If you're like me, you've wondered if the differences in opinions across hundreds of social and political issues can be boiled down into one, singular, overriding difference from which all other issues, parties, and philosophies spring--something you can summarize in one sentence that divides the ideological battle lines clearly and finally.
I think I've realized what it is, and I will share it here with apologies to those multitudes that discovered it and articulated it long before I could.
I put forth that all political ideologies--whether you are Republican, Democrat, conservative, liberal, Libertarian, communist, or anarchist--depend on how this one solitary question is answered. The question is primary to all political belief--everything else is secondary issues that emanate from this source.
I'd wager that most have never asked themselves this question and are only aware of it on a subconscious level. Whether you know it or not, where you fall on all issues, such as Rowe vs. Wade, cap-and-trade, tax cuts, and everything else are determined by your answer to this query:
Is the individual obligated to sacrifice his self interest for the good of the community?
That's it. Depending on how you answer that, you go down either one of two roads. How you feel about secondary issues along the way is dependent on the fork you took at the beginning of your trip, which is marked by that question.
If you say that individuals should sacrifice their interests for the greater good of the community, you are a collectivist. You will view the government (the form "the community" takes) as the cure for social ills. Along that road, you will sympathize with progressives, "pure" democracy, socialism, nationalism, and Western-European-style governments. Greed and selfishness are bad. You place a high emphasis on equality, but in your eyes people are easily classified into economic, racial, and gender classes that are perpetually in conflict leading to negative societal consequences--that need an artificial remedy.
If you say the opposite, you are an individualist. Along that road, your sympathies will be held by conservatives, capitalism, republicanism, meritocracy, classical liberalism, self-reliance, and our Founding Fathers. You view self-interest and the profit-motive as the beating heart of all production. You place a high emphasis on competition because you know it leads to better products and ideas. Societal ills will never be completely eradicated, but you know that an individual's ability to choose from a marketplace where ideas compete with each other is the best way to maximize production and happiness.
According to the Encyclopedia Brittanica, collectivism is:
any of several types of social organization in which the individual is seen as being subordinate to a social collectivity such as a state, a nation, a race, or a social class. Collectivism may be contrasted with individualism, in which the rights and interests of the individual are emphasized.
What does collectivism look like?
Collectivism has found varying degrees of expression in the 20th century in such movements as socialism, communism, and fascism. The least collectivist of these is social democracy, which seeks to reduce the inequities of unrestrained capitalism by government regulation, redistribution of income, and varying degrees of planning and public ownership. In communist systems collectivist economics are carried to their furthest extreme, with a minimum of private ownership and a maximum of planned economy.
Ownership of the means of production should be converted to collective property, as Marx states. The degree to which you prefer it is done determines if you are a progressive, socialist, a fascist, a communist, or something in between, for they are all siblings.
The community is capable of determining what is best for the individual, according to collectivist philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Of course, those unenlightened citizens that don't understand this will have to be coerced into doing so "for the greater good." Rather than leaving individuals free to pursue their own interests, the state relies on force to ensure that the individual serves the community as a whole--all state power is exercised with the threat of a gun.
To illustrate the point, what would happen if you decided you didn't want to support a collectivist agenda and refused to pay your income taxes? Heavy fines and penalties would be assessed. And if you still refused to pay? Your wages might be garnished. If you refused to work? At some point, you would end up with a jail sentence--and if you refused to go, armed men would show up at your house and force you to at the point of a gun.
If you leave choices up to the individual rather than try to force him to act a certain way through the power of the state, you are an individualist. Individualists seek to exercise one's goals and desires and generally oppose external interference. The individualist voluntarily grants the government some of his basic rights in order that the government can protect his life, liberty, and property. In other words, his freedom to swing his fist ends at another person's nose.
According to Wikipedia:
Thus, individualists oppose democratic systems without constitutional protections existing that do not allow individual liberty to be diminished by the interests of the majority.
Ever stop to realize why individualists, whether they be Republicans, conservatives, or libertarians, place a high emphasis on the Constitution and Bill of Rights? It guarantees their right to be individuals and protects them from the tyranny of the majority/community/government.
Prominent individualist philosophers include John Locke (who probably had more philosophic influences on the Founders that anyone else), Thomas Jefferson, Adam Smith (the father of capitalism), Ayn Rand, Freidrich von Hayek, Milton Friedman, and Ludwig von Mises.
Where do the two roads lead?
In Freidrich von Hayek's The Road to Serfdom--one of the most influential works in the 20th century--he argued (according to Wikipedia):
... that democratic legislatures move too slowly to manage a modern industrial economy. Management of socialism would therefore lead to bureaucrats gaining discretionary powers. Disagreement about the practical implementation of any economic plan would invariably necessitate coercion in order for anything to be achieved. Hayek further argued that the failure of central planning would be perceived by the public as an absence of sufficient power by the state to implement an otherwise good idea. Such a perception would lead the public to vote more power to the state, and would assist the rise to power of a "strong man" perceived to be capable of "getting the job done". After these developments Hayek argued that the worst get on top of socialist bureaucracies. Those who are good at acquiring and exercising discretionary powers in government are usually the most ruthless and corrupt individuals.
Does any of that sound familiar?
Now read President Obama's views on the subject:
In America we have this strong bias toward individual action. You know, we idolize the John Wayne hero who comes in to correct things with both guns blazing. But individual actions, individual dreams, are not sufficient. We must unite in collective action, build collective institutions and organizations.
Hayek told us where that road leads.
There is nothing as important to our future as the decision of which of these two roads we will go down. Therefore, I propose that we label people based on what path they've decided on. At the very least, it would allow us to determine which Republicans are not on our side. Calling them a "liberal Republican" is nebulous and means different things to different people.
Let's take a second look at who we elect and re-label them as collectivists or individualists. Only when the battle lines are clearly drawn will we know who is on our side and who stands with the enemy.