Evolution vs. Devolution (08)


Part I – Active vs. Passive

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The following is from Ayn Rand’s “The Only Path To Tomorrow” which was originally published in Reader’s Digest, January 1944. It is a brief introduction to the core personality stereotypes that largely determine the relative importance of freedom in a given society. Understanding this basic ‘personality conflict’ will make it easier to comprehend Part II of this post (‘The Supernumerary’) which describes the basic cultural dynamic most responsible for detaching a society from reality (the Titanic metaphor in Evolution vs. Devolution (07) for example).

* * *

“The greatest threat to mankind and civilization is the spread of the totalitarian philosophy. Its best ally is not the devotion of its followers but the confusion of its enemies. To fight it, we must understand it.

Totalitarianism is collectivism. Collectivism means the subjugation of the individual to a group — whether to a race, class or state does not matter. Collectivism holds that man must be chained to collective action and collective thought for the sake of what is called “the common good.´´

Throughout history, no tyrant ever rose to power except on the claim of representing ‘the common good.’ Napoleon ‘served the common good’ of France. Hitler is ‘serving the common good’ of Germany. Horrors which no man would dare consider for his own selfish sake are perpetrated with a clear conscience by ‘altruists’ who justify themselves by-the common good.

No tyrant has ever lasted long by force of arms alone. Men have been enslaved primarily by spiritual weapons. And the greatest of these is the collectivist doctrine that the supremacy of the state over the individual constitutes the common good. No dictator could rise if men held as a sacred faith the conviction that they have inalienable rights of which they cannot be deprived for any cause whatsoever, by any man whatsoever, neither by evildoer nor supposed benefactor.

This is the basic tenet of individualism, as opposed to collectivism. Individualism holds that man is an independent entity with an inalienable right to the pursuit of his own happiness in a society where men deal with one another as equals.

The American system is founded on individualism. If it is to survive, we must understand the principles of individualism and hold them as our standard in any public question, in every issue we face. We must have a positive credo, a clear consistent faith.

We must learn to reject as total evil the conception that the common good is served by the abolition of individual rights. General happiness cannot be created out of general suffering and self-immolation. The only happy society is one of happy individuals. One cannot have a healthy forest made up of rotten trees.

The power of society must always be limited by the basic, inalienable rights of the individual.

The right of liberty means man’s right to individual action, individual choice, individual initiative and individual property. Without the right to private property no independent action is possible.

The right to the pursuit of happiness means man’s right to live for himself, to choose what constitutes his own, private, personal happiness and to work for its achievement. Each individual is the sole and final judge in this choice. A man’s happiness cannot be prescribed to him by another man or by any number of other men.

These rights are the unconditional, personal, private, individual possession of every man, granted to him by the fact of his birth and requiring no other sanction. Such was the conception of the founders of our country, who placed individual rights above any and all collective claims. Society can only be a traffic policeman in the intercourse of men with one another.

From the beginning of history, two antagonists have stood face to face, two opposite types of men: the Active and the Passive. The Active Man is the producer, the creator, the originator, the individualist. His basic need is independence — in order to think and work. He neither needs nor seeks power over other men — nor can he be made to work under any form of compulsion. Every type of good work — from laying bricks to writing a symphony — is done by the Active Man. Degrees of human ability vary, but the basic principle remains the same: the degree of a man’s independence and initiative determines his talent as a worker and his worth as a man.

The Passive Man is found on every level of society, in mansions and in slums, and his identification mark is his dread of independence. He is a parasite who expects to be taken care of by others, who wishes to be given directives, to obey, to submit, to be regulated, to be told. He welcomes collectivism, which eliminates any chance that he might have to think or act on his own initiative.

When a society is based on the needs of the Passive Man it destroys the Active; but when the Active is destroyed, the Passive can no longer be cared for. When a society is based on the needs of the Active Man, he carries the Passive ones along on his energy and raises them as he rises, as the whole society rises. This has been the pattern of all human progress.

