June 23, 2015

Blame Society!

By In Brian Jacobson

People are asking questions. Who is to blame for all this? What is this and what am I referring to? Doesn’t matter, you pick, whatever this weeks outrage is for you or your circle of friends. So who is to blame? Why, society of course! And who is society? Everyone but yourself of course:

“What, it may be asked, of the “rights of society”? Don’t they supersede the rights of the mere individual? The libertarian, however, is an individualist; he believes that one of the prime errors in social theory is to treat “society” as if it were an actually existing entity. “Society” is sometimes treated as a superior or quasi-divine figure with overriding “rights” of its own; at other times as an existing evil which can be blamed for all the ills of the world. The individualist holds that only individuals exist, think, feel, choose, and act; and that “society” is not a living entity but simply a label for a set of interacting individuals. Treating society as a thing that chooses and acts, then, serves to obscure the real forces at work. If, in a small community, ten people band together to rob and expropriate three others then this is clearly and evidently a case of a group of individuals acting in concert against another group. In this situation, if the ten people presumed to refer to themselves as “society” acting in “its” interest, the rationale would be laughed out of court; even the ten robbers would probably be too shamefaced to use this sort of argument. But let their size increase, and this kind of obfuscation becomes rife and succeeds in duping the public.

“‘Society’ has been summed up in the phrase: “Society” is everyone but yourself. Put thus bluntly, this analysis can be used to consider those cases where “society” is treated, not only as a superhero with superrights, but as a supervillain on whose shoulders massive blame is placed. Consider the typical view that not the individual criminal, but “society,” is responsible for his crime. Take, for example, the case where Smith robs or murders Jones. The “old-fashioned” view is that Smith is responsible for his act. The modern liberal counters that “society” is responsible. This sounds both sophisticated and humanitarian, until we apply the individualist perspective. Then we see that what liberals are really saying is that everyone but Smith, including of course the victim Jones, is responsible for the crime. Put this baldly, almost everyone would recognize the absurdity of this position. But conjuring up the fictive entity “society” obfuscates this process. As the sociologist Arnold W. Green puts it: “It would follow, then, that if society is responsible for crime, and criminals are not responsible for crime, only those members of society who do not commit crime can be held responsible for crime. Nonsense this obvious can be circumvented only by conjuring up society as devil, as evil being apart from people and what they do.”

(From For a New Liberty by Murray Rothbard)

This is relevant for any number of issues in the news, and not just for the lefties. Between current news debates and a recent resolution at a presbyterian general assembly I am reminded of C.S. Lewis’s words on the dangers of national repentance. The dangers of national repentance are the dangers of repenting of things you’ve never done so you don’t feel so bad about not repenting for things you have done:

“Are they, perhaps, repenting what they have in no sense done?If they are, it might be supposed that their error is very harmless: men fail so often to repent their real sins that the occasional repentance of an imaginary sin might appear almost desirable. But what actually happens to the youthful national penitent is a little more complicated than that. England is not a natural agent, but a civil society. When we speak of England’s actions we mean the actions of the British Government. The young man who is called upon to repent of England’s foreign policy is really being called upon to repent the acts of his neighbour; for a Foreign Secretary or a Cabinet Minister is certainly a neighbour. And repentance presupposes condemnation. The first and fatal charm of national repentance is, therefore, the encouragement it gives us to turn from the bitter task of repenting our own sins to the congenial one of bewailing but, first, of denouncing the conduct of others.”

By all means if you’ve been a racist or a warmonger repent, but don’t use collective repentance to solidify self-righteousness in the eyes of your neighbor while simultaneously attributing every vice and motive to him under the guise of contrition. Again, the danger of collective repentance is repenting of things you haven’t done all the while not repenting of things you have done.

Written by Brian Jacobson

Brian Jacobson works as a quality technician for a manufacturing company in St. Louis, Mo where he lives with his new bride. He studied biblical and theological studies at Reformation Bible College under R.C. Sproul in Orlando, FL. He’s an Old-School Presbyterian who enjoys the simple means of grace, Machen, and living the high life on a budget. Follow him @briankjacobson on Twitter.