[Reprinted from Chapter 1 of the book, One Is A
published in 1952 by Devin-Adair Company, New York]
I WAS talking to a group of deplorers. There is no dearth of them
these days, what with the national passion for pushing power on the
government. This group, however, was most concerned with the spread of
collectivistic bilge in our schools and, colleges. Of a certainty,
what we are getting in the way of legislation and propaganda is the
result of what has been learned and is being taught. It follows that
any change in the direction of both legislation and public thought
must begin with education. Something had to be done about it.
One man suggested the establishment of a College of Individualism, as
a sort of intellectual powerhouse to feed ideas to other
disseminators. Innocently, I asked the question: what is
individualism? I was aiming at a curriculum.
There was a good deal of floundering, as I had anticipated. In
politics -- we were sure of that -- individualism is a negative point
of view: cut government to the bone. But, what is the allowable
minimum? The downright anarchist was for abolishing all government, on
the premise that people would improve morally by its absence; the
majority allowed that a traffic cop is a social need.
In economics, all of us accepted the general line of thought laid
down by Adam Smith, though one man declared Smith's ideas on free
trade impractical under present world conditions, and that brought on
a heated argument. A theologian in the group insisted that
individualism is primarily a spiritual concept, and if that were set
straight the rest of the curriculum would take care of itself.
The curriculum, one bold voice suggested, is of minor importance; the
faculty is the thing. Whatever subject an individualist handles, he
maintained, he cannot help but bring his values to bear upon it; just
as a collectivist, teaching biology, cannot refrain from comparing the
innards of a frog with the organization of the State. The thing to do,
then, is to pack the faculty with dyed-in4he-wool individualists and
let each formulate his own course. The students would get a full dose
of individualism whatever they studied.
This idea posed a new question: what is an individualist? Is he born
or made? Socialism laughs at the theory of innate characteristics and
insists that we come into this world without temperamental shape; men
can be turned by environment, including education, this way or that.
Yet, the constant recurrence of the rebel is an historical refutation
of this Socialistic thesis, and every mother of more than one child
will bear witness against it. Some of us conform easily, others find
it necessary to question every existing convention. Perhaps psychology
could furnish us with an explanation of the individualist; or, of the
If individualism is not an acquired characteristic, but is grounded
in one's personality, what can education do about it? Nothing more
than to give articulation to what the student already feels. For
instance, if he instinctively finds regulation repugnant, he will be
helped no end by an understanding of the doctrine of natural rights;
conversely, if he is a regimenter at heart, he will rationalize that
doctrine into a myth. The purpose of teaching individualism, then, is
not to make individualists but to find them. Rather, to help them find
themselves. If a student takes readily to such values as the primacy
of the individual, the free market place, or the immorality of
taxation, he is an individualist; if he swallows hard, he must be
counted a recruit for the other side.
At this point, someone brought up a current phenomenon: the
increasing number of deserters from the Communist camp. If these
recanters came to Communism by natural selection, how could they throw
it off? Or, did they? Is an intellectual conversion capable of purging
an innate inclination?
The books written by these "exes" give a clue to the
answer. One does not get from their confessions of sin, or exposes of
Soviet skulduggery, the idea that the authors are done with
collectivism. Their sneering references to capitalism indicate that
they are of the same opinion still. Communism, they will admit, is
Socialism gone hog-wild, but they do not seem capable of recognizing
this as an inevitable consequence.. Their hatred of Communism does not
make them individualists.
This is not to question the sincerity of those who have hit the
sawdust trail. Far from it. The individualist, who accepts as basic
the right of every man to make a fool of himself -- provided he does
not infringe the equal rights of others -- is quick to accept the
repentance at face value But, repentance is not conversion; there is
reason to believe that conversion is impossible.
The "right-wing" socialist is another case in point. The
hatred he harbors for Communism is intense, but only because he looks
upon it as treason. He condemns Stalin and his crowd because they
have, forsooth, betrayed the Marxist ideal. In the hands of good and
true Socialists -- right-wingers, of course -- the Russian "experiment"
of 1918 would by now have come up with a shining demonstration of the
Socialist promise. No amount of logic can convince him that the only
possible result of Marxism in practice is Russia, as is.
