in a means to any other man, or a means to the group, but an end in himself. By being an end in himself, each man carries an obligation only to serve himself. It isn’t unreasonable to think that men would eventually find the need for a standard system of justice or laws, through which they can address disputes over contracts or other voluntary exchanges. This system must respect each person as an end in themselves, and interfere in their lives only to the extent needed so that each man is required to interact reasonably with other men. Equality of opportunity arises from this system, where each man is equal to choose how they will progress toward their end. Equality of any of any other kind is unjust, for to alter any man’s means to benefit another is exploitation.

Collectivism imposes a type of slavery on men. The collective desire to achieve fairness or equality necessarily requires some men to alter their chosen means, in turn altering their intended ends. In doing this, the will of the state becomes Machiavellian, justifying the means by promoting the ‘beneficial’ end.  Hayek warns against the call of the ‘greater’ good. Collectivism cannot accommodate the full ends of every man, for each must necessarily give something to the state (liberty, taxes, control) so that it may be redistributed to achieve equality.

Prometheus discovers the peril of the state. With no concept of an ‘I’ he is slave to the will of the group. By breaking their laws he disobeyed his occupation and began to work towards his own end. In doing so he (re)created the light bulb, and presented it to the council. Here the evidence of the necessity of coercive force shows. In order to provide for the entire population, the state had carefully planned the occupation and allocation of each man. The new invention would present a disturbance to the candle makers, the wax makers, the oil suppliers, and all people who are involved with the making of the candle. Without markets to absorb them, or the free ability to move to different ends, these people would be unprovided for by the state. Alternatively, the world could choose to adopt the new light bulb technology, and the state would be scrambling to equalize the wealth and labor associated with the invention. Regardless of the adoption, it shows the coercive force necessary to maintain the collective balance; Prometheus is set to stand trial, probably to the result of his own death. The invention would be destroyed, and the state would return to the desired status quo.

To follow that collectivism is slavery is the next step in understanding the situation. If it is so that each person is necessarily his own end, and that he has the right to pursue his own end, then the state may not interfere in his ends. It also follows that the state may not interfere in his means, other than what every man agrees is necessary to prevent one man’s means from interfering with their own ends. If the state may not interfere with a man’s ends or means, yet coerces men to alter either, it is imposing involuntary rule, a sort of legal slavery.


One Response to “My Ethics Final”

  1. Dad Says:

    So, from reading your ethics final mail, should I assume that you are a follower of Ayn Rand, maybe with some minimal qualifers…I have not read her, so I am not really up to speed here, but I think this question a good one to start with …

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