Paul goes on to say that my explanation of conservatism is an exaggeration:
there is an element of truth to all that [Sandefur] has written, but…I don’t think that most conservative thinkers would necessarily go that far. We don’t belong to society in the sense that we are obligated to completely subjicate [sic] ourselves to the community. The way that sandefur [sic] phrases makes [sic] it sound that the individual must give up his identity, in a sense, to the greater community, and this is a gross exaggeration of the conservative viewpoint.
Well, we’ve already seen how Paul claims that “individuals have a moral duty to take cognizance of their neighbors, and to act in whatever way possible to contribute to the greater good.” (emphasis added) I’ve quoted Bork’s rejection of the principle that the individual belongs to himself. What Paul sees as me “gross[ly] exaggerat[ing]” is in fact me stripping away the hemming and hawing and covering-up that conservatives frequently engage in, attempting to disguise the real meaning of their principles.
What limit does Paul propose to this duty of servitude? “The human person is the end, thus society functions to promote human happiness. It’s an organic structure whereby the human person finds fulfillment through the social network.” In other words, the whole thing works if only people will make it their personal desire to be used by their neighbors. So long as you inculcate the spirit of servitude deeply enough—so long as you believe devoutly enough in your duty to act in whatever way possible to contribute to the greater good; so long as you become like Boxer in Animal Farm—why then you’ll be happy enough living your life on the terms dictated to you by your neighbor. And then what will you complain about? Nothing. So, you see? You’ll be happy. Snuff your individuality, and you will have no worries about being an ant: “People have social responsibilities, but these are not to be a burden.”
Obviously this is true, and obviously this is trivial. The problem in government, however, is not how to run a society where everyone agrees; that is always quite easy. The question is whether people are free to disagree—to say no—to live their lives on their own terms, rather than their neighbors’. I don’t much feel like living my life for Paul’s sake. Maybe that makes me a bad person—fine. But the question is, do I have the right not to live my life for his sake? Or am I going to be forced to? Paul has said that I have a moral duty to act in whatever way possible to contribute to the allegedly greater good. In other words, the answer is, I have no right to live my life for my own sake. And now Paul says I should just learn to be happy about that. And appropriately enough, he cites the Catechism. Well, to quote Jacob Bronowski,
Rationalism…does not treat any part of the universe as dead; it treats it as something which changes and evolves and, more important, our understanding of which is a constant creative change. On the contrary, what we want to understand is not only man as he is but as he can be, and the societies which the changing man can make. It is the potential of man that we must explore; it is the fulfillment of man that we must seek. By contrast, it is precisely the doctrines of the Dark Ages which treat man as fixed and dead, a sinful exhibit who can seek virtue only in self-denial. These ascetic virtues are equally the marks of the dead societies of the Middle Ages which we still perpetuate—societies constantly on the brink of famine, in which the greatest virtue of man was to achieve the heroics of an insect in a colony, and sacrifice himself for the hive. We are somewhat past those famine days, and we should be past those famine virtues.
For Paul, as for so many conservatives, my desire to live my own life without others telling me how to live it—to choose whom I want to associate with, whom I want to marry or work for; what I want to read and write; where I want to live and go; what I want to eat or drink; what I want to say and pray—is “excessive individualism.” Well, any individualism is excessive if you believe that people must act in whatever way is possible to contribute to the greater good. Let us, for godsake, dispense with this talk of permanent things and eternal mores and human person, and have a clear limiting principle to the power of the state! With the possible (and utterly unsatisfying) exception of an appeal to diminishing returns, Paul can devise none on the premise he has provided us.