Obama created quite a stir recently when he claimed that personal achievement is not individual. Rather, he insisted, ‘somebody else’ did it for you.
Conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer rightly opposed Obama’s outrageous comments. Unfortunately, he added to the problem with errors of his own.
Says Krauthammer: ‘To say all individuals are embedded in and the product of society is banal. Obama rises above banality by means of fallacy: equating society with government, collectivity with the state.’
But then Krauthammer goes on to say: ‘Of course we are shaped by our milieu. But the most formative, most important influence on the individual is not government. It’s civil society, those elements of the collectivity that lie outside government: family, neighborhood, church, Rotary Club, PTA, the voluntary associations that Tocqueville saw as the genius of America and source of its energy and freedom.’
Wrong. Why? This is no different than Obama’s position. Obama says ‘Somebody else’ was as much a part of your achievement as you were. Now Krauthammer is saying the same thing. Krauthammer doesn’t want to give the credit to the government, as Obama certainly does; but he does want to give the credit to Rotary Clubs, churches, family members, PTAs and voluntary associations.
Study the life and struggle of any achiever in any field. You’ll discover what shaped the achievement was the achiever’s individual, thinking mind. Plus the integrity to stand alone. Achievers are most often loners in some sense. I’m not saying they don’t have personal relationships. Most do. But those personal relationships stand apart from their desire, willingness and ability to develop the light bulb, or prove that the earth revolves around the sun, or to conceptualize a smart phone.
People who achieve something, especially something great and lasting, almost always do so in the midst of doubt or even hostility. Human beings tend to resist change. Some change is for the worse, of course. But anything ultimately proven to be an achievement (a discovery, an invention, a new and better way of doing things) always represents a change at the time it’s being considered. And most people resist that, at first.
I’m not denigrating Rotary Clubs or PTAs. They perhaps have their place for certain people, including some who eventually invent. Unlike government, they are voluntary associations and not based on coercion. I’ll grant them that. However, it still cheapens the accomplishment of the achieving person to claim that his achievement was in any way ‘shaped’ by these organizations. In fact, it misses the boat entirely.
Ayn Rand said it best in her novel The Fountainhead: ‘There is no collective brain.’ All achievements are by definition individual in nature. Only one mind can make the discovery that sets millions of new actions into motion. It might take thousands of people to do the labor, or to bring the product to market, or to spread the word about the new and innovative idea. But in the end, only one mind can do the thinking and make the actual discovery. That’s why when we talk about the greatness of a certain discovery or invention, we talk about the greatness of the individual responsible for it. We don’t talk about the committee, the government agency, or the Rotary Club meeting that gave rise to it all.
Charles Krauthammer is right to blast Obama on his comments that there is no such thing as individual achievement. But he’s just as guilty of taking away that achievement from the individual. Sadly, even the better conservatives often have no truer understanding of what gives rise to accomplishment than the collectivist socialists who seek to enslave it.
Source: ‘In Obama’s Vision, Government — Not Personal Effort — Is the Real Reason For Our Own Success.’ Investor’s Business Daily, 7/19/12.
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