Individualism v. Community
By State Representative Matt Wingard
Who should reign supreme in our society, the community or the individual? This is the crucial question behind most public policy debates today.
First, it should be said, that we are all individuals and members of a community at the same time. Whether we consider ourselves “Americans,” or “Oregonians,” or “citizens of the world,” or members of a political party or of a certain church or organization, we are all members of communities and most of us are members of more than one community. The key question is, “Do we get to choose which communities we want to belong to, or can a community force us to join them?”
This is where the role of government is crucial. Outside of government we are free individuals who only join communities voluntarily, but the government can use force to compel us to be a part of communities against our will. This is Democracy.
When the community holds a vote to raise taxes, for instance, the requirement to pay is mandatory if the majority supports the tax increase-even if you did not support it.
In this way, through majority rule, individuals are forced to support things they would not voluntarily support of their own free will. Some individuals would not voluntarily give financial support to the U.S. Armed Forces, others would not support people on welfare, and so on.
The list of things that government funds is long, and for each item, there is at least one individual who is forced to pay for it against their will.
Our country was founded on the principle that individuals have rights that the community cannot take away from them. Most of us understand these rights as those related to thought, expression, self-defense and property.
But isn’t our income our property? Are we entitled to decide for ourselves how to spend the money we earn, or can the majority force us to pay for things we do not support? In other words, can we be compelled to support communities we don’t wish to belong to? Where does the will of the individual end and give way to the will of the community?
As the country has aged, the balance has been shifting in one direction-the preference for community over individualism has grown with each passing decade.
This is a troubling trend for those who believe that individual freedom is the core of American exceptionalism and the engine of our progress.
Communities are stronger when free individuals join them voluntarily, rather than when we are drafted into service against our will.
The more our society looks and feels like indentured servitude, the more it begins to resemble every other society that has existed throughout mankind’s history. And the American Dream fades.