‘Individualism? Collectivism? Sobornost!’

A little while ago, I published an essay on Social Matter called Ants of Islam Dismember Europe’s Spider Society, in which I made the point that one of the underlying reasons that Europe in particular has found it impossible to respond to the provocations of Islamic attacks in ways that would have been historically normal is that Europe has turned away from most of its collectivist attitudes and embraced a rampant individualism that isolates members of society, scatters them in atomized shrapnel, and leaves them at the very least deaf and blind to any kind of threat which does not personally involve them in a meaningful way.

So, just to quickly illustrate this; the greatest collectivist experiment is Islam itself, which is in most instances a leveling and collectivizing force, transcending other collective identities to some extent. In this way, even small things such as insults against the religion in the form of blasphemy (as commonly practiced in the West) can somehow incite riots in both Egypt and Pakistan simultaneously. Yet, a physical attack, a murder of hundreds of people in Europe, is met with hashtags and acute short-term memory loss across Europe.

This said, as was pointed out to me, my comparison of this situation to the competing mentalities of spiders (individualists) and ants (collectivists) was flawed in its over-simplification, especially since insects most undoubtedly have their behaviors exclusively governed by ‘programming’, and self-conscious agency does not play a decisive role. When this is considered, we must dismiss the individualist/collectivist paradigm as a suboptimal dichotomy for human behavior.

We want to develop a unified theory in response to this question, which is of some weight as it pertains to metapolitics and theories of government. First, let’s define these terms. Note that I want to avoid moral judgments about individual liberty or collective power for the moment and instead focus on what is generally a superior model for societal/state relations.

Individualism – The belief that individual liberty, personal sovereignty and responsibility, and respect for the free will of all contributing members to a given society, are both attainable and monotonic. Due to this, secondary concerns should always give way to the primacy of the individual.

Collectivism – The belief that collective integrity, group sovereignty and vitality, and the collective destiny of a given mass resting on one head or any number of heads is both attainable and monotonic. Due to this, secondary concerns should always give way to the primacy of the collective.

Just a few side notes: Monotonic is used here with respect to its economic definition, that being that ‘more is always preferable’. The point about collective destiny is to take into account the fact that a collective will only exists ever in theory, and collectivist societies are captained by a very obvious elite, even if they hold pretensions otherwise.

Given these definitions, I hold the second position to be more self-evident than the first, and historical evidence (if we can call what is unfolding before our very eyes historical evidence) seems to support this. In general, we recognize that the very definition of a collective or group requires some sacrifice on behalf of its individual members to even exist. They give up some perceived good X that they would enjoy as an individual, for another perceived good Y that goes to the collective, whether that be time, money, or even blood. Often they don’t have a choice (e.g. taxes). Because of this, groups can typically do more than individuals can, which seems rather obvious.

Considering this, do collectivist societies (and we are speaking in degrees here) always triumph over individualist ones? No. And this is where the over-simplistic dichotomy fails. The Soviet Union lost the Cold War. You could argue that its underlying values won, but that’s another story. How was this possible? How did the Soviet Union’s highly collectivized society, in which private property itself was supposedly obsolete, fail to even last a century against the capitalist might of the United States, undoubtedly a more individualist system?

There are limitless contributing factors one can point to, from strategy, to quality of leaders, to technological starting points, to natural resources, to geography, and on and on. But the key reason is that the collectivism of the Soviet Union existed primarily in the minds of its architects, not on the ground. It was an artificial construct that went through various mutations, but was at base not workable on any kind of civilization-level, hence why nobody had adopted it before. One of the interesting things one could say about communist economics in relation to my original piece is, if people were ants, it might have worked. Unfortunately, humans not being ants, telling everyone to expend their energy in equal measure results in a few fine scientists and daring cosmonauts atop a population whose grudging yet humorous maxim becomes “They pretend to pay us, and we pretend to work.”

The reign of Marxism told the people of the Russian Empire that all were equal, that their society was about to step boldly into a future which transcended petty social constructs like ethnic background, sex, and most importantly class. If this had been true, there would have been an equal gender distribution for Soviet sewage workers in 1960, Stalin would have dined on sawdust and wallpaper paste, and the aftermath of the Soviet Union’s collapse would never have given way to an independent Georgia, Lithuania, Estonia, etc. This ultimate collectivity, the ‘rule of the proletariat’ was a fiction, and fictional collectives are, to varying degrees, always weak.

