“The Needs of the Many…”

…outweigh the needs of the few…or the one.”


That’s more than just a line from Star Trek.  That’s the essence of collectivist philosophy.  Whether the “many” are called the Proletariat, Volk, or “working class” the needs/wants/desires of the individual are to be subordinated to the needs of that “many”.

In reality it’s remarkable how the needs/wants/desires of that many map to the needs/wants/desires of the “Party” leadership (just ask them; they’ll tell you). And the needs/wants/desires just happen to be whatever it takes to keep the Party leadership in power.  Funny thing that.

The excuse given, when this blows up and produces widespread shortages and misery is “that wasn’t real socialism/communism”.  Socialism and communism of course are the only forms of collectivism that get that pass.  Nobody makes that claim about fascism and Nazism).

But even that’s beside the point.  At it’s core the collectivist vision that takes “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few” can be shown to be despicable in itself.

Consider a healthy young man.  Shoot that man and, if one is careful about shot placement, you’ve got two kidneys, a heart, a liver, lungs, intestines, pancreas, thymus, eyes, bone marrow, many things that can be used to safe a dozen lives and improve the quality of life of a dozen more.  If “the needs of the many, outweigh the needs of the few” is axiomatically true then it must be moral to sacrifice one life in order to save a dozen or more others.

Very few people, of course, would accept this as the case.   The needs of the many does not automatically outweigh the needs of the few, or even the one, in every case.  Once you accept that, it becomes possible to start exploring the limits of such “outweighing”, when if ever it is valid and when it is not.

It also means that you can’t just throw out “the good of society” as a reason to restrict individuals in pursuing their own needs, wants, and desires.  You have to make a better argument.

I propose that the needs of the many are best served by upholding the right of individuals to pursue their own individual needs, wants, and desires as they see them so long as they do not forcibly infringe on that same right in someone else.  Indeed, this is what we see when we look at cultures in general.  There are very few exceptions to that principle.  Generally speaking the greater a society does so, the better off even the masses within that society are.  The more a society enforces subverting individual wants and needs to the collective, the worse off the masses within it are.  It takes very careful cherry picking to try to present those collectivist societies as “better” in any meaningful way than those with a greater respect for individual liberty, personal and economic.

It may seem, perhaps, a paradox, but as the late economist Milton Friedman observed in a different context: “The society that puts equality before freedom will end up with neither. The society that puts freedom before equality will end up with a great measure of both.” This is a much more generally applicable concept than equality vs. freedom.  It is simply that people serving their own self interest will often end up serving the common interest as a side benefit.  It was not through any altruism that John D. Rockefeller made kerosene for lighting far cheaper than it was previously.  It was not through any noble motives of help to the masses that Henry Ford made the automobile cheap enough for the “working class” to afford them (as opposed to just being toys for the wealthy).  They did it to make money and in the process bettered the lives of millions–billions if you consider second and third order effects.

Thus, the needs of the many are best served by respecting the needs of the few, or the one.

4 thoughts on ““The Needs of the Many…””

  1. Where the whole “greatest good for the greatest number” philosophy falls apart is that unless the individual has some inherent worth then masses of individuals have no inherent worth. Zero multiplied by a billion is still zero. You have to start with a doctrine of inalienable rights of human beings, as a human being and not requiring justification, or the masses of human beings have no rights. One hundred men have no greater moral strength than one man, all they have is greater physical strength.


  2. I really hate how they’ve twisted Spock’s self-sacrifice to a justification for socialism, because what he was doing was sacrificing himself to keep his friends and crewmates alive. Using what he says to comfort Kirk as he dies to justify what socialism does renders hollow every single person who has done similar sacrifice to save others, and I think takes away the entirety of Spock’s heroic deeds of that moment. In that instant, he valued the lives of his friends and crewmates over his own. How many people have done that, have saved lives at the risk of their own?

    A man who throws himself on a grenade to save the rest of his unit is considered a hero, but suddenly because of the collectivist translation of heroic self-sacrifice, it’s now expected and no longer valued. Individuals are no longer valued, and people are interchangable widgets.

    Life no longer has value, with that reinterpretation. And it is an evil one.

    That is not how I want to have that line remembered or interpreted. Given the character, I do not believe that he would either.


  3. SD/C – I agree. Spock made a noble sacrifice – sacrificing himself for the ship and his friend. Sacrificing some one else is, as you say, evil. I would point out, though, that in the military, a commander will have to decide, at times, who within the command is sacrificed. Spock (or Kirk or Scotty) could have ordered someone to repair the engine. Spock, however, didn’t require the sacrifice of anyone else, which makes that sacrifice even more meaningful.
    MB – I agree with you also. Collectivists, however, generally don’t consider the individual or the masses to have any rights. They would reduce the masses, who are individuals, to sheep, i.e., without any agency of their own.


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