Investor's Business Daily - 2/11/02

Responsibility: The cult of the collective continues to gnaw away the concept of the individual, and with it withers the promise of our future.

The threat isn't obvious. The most influential proponents of the collective movement tend not to be subversives, but respected people and institutions. Theirs is a subtle, yet deeply harmful, message.

When Sen. Ted Kennedy, for instance, read a statement last week into the
Congressional Record honoring New England's Super Bowl victory, he ripped a
brick from the individualist foundation on which our nation was built.

"At a time when our entire country is banding together and facing down individulism, the Patriots set a wonderful example, showing us all what is possible when we work together, believe in each other and sacrifice for the greater good," said Kennedy.

Facing down individualism? Thomas Paine should have been faced down? Abraham
Lincoln? Thomas Edison? Edward Kennedy? His ill-considered words belie the
strength and courage of all Americans. Would he embrace the collective if he had to be one of its humble  members, rather than order it from the comfort of his Senate office?

Now maybe the Massachusetts senator's respectability in our society can be genuinely debated. Few, though, would argue with the reverence accorded to the Smithsonian Institution. Surely nothing so American as the Smithsonian would join in Kennedy's battle to "face down individualism."

Yet a $38 million pledge to the museum from businesswoman and philanthropist Catherine Reynolds has been lost, due to a dispute over the worth of the individual. Reynolds wanted the money used for an exhibit featuring a Hall of Achievers that celebrated the impact of individuals on history.

The museum staff, though, wasn't comfortable with that sort of deference to the individual.

"Apparently the basic philosophy for the exhibit - the power of the individual to make a difference - is the antithesis of that espoused by many within the Smithsonian bureaucracy," wrote Reynolds, who withdrew the pledge.

With the demise of the concept of the individual comes the erosion of individual responsibility.. The recent resignation of a Kansas teacher clearly illustrates the dangers of such erosion.

Christine Pelton's decision to flunk 28 students who plagiarized from the Internet for a semester biology project was overturned by the local school board. By asking the teacher to give the plagiarists partial credit, the school board in essence rewarded cheating and crippled her authority in the classroom. What's even more troubling is that the school board made this decision only after several of the affected students' parents complained.

That sort of winking at responsibility has become widespread across the country, and it's a threat to the health of our society.

Individual responsibility still lives, though. For every Enron and Global Crossing executive who thought someone else should save the dying company, there are millions tirelessly doing their jobs.

With his faith-based initiative for providing social services, President Bush is trying to wean a dependent populace off the collective. There is a solid core of Americans in all institutions who still know what America is about; these folks are willing to fight for principle.

So, too, still lives - and grows - the cult of the collective. Despite its subtle nature, its threat is real - and must be opposed.

In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, any copyrighted work in this message is distributed under fair use without profit or payment for non-profit research and educational purposes only. [Ref. http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml]

Back to Current Edition Citizen Review Archive LINKS Search This Site