The Clare Spark Blog

June 11, 2014

Individuality: the impossible dream?

social relationsThe problem: how to separate communists from social democrats; is “the Left” the same “left” opposed by bourgeois apologists in prior periods? The “McCarthyism” accusation that reproaches anticommunists is derived from the liberals defending the bureaucratic collectivism of the New Deal: “liberals” attacked those “fascists” from the Republican Party who opposed FDR’s remedies for the Depression. Similarly, FDR called his opponents “economic royalists.” This vituperative playbook still exists, with many conservatives conflating communists and Democratic Party stalwarts, as “the Left.”

The key to understanding the difficulty of separating communists from liberals is here: “Liberals” (not to be confused with classical liberals) selectively co-opted and defanged communist social thought in order to preserve their own elite rule, above all focusing on the working class as the likely red specter. The notion of “proletarian internationalism” was replaced with “ethnicity” or “race” as the mode of sorting people out. Both communism and liberalism partake of collectivist terms. The ‘individual’ is pathological and an outcast. Some organic conservatives agree, imagining mystical bonds (the “rootedness” of local attachments) as the route to “social cohesion” and “political stability.” Organic conservatives need not be on “the Right.” Democratic president Woodrow Wilson was surely one these localist agrarians who spurned the materialism of science. (For some Wilson anti-science quotes see

Here is the key move for “socially responsible capitalists”: the “individual” only exists in repressive ideologies like supposedly unregulated “laissez-faire capitalism” and Darwinist competition. It must be defeated in favor of “the individual-in-society” who is situated in a [statist] “cooperative commonwealth.” Stubborn laissez-faire types are “narcissistic”, given to “huckstering” (Mad Men!) and must be defeated in order to emancipate the truly progressive society from “the Jews” or their surrogates.

Under the leadership and rules of “liberals” mental health professionals emphasize not autonomy and individuality, but “relationships” to groups, including sex partners, families, and workplaces. In all cases these mental health professionals, like the neutral state they unknowingly defend, preach “adjustment” and “integration” of interior, often irreconcilable conflicts, such as mothering infants versus interests outside the home and family. I personally have been subjected to this well-meaning, but futile, advice.


Finding out “who you really are” is all about limiting, not extending choices in the face of personal evolution. It is part and parcel of today’s “identity politics” —more collectivist groupiness, for only “groups” can “make a difference.” Marxists have demolished the notion of the individual, deeming such a one “atomized” or “anomic”—a version of the murderous Cain, builder of cities; similarly artists are stigmatized as Pierrots, also tied to Cain and to the Romantic Wandering Jew. After the revolution, one orthodox Marxist told me, “everyone will be a Mozart.”


Although many persons would like better control over their work processes and over aggression (as did Freud), for Marx the only route to such individual empowerment is through working class consciousness followed by working class revolution: in his view, a progressive, enlightened move that would make the politically emancipated individual able to experience “species being” (a term that he never defines comprehensibly to me, but it has some relationship to nature: enter the Red Greens). [Need I add that the Progressive movement had a drastically different definition of “progress”?]

Nor do these [social workers] expand the imagination, as do our better artists. Instead, following Marx’s necessarily limited vocabulary (he never was able to suggest just how the state would “wither away” ), he brings up earlier forms of human organization (primitivism)—see (the quoted passage from “The German Ideology”), and my index to blogs on primitivism: Note that in the “individuality” image, a couple drawn in the cubist/primitive style of Picasso, defines the “individual” who can “make a difference.”

Finally, reading early Marx (the mid-1840s), I have the impression that his entire conception of worker alienation might be derived from his antagonism to all religion, in which he alleges that the worshipper gives away his body and mind to God (I don’t see how this applies to Judaism, which emphasizes a degree of free will and personal responsibility for the wrongs we inflict on others, not blind obedience). This is only a hunch, but it would explain why there has been no working class revolution of the kind Marx anticipated. At best we get a sputter of [doomed] protest as in Terry Gilliam’s Brazil or Peter Weir’s Dead Poets Society. Most workers probably want the benefits of what Marxists derisively call consumerism, and the pursuit of creature comforts (including the comfort and consolations of religion) does not entail an assault on their individuality, but instead enhances it. But then I am a bourgeois, so should not be trusted to interpret, even tentatively, the major exponent of communism.


  1. The relationship missing from Marxist analysis (and its progressive derivatives) is the trader. The lumberjack needs potatoes and the farmer needs lumber. The lumberjack trades with the farmer and exchanges lumber for potatoes. The farmer gets lumber for the barn, and the lumberjack feeds his family. The surplus generated by each individual’s labor mutually benefits others through trade. Surplus that is taken by force and distributed to the public does not benefit either the producer, because he does not receive adequate compensation for his labor, nor the public because, as individuals, they may not need the surplus that has been taken. A hunter may not need potatoes, and a painter may not need lumber.

    In essence, all relationships that are not based on coercion or deceit are essentially trading relationships, exchanging one value for another: sex, play, cooperation, competition, marriage, hiring, selling, buying, etc. We engage in relationships because, as individuals, we expect to get something of value in return for our voluntary participation.

    Ayn Rand once observed that there is no such thing as a collective brain or a collective thought. Each person has his own body, his own needs, and his own motivations. His thoughts are private and cannot be transferred to another.

    Yet, today, we are awash in memes, little public service ads in all our social relationships, reminding us of the importance of service to the community, of regulating our behavior, consuming less and donating more, of “letting our voices be heard” in collective feel good petitions to our Congressmen or a well-respected blog, and “discovering ourselves” by joining in some amorphous identity group. “I am LGBTQ! Hear me roar!”

    The followers of Kant, Hume, and Marx have not destroyed the individual, but like all other subjectivists and totalitarian mind managers, they have attempted to change the language in the belief that the connotative meaning of words are more powerful than their denotative meanings. And if a word can mean anything you intend for it to mean, why then a fundamental perceptual concept, like “individual,” can mean the exact opposite of what the word actually denotes.

    But they can’t change the concept of “individual” that forms in a man’s mind, or how that concept forms. “I” is a very powerful word.

    Comment by stereorealist — April 20, 2015 @ 11:15 pm | Reply

  2. […] competing notions of individuality see, retitled “Individuality: the impossible dream?” The turn toward […]

    Pingback by Woodrow Wilson’s internationalism vs. Obama’s | YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — April 20, 2015 @ 5:39 pm | Reply

  3. […], retitled “Individuality: the impossible dream?” and […]

    Pingback by Steven Pinker’s “reciprocal altruism” | YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — February 8, 2015 @ 9:20 pm | Reply

  4. Perhaps the question need to be approached by looking at the origins of individuality and the determining essence or aspect of ourselves that defines us as subjects and not as objects.

    I like Jungian psychology on this and Zen has some good stuff as well.

    Comment by Roy Cam (@Roy_Cam) — June 12, 2014 @ 10:58 pm | Reply

    • Jung has had many followers, not one of whom I trust. Nothing I have written posits human beings as objects. Subjectivists tend to ignore authoritarian pressures that exonerate the state and other rulers.

      Comment by clarelspark — June 12, 2014 @ 11:34 pm | Reply

  5. My best 500 word essay in decades…and it gets ‘deleted.’ Good thing that Dr. Spark covered it all! A gifted and distinguished charter member of the great generalists, analysts, observers of our age. Really! Dr. Gary Katz

    Comment by gk68 — June 12, 2014 @ 1:52 am | Reply

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