When Hitler launched his invasion of the Soviet Union, Stalin found no victory in speaking of the proletariat vs. the bourgeoisie. No, the war was Russians vs. Germans, and in fact even this wasn’t enough. Stalin even had to compromise with Orthodoxy and allow it some presence once again, to spur on Soviet troops against the invading Wehrmacht. He had to appeal to collectives that were not designed by the hand of the state or at the behest of a given ideology. This is where the reactionary parts ways with collectivist absolutism. To fully elucidate, this requires the introduction of a non-English term to our vocabulary.

The word Sobornost was coined sometime at the start of the 1800s by early slavophiles (Slavophilia, rather poorly named, referred to a school of hostility against Western (by this time: Enlightenment) influence and values in Russia, but also had related movements in Poland, Hungary, and Greece). Sobornost was defined in the following way by Ivan Kireevsky:

The wholeness of society, combined with the personal independence and the individual diversity of the citizens, which is possible only on the condition of a free subordination of separate persons to absolute values and in their free creativeness founded on love of the whole, love of the Church, love of their nation and State.

Here, we touch upon the question of free will. Individualists declare free will good in all instances. Collectivists declare free will nugatory in all instances. For Sobornost, the ‘absolute values’ are ones that are grounded in free assent rather than the imposition of a will (as in the case of communist rule). That is, there is a difference between artificial collectives based upon imposed ideas, and organic collectives which are based upon lived experience. Kireevesky gives a list of what he considered organic modes of collectivity; religion: in his case Orthodox Christianity, nationality: in his case Russian, and state: in his case the Tsarist Empire. These are not the only organic collectives, but they are the major ones, and they should be entered into not as ‘contracts’ in the sense of Rousseau, but as labors of love.

One can believe in free will, but also say that in general, given a set of circumstances our free will as human beings will tend towards certain predictable outcomes which are dependent on both external factors as well as our own nature. It’s why we can reject social contract theory, while still saying that the society which results is not in fact a polite form of slavery. Society, and by extension civilization, are organic modes of human behavior, collectivity is organic, but not all collectives are organic. Sexual orientation communities, proposition states, women as a sisterhood bloc, and yes, the rule of the proletariat; all artificial.

From whence do the vital forces of an organic collective arise? Alexey Khomyakov explains: “Sobornost is an organic, living unity, the origin of which lies in the divine grace of mutual love.”

The source for this will to common value and interest is divine in its origin. It must be in order to hold each member of society captivated in an effect that is easy to sustain for mechanical organisms like ants, but hard for human beings with free will. Why does man, in his organic state, untainted by ideology, feel drawn to religion, to nation, to sovereign, to his own family? Why will the invader from the south throw away his very life for these collective ideals, while European man will seemingly do nothing to protect even the greatest technological and monetary treasures history has ever seen, the tower of bullion upon which Western comfort truly rests and against which abstractions such as democracy and human rights are mere bit parts?

Because, for what maladies Muslims around the world suffer, and indeed there are many, they still have some level of sobornost. The West has given it up, and succumbed to elements who actively work to destroy organic collectivity. In its place, they promote individualism when the fallen nature of man will lead him astray, and collectivism when man needs to be yanked astray with a sharp pull at his leash. All is oriented downwards, all for dissolution and the diabolical principle.

At this point, I want to quote an article from Archpriest Andrei Tkachev on the present migrant crisis, noting that he despairs of any hope that Western Europe could achieve the following (a wake-up call in and of itself):

The Muslims of the 21st century have an accusation against Christians of the 21st century. The essence of this accusation is simple: Where is your sanctity? Where are prayer and fasting? Where is respect for elders and a wife’s obedience to her husband? Where is your youth: in smoke-filled clubs or in the gym? Where is compassion? Not just charity but compassion? Where is your knowledge of your own history? And if we are silent with shame in reply, they will say, “Look at us.” They will show us their better traits, be silent about the bad ones, and we will fall into deeper silence. So we mustn’t be silent. Our answer must be living and religious.

