The word “selfishness” is widely known as a trademarked fighting word, synonymous with immorality. Leftist ideologues liberally use it to club defenders of capitalism over their ruggedly individualistic heads. However, the same ideologues never decry selfishness when it is practiced by a group — either assuming that selfishness by definition cannot be collective, or that by being collective, selfishness gets an upgrade to a higher moral status, as if things perpetrated in the name of the community cannot be immoral.
And yet, not only has group selfishness always existed on all levels of society — from warring clans to nations and races — but selfishness exerted by collectivist pressure groups often is the basest, the most irrational and immoral form of selfishness.
While selfishness of an individual can be either rational or irrational, depending on whether it is based on reason or raw emotion, group selfishness is always irrational because crowd psychology is mostly driven by primeval collectivist instincts. Mussolini was well aware of the power of group selfishness, having built an entire ideology upon it, which he named fascism after the fasci — a bundle of rods tied together so that they couldn’t be broken. In Ukraine, where I grew up, folk wisdom summed it up in a sarcastic proverb, “Collectively, even beating up your own father is a breeze.”
A moral strength that motivates one to succeed in life through one’s own effort and self-improvement can also be described as selfishness. But the collectivists make no distinction between an individual’s rational, constructive pursuit of self-interest and the irrational, destructive selfishness that drives one to sacrifice other people’s lives or property for one’s own personal gain or to become a leech on society. The two kinds are worlds apart — and yet they are often lumped together, especially with the purpose of discrediting successful people and businesses.
The extreme expressions of one’s irrational, destructive selfishness — fraud, theft, extortion, and violence — are punishable by law. The society never fails to condemn it as immoral, and rightly so. But when the same irrational, destructive selfishness is displayed by a group, it seldom causes quite the same moral indignation. Likewise, collective fraud, theft, extortion, and even violence don’t necessarily result in punishment.
In today’s ideological climate, sacrificing other people’s lives or property for collective gain, or striving to become leeches on society, is hardly deemed criminal or immoral. On the contrary, group selfishness is being extolled as a virtue and paraded under such euphemistic Orwellian labels as fairness, justice, equality, awareness, and civil rights. According to the collectivist moral code, no sacrifice is too great as long as it is done for the sake of the “many” — even if these “many” are a narrowly defined group with irrational selfish interests seeking to live at the expense of other groups.
In the 20th century, the same moral code inspired communists to sacrifice “some” for the sake of the “many” — with the estimated numbers of “some” ranging from 100 to 200 million people. Nazis used a similar collectivist moral code as they sacrificed millions of innocents to their perverted idea of the “common good,” although they could hardly compete with communists in the scale and effectiveness of their altruistic outreach.