Some humanitarians demand a collective state because of their pity for the incompetent or Passive Man. For his sake they wish to harness the Active. But the Active Man cannot function in harness. And once he is destroyed, the destruction of the Passive Man follows automatically. So if pity is the humanitarians’ first consideration, then in the name of pity, if nothing else, they should leave the Active Man free to function, in order to help the Passive. There is no other way to help him in the long run.

The history of mankind is the history of the struggle between the Active Man and the Passive, between the individual and the collective. The countries which have produced the happiest men, the highest standards of living and the greatest cultural advances have been the countries where the power of the collective — of the government, of the state — was limited and the individual was given freedom of independent action. As examples: The rise of Rome, with its conception of law based on a citizen’s rights, over the collectivist barbarism of its time. The rise of England, with a system of government based on the Magna Carta, over collectivist, totalitarian Spain. The rise of the United States to a degree of achievement unequaled in history — by grace of the individual freedom and independence which our Constitution gave each citizen against the collective.

While men are still pondering upon the causes of the rise and fall of civilizations, every page of history cries to us that there is but one source of progress: Individual Man in independent action. Collectivism is the ancient principle of savagery. A savage’s whole existence is ruled by the leaders of his tribe. Civilization is the process of setting man free from men.

We are now facing a choice: to go forward or to go back.

Collectivism is not the ‘New Order of Tomorrow.’ It is the order of a very dark yesterday. But there is a New Order of Tomorrow. It belongs to Individual Man — the only creator of any tomorrows humanity has ever been granted.”

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Part II – The Supernumerary will be coming soon…


5 comments on “Evolution vs. Devolution (08)

  1. I have found that Rand’s conception of the Active & Passive Man paradigm undergoes natural ebb and flow of adulation and vilification.

    As a society, during times of broad prosperity, when inequality does not warrant much attention, the virtues of the Active Man becomes readily apparent to most. When the tide runs out and tough times descend, we seek refuge in the Passive Man concept, and Active Man is shunned/castigated/despised.

    As someone who leans, rather firmly, towards the Active Man in the Active Man-Passive Man paradigm (I suspect, so do you), I also cannot help but note that the former shall largely be destined to ‘playing a lone hand’ through life. Not only in the area of creating something tangible, but also in more abstract areas (thoughts, ideas, belief systems). This area is where the former group shall find itself frequently at odds with the latter group.

    Rand’s idea about individual pursuit of happiness is where I have found myself mildly in disagreement. Years earlier, when I gazed at the world through rose tinted lenses of optimism and ignorance, I held the view that happiness wasn’t a zero-sum game; that more collective happiness could be created and spread than destroyed. Time, however, taught Her lessons. I do think now, that the Active Man’s pursuit of happiness (individually defined) has the potential to unleash much unhappiness in large sections of society that do not concur with the means, or the end.

    But on Rand’s part about destroying the Active Man to tend to the Passive; I am 100% in agreement.


  2. Thoughtful and thought provoking, as always! I like the concepts of active and passive used in this context. It certainly makes me think of the herd mentality differently…it is definitely a passive approach to living, and you can see the traits of an active personality in the pursuit of individual freedom. The challenge is to pursue liberty while having a base line cooperation for some level of common good…but not to become sheep…lambs headed for slaughter by blindly following persuasive leaders or arguments. ~ Sheila


    • You probably need to change the setting on your ‘Reader/Edit’ page. Use the following link (provided you’re already logged in to your WP site); http://wordpress.com/#!/read/edit/

      Typically, when you click the ‘Follow’ button on your menu bar to follow a blog, it will automatically set your notification choice to “Never” (for reasons unknown). So…when you go to the Reader/Edit page, find the ‘CiderPress’ blog (if you follow it it should be listed there) and change the notification option from Never to one of the alternatives (Instantly, Daily, Weekly). You should then get an email notification when any new posts have been made within the selected time frame.

      If that’s not the problem, let me know and I’ll dig a little deeper. ;-)


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