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Society as an End and Society as a Means
"Civilization is the progress toward a society of privacy. The savage's whole existence is public, ruled by the laws of his tribe. Civilization is the process of setting man free from men." (from "The Fountainhead", by Ayn Rand)
For thousands upon thousands of years mankind degraded itself - by habit, by inertia, because it was the obvious - to live according to a social system that came from prehistory itself, a way of coexistence which the hominids had inherited from their irrational ancestors and that they handed down to their descendants on which the faculty of reason was increasingly prevailing until it became, through continued evolution, the distinguishing characteristic of the species.
By the time this distinguishing quality predominated, the existing type of prehistoric coexistence had hardened around society, obliging its members to obey and behave within a rigid straitjacket of social stratums, groups and interests. The ruling elites were able to consolidate their own lineage and privileges by means of the power positions they held and any other way of compulsion they were able to impose through threats, laws and open violence. This allowed them to keep for themselves any new knowledge obtained, which they then used to subject the general population even more to their immoral system. The Egyptian priestly-princely caste and the full length of the Middle Ages are just a few of a long string of patterns that the reader can find in any book of history.
Even today does this kind of structure reign in most countries, with an all-powerful leadership and a general population obliged to obey. This is a social structure proper to termites, its most evident examples being those societies ruled in the past and the present by Stalitlers, the despots and tyrants of every kind and color.
Hence, through thousands upon thousands of years the general population came to accept, again by fear, by habit, by inertia, because it was so obvious, the rule of those in power, for the possibility that another way of life would be possible was unknown to them, with the most desperate escaping or emigrating to those areas of the planet where the situation looked as being a little less cruel. In general, however, the subjects accepted the fact that this was the structure that had to prevail, a structure where those in power ruled and the servile obeyed, thus constantly reinforcing the existing vicious circle. Even today we can hear voices demanding that "this or that cannot be left uncontrolled. Someone must rule…" or "There should be a law…"
The common citizen seems to be so closely identified with the prevailing type of society that he becomes said society himself, that is society as an end, where the individual's only right to existence is to live and contribute for this kind of society, i.e. for its rulers, to sustain them while the rulers themselves throw a few crumbs to those ruled.
Every society as an end in itself is a society of beneficiaries and sacrificers. As Ayn Rand stated in her colossal work "Atlas Shrugged": "The creed of sacrifice is a morality for the immoral - a morality that declares its own bankruptcy by confessing that it can't impart to men any personal stake in virtues or values, and that their souls are sewers of depravity, which they must be taught to sacrifice. By its own confession, it is impotent to teach men to be good and can only subject them to constant punishment… Under a morality of sacrifice, the first value you sacrifice is morality; the next is self-esteem. When need is the standards, every man is both victim and parasite. As a victim, he must labor to fill the needs of others, leaving himself in the position of a parasite whose needs must be filled by others. He cannot approach his fellow men except in one of two disgraceful roles: he is both a beggar and a sucker."
Thus, we see that as soon as we start to think about a fact that obviously looks like being noble and elevated, as the "society as an end" seems to be at first sight, we discover that it isn't so, that it is made up of errors, contradictions and evilness, that it is directly opposed to man and his inalienable right to be a full individual, that in such a society rights are not existing and duties are all encompassing and that existence itself is only allowed if the subject submits to the credo that he has to live for others and not for himself.
In spite of this, throughout history some men noticed, at first almost subconsciously, that this composed a monstrously blurred view of reality. As our mental activity increased to ever-higher degrees, the established condition was faced with questions and rational analysis.
We did not come by chance to call the period following the Middle Ages as "Renaissance". Not even the established powers of church and politics were strong enough to erase the denomination. Between the 12th and the 15th century, the first shoots of the coming spring started to appear. An economic revolution took place, immediately escorted by a scientific revolution. Men like Albertus Magnus, Thomas Aquinas (in spite of all the errors their teachings contained) and Roger Bacon set the starting pace, slowly reestablishing the scientific approach, i.e. the application of reasoning to the beauties of Nature, the reasoning that had been given up since the times of the Greeks. Marco Polo widened the horizon towards new regions, the caravels crossed the sea to a new continent, medicine recovered its lost good name and we started to give up the view of a flat earth in favor of a perspective look through, allow what looks like a platitude, the first application of perspective to art.
All these facts and more of the same brought up a change of mentality that lead to a new concept of social coexistence, a concept that came to life at the end of the 18th century, a notion that, in spite of all the opposition it produced, continues to develop, its shock waves exploding, in the coming final face up, the traditional type of society, the society as an end in itself.
