We must take care to distinguish a true fallacy of reification from simple metaphor. Natural language is rich in semantic forms that describe real objects, and it's natural to use these forms to talk about abstract properties. An easy way to distinguish metaphor from fallacy is to translate the idea into real concrete terms. If someone says, "I want to raise the median income by redistributing wealth," that makes sense because they're talking about manipulating individual incomes. "Raise the median income" is thus a legitimate metaphor.
We sometimes see true fallacies of reification in the collectivist left* (modern communist theory notes the fallacy of reifying the proletariat), but it's actually rare. In almost all cases, collectivist left talk about collective entities make perfect sense when applied to the underlying individuals. The good of society really does reduce to the good of individual people. (At least most individuals; collectivists tend not to worry overmuch about the good of those who profit from the exploitation of others.)
*I have to draw a distinction between the collectivism-individualism axis and the left-right axis: There are collectivist rightists (conservatism, neo-conservatism, fascism) and individualist leftists (left anarchists). The short story And Then There Were None describes an individualist left society.
We most often see true fallacious reification in individualist right critiques of collectivism. Atlas Shrugged is a perfect example: Rand simply assumes that all collectivist social theories must necessarily reify the collective, and thus justify sacrificing each and every individual's good to the collective good. It's not even necessary to reproduce any quotations*; open the book at random and within 10 pages (unless Dagny is about to fuck someone) you'll find some moron spouting off about how every individual must sacrifice to the "collective". In Rand's view, the "collective" interest is completely divorced from everyone's individual self-interest.
*Nor will I do so. I read that monstrosity once; I'm not going to read it again to find quotations. Let the
I focus on Rand specifically because Atlas Shrugged is the root of the neo-conservative narrative in Western society. Every egregiously stupid idea of neo-conservatism — even corporate socialism — can be traced directly to the novel. Millions of people believe that this monstrous pile of shit, with a logical fallacy on every other page, accurately reflects reality at some deep level. Although there are other writers (notably Leo Strauss) who have independently arrived at the same ideas, Rand's work has most effectively popularized those ideas.
It's possible that collectivists really are that stupid (Christians and Muslims, after all, do display an equivalent level of stupidity), but any reader of Rand should be immediately suspicious when she puts such egregiously stupid words into the mouths of her opponents, especially in a work of fiction; a critical reader should suspect a straw man fallacy. But even if collectivists really were that stupid, justifying some sort of Individualism by the refutation of fallacious form of collectivism — even if that fallacy were universally held by collectivists — is itself an ad hominem fallacy.
We can only speculate why Rand and other individualist right critics reify the collective. However, it's notable that in the real world, the reification of the collective prevalent in conservative traditionalism and most religious thinking has been a tool for justifying the exploitation of the many by the few. It is not the industrialists, the political rulers, the rich who are encouraged to sacrifice their self-interest to the good of the many, but rather the many who are encouraged to sacrifice their self-interest to the good of the few in the name of the "good of society (or God)."
Rand does not actually argue against collectivism. She argues, rather, against the wrong kind of collectivism. Her world is falling apart because the great individuals, the competent and hard-working, have gone on strike: It is in everyone's interest (i.e. the collective interest) to support, honor and value such individuals. Indeed all of the individuals in Galt's Gulch "rationally" act in the collective good rather than their immediate material individual good. Midas Mulligan owns all the land in Galt's Gulch; Galt owns all the electric power (his
*I'm really curious what happens after the end of Atlas Shrugged, when the motor breaks down and requires selenium or some other substance not locally available, or some parts available only from an advanced manufacturing infrastructure. But Galt is MacGuyver on steroids; I'm sure Rand is confident that he can manufacture an integrated circuit using a pile of sand a book of matches and some paper clips.
But Rand's collectivism must be seen as not a metaphor but as a true reification, because her good "collectivism" is justified even if 90% of the actual individuals perish. The passengers on the doomed train deserve to die because they are not morally pure. Dagny Taggarts's flaw, the failing she must correct as her moral growth, is valuing actual individuals over the reification of the Individual. Dagny must learn to value "Man" (the idealization) rather than mankind (the actual individuals). Only then can she enter the
Not even the relatively rare die-hard cultist takes Rand's eliminationist rhetoric — evocative of Christian Eschatology — seriously. That metaphor at least is obviously a metaphor. They take from the book, though, that apparent exploitation is justified: no one is really being exploited. The masses of people gain their very life from the exceptional few, not by deserts but by grace; any and all surplus value extracted from them is meaningless compared to the gift of life. And if the exceptional stumble from time to time, well, it's only because of the perverse irrationality of the many, against which even the mightiest are sometimes helpless.
But of course collectivists are not as stupid as Rand portrays them. Collectivism is the philosophy (more precisely the root of various philosophies) that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few... when those needs come into irreconcilable conflict. In most cases, there's little or no conflict, or there is some compromise that allows everyone to gain. By definition most individuals are part of "the many"; realizing the benefit of "the many" is realizing the benefit of many individuals.
But collectivists recognize that a few individuals can realize an individual benefit by exploiting and oppressing the majority of other individuals. The vast majority need not tolerate such exploitation. Eliminating such exploitation demands from those few a true Randian "sacrifice" — giving up a greater individual benefit for a smaller individual benefit — and therefore their sacrifice must be coerced.
And boo hoo for them.