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THE CHASM: TWO ETHICS THAT DIVIDE THE WESTERN WORLD
There are many words commonly used today to describe political attitudes. We are
told that there are conservatives, liberals, libertarians, progressives, right-wingers, left-
wingers, socialists, communists, Trotskyites, Maoists, Fascists, Nazis; and if that isn’t
confusing enough, now we have neo conservatives, neo Nazis, and neo everything else.
When we are asked what our political orientation is, we are expected to choose from one of
these words. If we don’t have a strong political opinion or if we’re afraid of making a bad
choice, then we play it safe and say we are moderates – adding yet one more word to the
Social mores and religious beliefs sometimes divide along the Left-Right political
axis. In the United States, the Democrat Party is home for the Left, while the Republican
Party is home for the Right. Those on the Left are more likely to embrace life styles that
those on the Right would consider improper or even sinful. Those on the Right are more
likely to be church-going members of an organized religion. But these are not definitive
values, because there is a great deal of overlap. Republicans smoke pot. Democrats go to
church. Social or religious values cannot be included in any meaningful definition of these
Not one person in a thousand can clearly define the ideology that any of these words
represent. They are used, primarily, as labels to impart an aura of either goodness or
badness, depending on who uses the words and what emotions they trigger in their minds.
Most political debates sound like they originate at the tower of Babel. Everyone is speaking
a different language. The words may sound familiar, but speakers and listeners each have
their own private definitions.
It has been my experience that, once the definitions are commonly understood, most
of the disagreements come to an end. To the amazement of those who thought they were
bitter ideological opponents, they often find they are actually in basic agreement. So, to deal
with this word, collectivism, our first order of business is to throw out the garbage. If we are
to make sense of the political agendas that dominate our planet today, we must not allow our
thinking to be contaminated by the emotional load of the old vocabulary
It may surprise you to learn that most of the great political debates of our time – at
least in the Western world – can be divided into just two viewpoints. All of the rest is fluff.
Typically, they focus on whether or not a particular action should be taken; but the real
conflict is not about the merits of the action; it is about the principles, the ethical code that
justifies or forbids that action. It is a contest between the ethics of collectivism on the one
hand and individualism on the other. Those are words that have meaning, and they describe
a philosophical chasm that divides the entire Western world.1
The one thing that is common to both collectivists and individualists is that the vast
majority of them are well intentioned. They want the best life possible for their families, for
their countrymen, and for mankind. They want prosperity and justice for their fellow man.
Where they disagree is how to bring those things about.
I have studied collectivist literature for over fifty years; and, after a while, I realized
there were certain recurring themes, what I consider to be the five pillars of collectivism. If
they are turned upside down, they also are the five pillars of individualism. In other words,
there are five major concepts of social and political relationships; and, within each of them,
collectivists and individualists have opposite viewpoints.
1 In the Middle East and parts of Africa and Asia, there is a third ethic called theocracy, a form of government that
combines church and state and compels citizens to accept a particular religious doctrine. That was common throughouearly European Christendom and it appeared even in some of the colonies of the United States. It survives in today’s world in the form of Islam and it has millions of advocates. Any comprehensive view of political ideology must include theocracy, but time does not permit such scope in this presentation. For those interested in the author’s larger view,
including theocracy, there is a summary called Which Path for Mankind? attached to the end of this essay.