Coming to the garden variety of collectivist -- the dogooder, who
differs from the socialist only in that he substitutes sentimental
cliche's for "scientific" Socialism -- he too seems
psychologically incapable of letting people alone. He too is
inexorably bent on hammering out the Good Society on the political
anvil. He too has the perfect recipe, an ingredient of which is his
own capacity for improving others. It is endemic.
All the evidence points to the collectivist as a breed, not a
product. Which is also true of the individualist. The main
characteristic of the one is an urge to ride herd on mankind, while
the other is inclined to give mankind a wide berth. The collectivist
idealizes group behavior because he feels an inadequacy in himself; he
must be part of a mob and therefore he organizes and joins. The
individualist abhors labels.
The volume of sound generated by the organized collectivist gives him
undue prominence. He seems to be the majority. Yet, if nature is as
impartial in the distribution of temperaments as she is in the
apportionment of sexes, there should be as many individualists around
as the other kind. Nor can we overlook the possibility that all of us
have a penchant both ways, being part individualist and part
collectivist, in differing degrees; one could adduce evidence in favor
of that thesis.
Only education can give the right answer; for the function of
education is to bring to the surface what nature has implanted in the
person. If the educational machinery of the country had not been
overrun by the collectivists (operating under cover of "academic
freedom"), if individualism were given a fair share of the
curriculum, we could easily find out how many of us prefer freedom,
how many of us are destined to be mob material.
Returning to our group of deplorers, we got around to the need of
stirring up an interest in the individualistic philosophy on the
college campus. To be sure, we knew that the younger children were
being subjected to the cacophony of collectivism, and a thorough job
of saving must include the lower grades, even the kindergarten. But,
immediacy suggested throwing a lifeline to adolescent individualists,
those who will have a hand in shaping the world directly ahead.
As a modus operandi, we thought of encouraging the formation
of what we called Adam Smith Clubs This would have to be an
extracurricular activity, for two reasons: one, the monopolization of
the classroom by the faculty collectivists is too solid to permit
penetration; two, these clubs would pick up, by a process of
self-selection, the element susceptible of help.
Suppose it were noised about that at the next meeting of the club, a
speaker would hold forth on the iniquity of the income tax, or would
expose the fraud of social security; those who instinctively rejected
the textbook apotheoses of these two institutions would attend, while
the energumens of collective action would stay away, especially if
they had once felt the uncongenial atmosphere. Every Adam Smith Club
would be a campus "educable elite."
On the face of it, an Adam Smith Club would be an evidence of a
dissident voice on the campus and, considering the vogue of
Keynesianism and pragmatism in our colleges, it would be looked upon
with disfavor by the vested collectivists and campus conformists. All
the better. Any explicit or implicit opposition to the Club would
convince the membership that they had got hold of an important truth.
It is a known fact that the learning one acquires outside the lecture
hall sticks closer to the ribs, especially if that learning is
officially declared off limits.
It would be a pity if the Adam Smith Clubs achieved respectability;
that would destroy their purpose. Their purpose should be not only to
find and help the submerged individualist, but also to set him in
opposition to the collectivism being ladled out by the professors. A
compromise is impossible; it is a fight to the finish. The agenda of
the meetings should include the preparation of refutations of textbook
propaganda, to be fired in classroom, with the intent of stirring up
latent individualists If the Adam Smith Clubs are to be really
educational, they must be radical in character.
For, it must be kept in mind that individualism is the modern
radicalism. In the true sense of the word, individualism is always
radical, for it rests its case on root ideas; it delves into the
nature of things for basic causes; it rejects the idea that man is
best served by a series of expedients.
In the political sense, individualism is the current radicalism
because it is the ideology of the minority. The ultimate purpose of
the Adam Smith Clubs should be to loosen the grip of Statism on the
mass mind, to re-arouse in America an awareness of self-importance and
self-reliance, to teach people that no social good can come out of
There are, as a matter of fact, incipient Adam Smith Clubs on some
campuses. The individualist simply cannot be eradicated. In every
period of history when the machinery of the State, including
education, was set against him, he made his spirit felt. It is not
surprising, therefore, to hear of the spontaneous gathering of
anti-collectivists at various colleges. These boys and girls should be
given encouragement and help. And that would be the purpose of a
College of Individualism.