When Adams, Jefferson, Franklin and the other revolutionaries set up what can be termed as the American Revolution of the Rights of the Individual, they threw over board not merely bags of tea but the whole "society as an end" to replace it by something apparently less noble, less dignified, less elevated: the society as a means, whose nobility rests on providing the ground for the rights of the individual living in it, respecting the dignity of every free and productive human being, raising him from subject to citizen, sole owner of his life and the fruits of his labor.
The ideas of individual liberty burst the tribal-collectivist frame to replace it by a system of equal rights, which means that neither birth nor lineage determine a man's right but simply the overwhelming reason that each human being has basic rights as such, i.e. as a rational human being. Through it, subjection is wiped aside and the assertion that "a man's life can only be justified if he lives for the benefit of society" is declared invalid.
This amounts to a revolution from the root up. Society itself looses its sense as an insatiable monster and becomes a means, a tool, a market that each one can use to fulfill his own goals by applying his own effort, as long as his venture has no criminal purpose, that is, as long as he doesn't hurt his fellowman's rights.
Society as a means, thus, shines as the truly noble, the truly splendid, the truly magnificent in every area, be it intellectual or material.
While at the society as an end everything is structured to justify its existence as such, society as a means is its exact opposite. It evolves with mankind itself, as it is the best and most practical means for every peaceful and productive individual to reach his own goal and happiness. Ayn Rand stated: "The two great values to be gained from social existence are: knowledge and trade. Man is the only species that can transmit and expand his store of knowledge from generation to generation; the knowledge potentially available to man is greater than any one man could begin to acquire in his own lifespan; every man gains an incalculable benefit from the knowledge discovered by others. The second great benefit is the division of labor: it enables a man to devote his effort to a particular field of work and to trade with others who specialize in other fields. This form of cooperation allows all men who take part in it to achieve a greater knowledge, skill and productive return on their effort than they could achieve if each had to produce everything he needs, on a desert island or on a self-sustaining farm." (from "The Virtue of Selfishness")
While "society as an end" carries a long line of different names (dictatorship, tyranny, despotism, collectivism, monarchy, feudalism, socialism, fascism, Nazism, communism, oligarchy, democracy, etc., each with its own peculiar level of slavery), "society as a means" carries only one, but absolutely noble name: total "Laissez Faire Capitalism", a system based on the recognition of the individual's rights where every right, including the property rights, are held by each individual, lacking every government interference and where government itself has been replaced, to fulfill its specific duties, by an Administration of the Means of Defense of the Rights of the Individual (Courts of Justice and internal and external security). This definition in itself places its full implementation into the future, since it hasn't existed as such anywhere up to now. However, it must not be placed in a far away future for history itself evolved it for the near future, unless mankind itself wants to run the risk of its own disappearance due to the strangling applied by the dying society, the society as an end that has since long lost every sense of existence.
In this relation it is worthwhile to point out that Leslie Snyder, in her excellent book "Justice or Revolution", reminds the reader that Marx did not think a violent revolution would be necessary in the United States to bring about communism. He figured that since it is a democracy, the citizens would eventually vote themselves into socialism first and then communism. The recent elections showed Marx to be right so far.
Alexis de Tocqueville said: " No private rights are so unimportant that they can be surrendered with impunity to the caprices of a government", and the immortal Thomas Jefferson reminded the population on July 6, 1763 that "the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure." May the world remember his words.
The foregoing analysis may disturb those persons educated along the lines of the old "society as an end", but clearly presents the question of whether society is more important than the individual. Evidently, society itself is the less important one, for to keep it what must be protected first of all is the individual, since the individual is the entity and column of society itself. History has for numerous times shown, through the destruction of countless Stalitlers, that those who believe that a group has the right to destroy its peaceful and productive individuals end up by being destroyed themselves. It is the existence of peaceful and productive individuals that allows a society to function in accordance with its true purpose: as the means for the individual to reach his own goal and construct his own happiness. Destroying these individuals destroys mankind itself.
Hence, society as a means reveals itself as the truly right one. It exists and develops as long as the individual himself improves and it decays when people are subject to slavery. This brings to mind the words written by the English thinker Samuel Smiles (1812 - 1904): "Social progress is the consequence of the individual's progress." Thus, where the individual cannot progress, society itself cannot develop. Ayn Rand's words at the beginning of this article underline the principle here presented. There could be no better summary.
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