January 22, 2012
CORPORATISM AND THE DEATH OF INDIVIDUALISM
John Ralston Saul, The Unconscious Civilization (New York; The Free Press, 1995) ("I would argue that our society functions today largely on the relationship between groups. . . . There are thousands of hierarchically or pyramidally organized interest and specialist groups in our society. Some are actual businesses, some are groupings of businesses, some are professions or narrow categories of intellectuals. Some are public, some private, some well intentioned, some ill intentioned. Doctors, lawyers, sociologists, a myriad of scientific groups. The point is not who or what they are. The point is that society is seen as a sum of all the groups. Nothing more. And that the primary loyalty of the individual is not to the society but to her group." "Serious, important decisions are made not through democratic discussion or participation but through negotiation between the relevant groups based upon expertise. I would argue that the Western individual, from the top to the bottom of what is now defined as the elite, acts first as a group member. As a result, they, we, exist primarily as a function, not as citizens, not as an individual. We are rewarded in our hierarchical meritocracies for our success as an integrated function. We know that real expressions of individualism are not only discouraged but punished. The active, outspoken citizen is unlikely to have a successful professional career." "What I am describing is the essence of corporatism. Forget the various declared intentions of the successive generations of corporatists. . . . What counts is what they have in common. And that is their assumption as to where legitimacy lies. In corporatism it lies with the group, not the citizen." "The human is thus reduced to a measurable value, like a machine or a piece of property. We can choose to achieve a high value and live comfortably or be dumped unceremoniously onto the heap of marginality." Id. at 32-33. "Now the very essence of corporatism is minding your own business. And the very essence of individualism is the refusal to mind your own business. This is not a particularly pleasant or easy style of life. It is not profitable, efficient, competitive or rewarded. It often consists of being persistently annoying to others as well as being stubborn and repetitive. The German voice of the Enlightenment, Friedrich Nicolai, put it clearly: 'Criticism is the only helpmate we have which, while disclosing our inadequacies, can at the same time awake us to the desire for greater improvement.' " 'criticism is perhaps the citizens primary weapon in the exercise of her legitimacy. That is why, in this corporatist society, conformism, loyalty and silence are so admired and rewarded; why criticism is so punished or marginalized. Who has not experienced this conflict?" Id. at 165. Yes, we pride ourselves on our individualism when, in fact, we are conformists to the core. We go along to get along. We are loyal pets, and we are rewarded (e.g., paid, promoted, honored) as such. Step out of line, and one is marginalized, demoted or stalled, if not fired.).