Creativity is an individual act. The act of building something, whether with hammers, blueprints, words, boards or plans is individualistic. Collectives can build, but not creatively. A mass has no vision because it has no personality. It can follow rules but not dreams.
Freedom is the greatest creative force because it liberates the
individual to build and as freedom diminishes within a society so does
its creativity. Progress in restricted areas dwindles to a trickle as
collectives expend a thousand times the money and effort, and still fail
to equal the achievements of individuals operating on shoestring
The Soviet Union fell because its Communist collectives were not able to
equal the West in the military or the economic arena. The only
technique that Communist states ever had was to create a heavily
regulated top-down infrastructure and when a crisis occurred, a mass of
people would be thrown at the problem.
The collective approach allowed the Soviet Union to construct massive
infrastructure projects; building roads, power stations and housing. But
these were flawed imitations of Western projects and were
poorly designed and implemented. The same pattern repeated itself across
the Communist sphere. The collective could inefficiently mobilize
armies of workers to carry out a project, but the planning and design of
the project was grandiose, derivative and poorly adapted to the task at
hand. Communist projects were mechanically conceived, mechanically
implemented and unfit in the way that any project purely designed by
machines would be for human use.
The Soviet Union, China, North Korea and Vietnam all won their
engagements with enemies in the same way; by throwing so many men at the
problem that the enemy would become bogged down and eventually forced
to retreat. Their military victories did not emerge from strategy or
heroism, but the mechanical willingness to sacrifice numberless
individuals for the goals of the collective.
The few bits of genuine scientific progress came from scientists like
Pavlov and Sakharov who were open critics of Communism and the Soviet
Union. They did not come out of the collective that collectively
crippled Russian science and ensured the collapse of its efforts at
military parity with the United States. Ultimately the collective
destroyed its own rule.
The seduction of the collective as builder however is not limited to
countries that flew the red flag. When Obama and Warren proclaimed that there were no monads,
that no man was an island, but that we were all part of one great
economic collective to which we owed an eternal debt, they were
following up on some very old ideas.
Obama's interpretation of individual creativity occurring only within
the context of state institutions is a natural outgrowth of a political
philosophy that views those institutions as the essence of the country
and the true foundation of its national greatness. This
"Institutionalism" is the dominant liberal mindset which sees
individualism as a chaos that must be ordered by the state.
Institutionalism says that individuals are not creative, only
institutions are creative. Individuals who create are harnessing the
creative energy of institutions. In the liberal institutionalist view,
the state must create the conditions that make creative acts possible
and those who fail to acknowledge their debt to the state are "free
riders" who exploit the system without paying back to it.
21st century America is institutionalist, though it derives the greater
part of its economic energy from individual creativity. The official
philosophy emphasizes the virtues of committeedom; of agencies,
corporations, governments and mass determinants which slowly move
forward, consuming any form of progress and transforming it into mulch.
The official debate is not over the virtues of this rank
institutionalism, but over which forms of institutions are best and who
should be running them.
In the face of chaos, Muslims chose not liberal institutionalism but
Islamic institutionalism. What this means in practice, beyond women
with covered faces and more bombs going off on buses, is that the state
and its economic monopolies will be in the hands of the devout who will
nobly take care of the needs of the people. The practical difference
between Islamism and Socialism is that the former is more backward, more
tyrannical and more violently disposed toward us. But these are
distinctions in degree, not in essence. Both Islamists and Socialists
institute tyrannies based on theorists from the last few centuries that
recreate a more ancient feudalism in the name of an absolute call for
Americans with Obama, like the Egyptians with Morsi, chose a collective
leader who would inspire and take care of them. A leader who would make
them feel united into one single group. The promise of transcendence
lingered over Tahrir Square and the United States Capitol, a promise
that individual differences and divisions would melt away leaving only a
perfect collective that would be capable of doing anything it set its
Even if Obama had been genuinely well-intentioned, the project of
collective creativity was doomed from the start. Institutions excel most
at their own construction. In their early stages they can fund creative
works, but with the passage of time they become incapable of
meaningfully interacting with the outside world.
The longer an institution exists the more likely it is to develop its
own groupthink, its collective mentality and culture that allows for
internal consistency, but makes creative work impossible. Like the
Soviet Union, these collectives can draw up grandiose plans that are
inefficient, have no purpose and are implemented without regard to
actual conditions on the ground.
These collectives can envision masses of wind farms, without taking into
account what will happen when winter comes or whether there is enough
wind to make the project worthwhile. They can pay foreign architects and
foreign workers to create symbols of Islamic grandiosity, such as the
Dubai Burj and Saudi Arabia's Royal Mecca Clock Tower, and symbols of
Socialist grandiosity such as North Korea's Ryugyong Hotel or the USSR's
Palace of the Soviets; but these are not signs of creativity, only
pyramids representing the entombing of creativity within a display of
Creativity brings new things into the world, but new things are the bane
of institutions which already have too many things to deal with and see
such creativity as elementally disruptive. Institutionalism strives to
repress creativity by forcing everyone into a collective plan, a mandate
to follow the central program of the collective. And the only thing
that the institutions of the collective are interested in creating are
monuments to themselves.
An individual building things according to his own plan is disruptive.
Even when following tested techniques and using standard tools to
complete the same task that he has already done ten thousand times
before, the individual can still find easier and better ways to do
something. The individual can also find that a thing might be better
done in an entirely different way or that there is no reason to do it at
This expression of creative energy is what tyrants like Obama or Morsi
fear because it upsets their goal of using institutional power to
maintain a completely ordered society. Institutionalist societies
believe that bigger is better, that the individual is wrong and the rule
book is right, and that a difference is a danger. They may talk up
their commitment to progress, but what they truly do is accept a lack of
progress in exchange for order and control. They would rather own
everyone and everything than have a society that actually moves forward
and creates things worth owning.
Institutionalists like Obama do not believe in the individual, they
believe that the individual is the root of all evil. They see him as an
exploiter, a free rider, a breaker of commitments, a smasher of idols
and a disruptor of their plans. They wrongly believe that the individual
owes them something for the privilege of living under their rule and
they are wrong in this. It is they who are indebted for their
parasitism, for their free ride on his back, for the muzzle they have
put in his mouth and the spurs they have planted in his side.
The art of building things is a simple art. It is the art of learning
about the world as it is, of learning what one's own hands and mind are
capable of. And above all else it is the art of being free.