No existentialism

Posted on Aug 07 2000

On the second day of the Republican national convention in Philadelphia, former Senator Bob Dole and current Senator John McCain spoke very passionately of tradition, patriotism, and American civilization. In each and every case, they celebrated–no, worshipped–self-sacrifice. They eloquently spoke of a devotion to causes greater than the self. In other words, they wholeheartedly embraced collectivism over individual liberty and individual rights.

Collectivism was embraced on the first day of the GOP convention as well, as Colin Powell eagerly embraced Hillary Clinton’s old dictum: “It takes a village to raise a child.” The “Republicans” also said, “Leave no child behind.”

Thus, in the opening days of the Republican convention, individual responsibility was essentially cast aside in favor of a “more positive and inclusive approach.” No longer are parents responsible for their own offspring. Now the Republican party itself has admitted that we all have a responsibility to all of the children of America. Now we have a responsibility to the fallen soldiers of World War II, who took out Hitler and Tojo but left Stalin and Mao in their place (to kill, rape and loot far more civilians than the Nazi and Imperial Japanese forces combined).

To win the election, the “New Republicans” are now suggesting that we each own a piece of each other, that we each owe each other something, and that we are in this entire thing together, particularly with regard to public education. The “New” Republicans want us to be proud, not so much of ourselves as discrete individuals, but rather, of ourselves as a collection of individuals–as a group known as “Americans,” sharing the same “family values.”

There is a problem with this, though. For it is not American to be driven into a kind of herd mentality. Americans are supposed to be rugged, self-reliant individualists: decentralized cowboys wary of ever increasing state powers.

Like Democrats, the “New Republicans” appear to be capitalizing on humanity’s natural tendency to fear freedom–and to desperately seek a collective cultural identity to subdue this existential, primal fear. When a man does not know who he is, the easiest thing for him to do is to join a group–any group, a college fraternity, for example–and automatically become a part of something “greater than himself,” which subsequently makes him feel less of a loser (although he is probably deluding himself, of course).

Webster’s dictionary defines “existentialism” as “a humanistic philosophy stating that each person is responsible for forming his or her self and must with free will oppose an uncertain, purposeless, and seemingly hostile environment.” The “New Republicans” are clearly not existentialists. These days, they would argue the exact opposite: namely, that each person is responsible for forming the moral character and identity of his or her fellow citizen and must with government controls favor a pre-arranged, arbitrary, prescribed set of tenants in a world that would otherwise be extremely fearful without government education, mutual mooching and soothing Christian doctrine.

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