The survival of a group, preyed upon by others as it will be, is in large part down to its organic, inner coherence or knowledge of itself. If a group lacks this, while at the same time refusing to recognize its enemy, it will succumb in every battle. At some point along this line of error, all the technology in the world couldn’t change the outcome. You won’t even fight. You will fade out in silence. If your society is based upon individualism, you will be playing vidya right up until your killers thunder up the carpeted stairway. If your society is based on some artificial collectivism (David Cameron’s pathetic “British values” come to mind as a good contemporary example), then rest assured, your ultimate security will be as brittle as fretwork in a hail of gunfire.

What the archpriest misses in his analysis, however, is what was expounded upon in such resplendent prose by Chateaubriand: “The most disastrous times have produced the greatest minds. The purest metal comes of the most ardent furnace; the most brilliant lightning comes of the darkest clouds.”

Sobornost, like all great things, is stymied just as much by distraction and complacency as it is by conspiracy. Perhaps for Occidental man to feel the draw of the organic collectives that once sustained him, which have since fallen into dusty ruins, he must first be reminded that he is capable of feeling in the first place. Put him through the fire and see what emerges. I myself have faith it will be pure and strong.

In conclusion then, the dichotomy of individualism/collectivism is suboptimal for reactionary purposes. It explains far too little, and offers even less, no matter which side one casts their lot with. The reasons for a strong rejection of individualism can be found in any number of essays diagnosing the ailments of modern man from the rightist perspective. With regards to collectivism, we can say that to dissent against artificial collectives can be morally justified, but dissent against organic collectives in the aggregate cannot. Below the divine, these have a rather loose (and by no means complete) order, but to put this in the form of some hierarchy: dissent against God is sin, dissent against family is abandonment, and dissent against nation and sovereign are implicit and explicit treason respectively.

Why? Because we are designed to join our countrymen in adoration of these things, drawn in by their grandeur and soulful resonance echoing from a sacred heart. When these collectives do not conflict with one another but work in symphony, when we commit ourselves to them not out of fear but out of mutual love of what is truly good, this is the very essence of sobornost.

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14 Comments

  1. Ockhams Chainsaw November 8, 2016 at 7:54 pm

    A couple years ago I pointed the example mohameddans unity and successes out to a pastor friend of mine who has dedicated his career to educating people about Islam and it’s dangers. I tried to convince him that until we as a nation can muster some sobornost, we would be doomed to fail. Being a product of his generation though (boomer) he had no lens to help see view my point.

    He very gently called me a fascist and argued that such thinking was un-American and that I should repent.

    Had I known the term, I could have pointed him in the right direction. Thank you for fleshing it it better than I. If ever the topic comes up again, I know where to point him.

  2. Michael Rothblatt November 9, 2016 at 4:10 am

    >dissent against nation and sovereign

    What is a nation? Also, who is a sovereign? In case of Russia, for example, many never accepted tzar as their rightful ruler, rather they considered him an occupating tyrant (much like many under Ottoman rule did in case of sultan); tzars in turn attempted forced Russification. When French reactionary nobleman Marquis de Custine went to tzarist Russia, specifically in search of ammo against democracy, he was appalled at the conditions there. Von Haxthausen later wrote a more benign account of imperial Russia, however. These conflicting Western views of tzarist Russia persisted this day:

    http://webbut.unitbv.ro/bu2011/Series%20VII/BULETIN%20VII/02_6%20Ungurean.pdf

    http://fee.org/articles/free-enterprise-and-the-russians/

    1. Michael Rothblatt November 11, 2016 at 6:50 am

      Maybe I should reformulate… were Bulgarians, Serbs, etc. obliged to revere the Ottoman sultan, and did they commit treason by rebelling against the Ottomans?

      1. Your question is precisely why I ended the article with the hierarchy of moral duty. Were the Ottomans, for at least most of their history, Traditional and sacral authorities with all of the legitimacy this imparted? Yes.

        But, were the Ottomons a direct threat to Christian nations? To Christian families? And most importantly, were they an affront to God Himself? I believe the answer is affirmative. Thus, these wars of liberation and kebab removal were very much justified.

