No Such Thing as Society

“I think we’ve been through a period where too many people have been given to understand that if they have a problem, it’s the government’s job to cope with it. ‘I have a problem, I’ll get a grant.’ ‘I’m homeless, the government must house me.’ They’re casting their problem on society. And, you know, there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look to themselves first. It’s our duty to look after ourselves and then, also to look after our neighbor. People have got the entitlements too much in mind, without the obligations. There’s no such thing as entitlement, unless someone has first met an obligation.”

Prime minister Margaret Thatcher, talking to Women’s Own magazine, October 31 1987

 

The word “society” is used often: in classes, in politics, in the news, in movies; in just about everything: “A nation as a society forms a moral person, and every member of it is personally responsible for his society (Thomas Jefferson)” “Our modern society is engaged in polishing and decorating the cage in which man is kept imprisoned (Swami Nirmalananda)”  “Society is produced by our wants and government by our wickedness (Thomas Paine)”.

But what does the word really mean? How is it used to further the agenda of politicians, social activists and other individuals? In this essay I will be arguing that the term “society” is used, specifically in political rhetoric, to further the rights of the group in a collectivist fashion. The outcome of this is ultimately a generous sacrifice of individual rights. This outcome is an offense, because it assumes that the individual is born to sacrifice it’s individual rights, likes and dislikes, and tendencies in order to serve the community, the society, and ultimately the government. The first prong of my argument that’s presented in this essay is that people do not have a responsibility, morally or otherwise, to cooperatively work together, in a society and in a community. If individuals work together voluntarily that is encouraged and applauded, but this working together must not be forced or coerced this compromises the outcome and the process of working together. To cooperatively work together is a great tool to accomplish many things, the church or organizations of common interest, is an example of this, notice that both are voluntary. The general thrust of my argument is that we must not allow the concept and the action of individuals working together, cooperatively (i.e. society), to override the more fundamental and important rights of the individual. Especially without giving him, the individual, an opportunity to opt-out of the cooperative movement that he is engaged in. To violently or coercively keep the individual confined in the group or society i.e. government is also an override of the fundamental rights of the individual. An example is, but certainly not limited to, government. What I am suggesting is that the theory of society, the term society, is used to support collectivism and ultimately to erode our rights as individuals. To give up those all-important fundamental, PERSONAL and INDIVIDUAL rights for those MORE important rights of the group, collectively, is an affront to libertarianism, to limited government, to anarchism and to freedom.

 

To begin with we must solidify the definitions I will be using. Collectivism, Society, Community, Greater good (asserts that the good of the community is more important than the good of the individual), Coercion, cooperation, individual rights. Collectivism while associated with socialism can be applied to all forms of government, if you view collectivism in a negative light in reference to socialism you must do the same in reference to all forms of government in order to be consistent in your views. Collectivism is defined as “: a political or economic theory advocating collective control especially over production and distribution; also: a system marked by such control” Collective being defined as “: denoting a number of persons or things considered as one group or whole, involving all members of a group as distinct from its individuals”

Society is defined as “a voluntary association of individuals for common ends; especially: an organized group working together or periodically meeting because of common interests, beliefs, or profession, an enduring and cooperating social group whose members have developed organized patterns of relationships through interaction with one another, a community, nation, or broad grouping of people having common traditions, institutions, and collective activities and interests”

Community is defined as “: an interacting population of various kinds of individuals (as species) in a common location” Greater good is a synonyms with utilitarianism which defines itself as “to achieve the greater good for the most amount of people.”

Coercion is defined as, “the act, process, or power of coercing” coercing is defined as ” to restrain or dominate by force. to compel to an act or choice: to achieve by force or threat”

Cooperation is defined, “: association of persons for common benefit, or common effort”.

Individual Rights is defined by theclassicalliberal.com is “In a free society, where individual rights are held as the highest law of the land, there is also the rejection of the initiation of force against the individual, because initiating force is a violation of a persons natural rights.  This is true whether an individual, a group, or the State initiated the force.  The only legitimate use of violence is that which is in self-defense.” The article also references the Declaration of Independence as the complete volume on Individual Rights. All definitions come from Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, except Individual Rights.

 

Let’s apply these definitions to the theory of society and it’s applications in real life. The word “society” as well as “common good” or “greater good” are often used in political rhetoric and in socio-political organizations to push for change. This change is usually legislative in nature, not always, but usually. This is the only option most people see in which they can socially change things, why is that? Legislation is usually the fastest way for change; it limits the work of the group and allows no room for discourse. Legislation is the act of force on other individuals to force them to commit to social change at the barrel of a gun. A large group that wants their social agenda pushed on others, mob rule, is the hand at the grip of the gun. Why is this bad? Legislation that confronts victim-less crimes or personal behavior is fundamentally wrong because it forces violence on another individual, while the individual is committing no wrong or violent act. The individual is merely living his or her life in a way that they see fit but in contrast of the large group. Even though the individual is not becoming violent or coercive with another person, the group sees their actions as immoral and must be stopped. Therein lives the crux of most “social” problems; individuals seek to live their lives as they wish, without violence being inflicted on them by the government or other individuals or groups. That is a reasonable expectation, why should another’s religious or moral views be inflicted upon me by force if I am not becoming violent with another person? Legally and philosophically I should not have violence initiated upon me when I have not injured or become violent with someone else. That initiation of violence except in self-defense is immoral. That is the difference in a just and moral system of living and chaotic existence. The outcome that the group pushing for change wishes to see is a better and more moral “society”. The outcome, quite oblivious to them, is also an extreme sacrifice of individual rights. Not only is the initiation of violence, by the group through the state, an abridgement of rights, but also so is the restriction of the individuals right to make choices concerning their private behavior. This outcome sacrifices the individuals likes and dislikes for the “betterment” of the community and of the “society”. But who decides the definition of betterment, the group with the biggest club? They disregard the individuals’ tendencies and behaviors so that they may serve the government, so that they may have a better “society”. That is neither moral nor the foundation of a free community.

