Communalism is an ideology that rests on the basic premise that a society’s property and resources should be shared amongst its populace. It has been fiercely rejected by the U.S. both domestically and internationally, while it is utilized in many nations around the world and has existed at times of human progress. The forefathers of the U.S. political system believed that private property ownership was part of human nature, and advocated that the democratic order respect this basic premise. Yet, if one looks throughout human history, the theories founded on the “innate nature” of the human as a brutish, independent loner don’t describe the periods of greatest human development.
Thomas Hobbes and John Locke laid the philosophical foundation for the U.S. system of property ownership. They believed that in “the state of nature,” man existed outside of society as an individual entity who pursued only his own self-interest. Thus, the right to own private property was a part of our human nature and was left uninterrupted by the government through the American Constitution.
Yet, it is hard to find a positive period in human development where the human action could be described in this brutal “state of nature” devoid of social interaction. The strongest example I could find was the caveman, who was, by and large, an individualistic violent creature. However, to base one’s social order on the behavior of cavemen seems to fail to recognize the incapability of those creatures to take the strides we have taken. It was when humans came together as communal tribes that true progress was made: living standards improved tremendously through collective hunting, agriculture, and housing.
Those who support Hobbes and Locke’s theory state that the orders of capitalism and global exploitation were built on a respect for human nature rather than a violation of it. Some say that the U.S. attacks on communalism started with the Cold War against the Soviet Union, but the practice actually dates back hundreds of years to the establishment of this nation through the genocide of the Native Americans.
While the Natives posed a physical obstacle to the colonialists, they posed a far greater ideological threat through their belief that property should be shared amongst the community. Many native tribes believed that they existed in harmony with nature as human beings, and could thus not own any piece of nature itself as it was to be shared amongst the tribe. This directly contradicted the basic principles of democracy as purported by Locke and Hobbes, who claimed that humans were innately greedy, self-serving, and individualistic.
In fact, these misleading perversions of human nature were necessary to intellectualize and support the most abhorrent chapter in human history: slavery. This practice was built on legal and social norms that protected unfettered right of Europeans to actually own other human beings. The most dangerous element to intellectualizing such disgusting practices is that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy in a society. Namely, if you say that the human essence is based on greed and individualism, and then establish a society on this presumption; people will begin to accept that proposition though it may violate their own values.
The ideological war against communalism waged by the U.S. was started with the genocide of the Natives but reached its peak in the Cold War era. It was during this period that the U.S. obsession with defeating all vestiges of communalism manifested in funding and training for the same mujhaddin in Afghanistan who threaten U.S. security. Indeed, the Pakistani elite who had adopted the conceptions of property ownership through feudalism were more than willing to serve as well-paid liaisons to the mujhaddin. Thus, the adamant respect paid to private ownership and the conjunctive war against modern communal orders created the perfect storm that is ripping through Pakistan and Afghanistan now.
In the post-Cold War Era, the individuals right to property was used as the premise for fast rates of globalization profiting U.S. multinational corporations. Some state that the rise of the U.S. corporations is because of their superior advancements made in the fields of medicine and technology. They would argue that the U.S. system’s respect for private ownership fosters this development.
However, such advancements are meaningless until they are given to the world community at large to utilize. Through intellectual property laws, AIDS medication and other vital medicines are sold at exorbitant prices across the developing world while legally banning any other companies from creating a cheaper pill. The individual who cured tuberculosis might have done so alone in their laboratory, but the effect of this discovery only surfaces when it helped the community cure its disease.
The same property proponents argue that had it not been for the American system of ownership, the internet would never have been created. Again, one must remember that the internet may have been created by a handful of engineers, but its relevance and impact on the world only came when the world community was freely exposed to it. In fact, the quick explosion of the internet as a free medium of information shows that human nature is communal at its core.
Thus, our focus and obsession with private ownership may profit us in different ways than before, but the objective and underlying theories have remained unchanged from colonization. One should be leery of arguments that claim the protection of private property is somehow a codification of a human nature that existed at a time when humans were brutish and solitary. The times of the greatest human progress were when we came together as a society, and in light of the grave problems that continue to divide humanity, the lessons from ancient and modern communal societies should not be ignored.