"There's no such thing as society," said Margaret Thatcher, provoking her audience. Before someone gets red in the face crying "sociopath" and "anarchy," we should perhaps examine the context of the much quoted but mostly misused statement of the former British prime minister. With a worldview shaped by the philosophical, political, and economic analysis of Friedrich Hayek, the "Iron Lady" was attempting to stir her countrymen into recognizing "that society was not an abstraction, separate from the men and women who composed it, but a living structure of individuals, families, neighbors, and voluntary associations."
"It is not good for man to be alone," declared the LORD, who gave Adam a helper, his wife, Eve---creating the family, the first social institution. Adam Smith's analysis of the division of labor affirms from an economic standpoint what is obvious to all Christians---that God has given us different talents because He wants us to live social lives. Alas, throughout history we see how people have encouraged one another in finding numerous ways to make socially acceptable the perversions of all the good gifts and designs of our Creator: sex, marriage, free will to cooperate.
Demagogues on the left---from the most radical Marxists and national socialists to the more moderate European social democrats and American progressives---love to hide their paternalistic agenda behind empty statements concerning the "common good." Their strategy includes a false representation of society as a military unit under attack. It is easy to see how in wartime, the survival of a society (tribe, nation, empire, etc.) depends on centralized political action mobilizing economic resources to achieve a single overriding goal. Utilizing the democratic process to define the chimerical "common good" and employing the bureaucratic machinery to achieve elusive "social goals" in peacetime, however, can only lead to political dissociative identity disorder. Instead of protecting the individuals' freedom to pursue their competing ends, we end up stealing from each other by letting governments arbitrarily pick winners and losers.
The most recent example of the natural tendency of government to act as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde comes from Bulgaria. Leading the news these days are subsidies for local tobacco producers (increasing supply) and the enforcement of new rules to discourage smoking (decreasing demand) to be implemented today. Split personality? No, taxing ourselves to pay for programs that offset each other is politics as usual.
P.S. Today is International Children's Day. Take your kids out. Buy them ice cream. Don't forget---they'll keep paying the bills for our naive and selfish decisions long after we are gone.