        1. Michael Rothblatt November 11, 2016 at 7:36 pm

          Thanks! I suspect that our friends the neo-absolutists would say that’s liberalism and treason (because, according to them, there’s no such thing as organic communities, and therefore no hierarchy of moral duty and loyalty, rather all must submit their full and undivided attention to the central authority solely, and sultans’ mistake, they would probably say, is that they allowed the reaya to keep their faith and language).

          While I strongly disagree with neo-absolutists, and find their nihilism horrendous, their immoralism disgusting, I must admit that I still don’t know whether uprisings were wise. How to interpret Romans 13? It seems that Moors and the Ottomans (and Jacobins, and Bolsheviks) indeed were the governing authorities. Could it be that greater evil ensues if one resists them rather than submit? After all, Hellenes persecuted Christians as the apostle was writing, but he still advised submission? I have no idea.

          1. I would never compare Ottomans to the Jacobins or Bolsheviks. The first had a sacral, Traditional character (as Pagan Rome did). The latter were utterly diabolical inversions of the sacred, These ‘authorities’ were worthy of uprising, because they lacked the Traditional prerequisite for legitimacy.

            I am reminded of Ivan Ilyin’s distinction between demonism and satanism. He said that demonism was a temporary darkening of the soul, the root cause of spiritual incompleteness, petty evil, and capricious persecution. Satanism, however, was of another order entirely and represented a direct application of the diabolical will for the sole purpose of overthrowing order itself. The second could never be forgiven, for all of its crimes targeted not individuals, but God Himself, whom we were duty bound to prosecute the justice of.

          2. Michael Rothblatt November 12, 2016 at 4:44 am

            The apostle doesn’t place caveats, or terms and conditions, he simply states ‘governing authorities’. Indeed, Vendéeans might not have been exterminated had they submitted. Would that not have been the lesser evil, less dead Christians? It would’ve been quite a different story if they had been more Powerful than the Jacobins, but then they would’ve been the ‘governing authorities’ as Ferdinand II was when he banished the Moors.

          3. In many cases, we are dealing here with the context of the time, and Liberal government was surely unthinkable in this time period. So for instance, when it is said ‘Render unto caesar’ there is similarly no qualifier as to what this means. Just the current caesar? Only a Roman caesar? Evidently, the Church has supported dissent against governments it has deemed to be outside the remit of such protections, while not doing so in other cases. This can be either implicit or explicit, and very much depends on the health of the Church at a given time.

            Martyrdom is favorable as opposed to apostasy, and the natural outworking of the French Revolution was mass generational apostasy, so no, the Vendee uprising was not only morally virtuous, but in fact morally dutiful.

          4. Michael Rothblatt November 12, 2016 at 7:48 am

            Could have they not waited peacefully for the Restoration and Louis le Désiré? Would the Restoration not have been stronger with them alive?

          5. There was no way to predict this. To them, it must have seemed like the apocalypse to have the king murdered and the Church persecuted. Hindsight is 20/20

          6. “How to interpret Romans 13?”

            Simple. Through what the author wrote immediately before it: Romans 12.

      2. Michael Rothblatt November 12, 2016 at 10:49 am

        Well, I’m certainly not trying to judge them, in their place I can only hope that I would’ve had the same conviction and courage! Rather I’m trying to understand the words of the apostle and examine them in the light of history. The question that bothers me is thus, does submission always and everywhere lead to the lesser evil?

        1. Submission in some cases is clearly preferable just from a pragmatic standpoint. So, for instance, Christians were told to submit to the Roman authorities wherever such submission did not entail apostasy. The Jews on the other hand actively rebelled against Rome, which led to their prophesied destruction as a rooted people.

  3. It is important that our word “author” and “authority” are related. I do not think anyone will put forth a coherent view of authority until that relationship is acknowledged and worked through. The question is: from whom or in whom does the state come? The question is cannot be answered by simply proclaiming Power. The question does not discount Power either, but recognizes that it does not comprehend the whole of authorship. So the authorities do not have their authority from their power alone. There is more in “l’état, c’est moi” than Power.

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