Asserting this we can see that people do not have an obligation to follow these suggestions, backed by state violence, for a more moral life that is defined by the group that is the largest. Why is that? Because this ultimately erodes the individuals FUNDAMENTAL rights, choices, tendencies, and behaviors. According to any free group or country that has ever been founded, the individual’s rights are above all and reign supreme. They reign supreme above everything, but the initiation of violence; this includes murder, coercion, kidnapping, theft etc. We must not let the idea of “society” erode the individual’s rights, at least not without giving them an opportunity to opt-out of the “society”. The government however, is a “society” such as this; the state is violence and imposes the “society” or the masses views onto all by the use of violence. Government is an idea that says that because I was born on a piece of land, this thrusts me into a mass community of individuals based, ruled and governed by violence and with no option of opting out. The only option to opt out would be to move to another continent, where it is ruled by either more violence or less violence to the individual. The individual has no option of living in a group, voluntarily of no violence. That idea is not only preposterous but also repugnant to the very notion of freedom. Because of this closed community, and the use of violence even as a basic function of government, it shows that it is in direct violation of our fundamental rights as individuals.

The term “society” also supports collectivism, which, as a very definition, erodes an individual’s freedom. Again, the definition of society is, “a voluntary association of individuals for common ends; especially: an organized group working together or periodically meeting because of common interests, beliefs, or profession, an enduring and cooperating social group whose members have developed organized patterns of relationships through interaction with one another, a community, nation, or broad grouping of people having common traditions, institutions, and collective activities and interests”. While the definition states that it is voluntary, that is clearly not true. While one can physically move to the wilderness that still does not extract them from the rule of that society through force of the government. Thus, it forces them to be part of the “society” or at least the society’s values are forced on them and they have no way of opting out or refusing to be a part of it. That, by very definition, puts the individuals rights at the bottom of the totem pole, certainly not supporting a free society. The definition then states “grouping of people having common traditions, institutions and interests” but when this grouping is forced by the government, (the planet is covered in governments with no way to remove oneself) there is no way that they will have “common traditions, institutions and interests” especially in America, the so-called “melting pot”. This directly correlates with the definition of collective, “: denoting a number of persons or things considered as one group or whole, involving all members of a group as distinct from its individuals”. Society and government, both of those institutions denote the individual and their rights into one mass group that looks, talks, and believes all the same thing. This idea, considers all persons or things as one group, this is not only false but it is in direct contradiction of the ideal of freedom.

If you consider collective a negative term, and even if you do not and are swayed by my argument you must see that all of these ideas, fundamentally, erode the individuals’ rights in behavior and everyday choices; believing that the person is only born to serve the government and the “society”. This is not the basis of a free community or system, many times the rhetoric stating for the “betterment of society” and “for progress” is to blame for the atrocities committed against peoples. A prime example is the indigenous peoples of the U.S. There is absolutely nothing wrong with bettering yourself or attempting to advocate your ideals to others, as well as nothing wrong with progress. But in that search for progress the choices and changes to the community must be done voluntarily and through education not through force or violence. All that will do will force an unwanted change that is neither sincere nor wanted. It will corrupt the outcome, and the process of working together. I have shown though many examples that the use of the word “society” promotes not only a negative connotation but that it’s definition is downright false, I’m sure many of us in the freedom community would be better off without it’s use in our espousement of ideas. I will leave you with a quote from Oscar Wilde, “Society exists only as a mental concept; in the real world there are only individuals”.

About Judith Ayers

Currently a double major in Political Science and Mass Communications with a minor in Sociology at York College of Pennsylvania, Judith is involved locally in many "liberty minded" organizations. This includes holding the position of President for the York College Libertarian Club.
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3 Responses to No Such Thing as Society

  1. Andrew Shemo says:

    powerful article. the right of the individual is the most important, IMHO.

    also, this seems like it would be an excellent article for gays wanting to have equal protection under the law! rather than legislating morality (which social conservatives seems to always want to do), you should legislate liberty.

  2. Andrew Shemo says:

    I should clarify when I said “legislate liberty”. What I mean is you should protect the right of the individual to do as he/she pleases, without coercion as long as they’re not infringing on the liberties of another human being.

  3. Shawn Kelly says:

    Good article.

    I would further the great difference between society and the state. People seem to think the latter is part of the former, when in reality, the latter must plunder the former (Its resources, labor, and money) in order to exist “for the sake” of the former.

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