If any of you have wondered why I haven't been posting as regularly as usual lately, it's because I've been busy preparing for (and today, actually attending) a conference about political philosophy. In my first day there, I had a number of enlightening conversations with people who weren't as libertarian as I am. The last of these, in which I discussed the nature of society with a couple of student attendees as well as a professor who would be lecturing later, made me doubt some of my more recently taken but still staunchly defended positions.
I have always rejected the idea that society is a single unified entity. Human beings do not possess a hive mind; no community has a consciousness that can entertain thoughts or feelings that are independent of those of its members. Like Aristotle, I disagreed with Plato's assertion that a city full of unhappy people could still be a happy city. Such a city was, to me, just a bunch of unhappy people.
Instead, I believed that any city or society of any kind was just a mass of individuals. The only discrete unit of humanity that mattered on a political level was the particular human person, because that was the only thing in a state that could actually reason. This led me to adopt a lot of very libertarian political philosophies. Individual liberty was the highest political end (I still believed that virtue was the highest human end). I viewed all societal relationships in terms of person and state, and from a moral perspective, the person won every time.
The problem is, though, that while human communities do not possess hive minds, they can still form intellectual entities that are more than the sum of their parts. Often, this "social imagination" or "social consciousness" can help people like me catch liberals in rhetorical traps. Many times, when a liberal has tried to argue a secular relativist position against someone who believes strongly in an objective truth and morality, the traditionalist will force the liberal to carry his position to its furthest extent, which often justifies some really vile utilitarian exploitative practice. If this happens, the liberal will often back away from his own position because the echoes of Christianity that still permeate our culture have instilled in him an instinctual respect for the human person.
Societies are more than just aggregations of individuals. They are like individual organisms, in a way, with cells (people), tissues (classes of people), organs (organizations and institutions) and even a nervous system (the overall intellectual character of the civilization). Societies and civilizations do not speak with one voice the way Communists and other totalitarians would have you believe. This consciousness is also not best expressed or manipulated by the state the way modern progressives think it should be, either. It is more than individual, more than state, more even than Church (speaking only in the institutional sense).
The nature of corporate society, like that of the family and the mystical Body of Christ, mirrors the Holy Trinity in its simultaneous possession of unity and differentiation. Unfortunately, it also possesses the Trinity's inscrutable character. I'm not sure what to do with it, or what it means for broader political philosophy yet. Until I do, though, I'm going to stay committed to my efforts to defend it valiantly against the encroachments of the United States federal government, while realizing that I may find a higher calling at some point in the future.