Individualism vs. the State

From Social Matter The End Of Atomistic Individualism: A Theory On Who You Are

The purpose of this thought experiment is an attempt to formulate a new, sustainable, non-atomistic understanding of the concept of individualism. Modern individualism, as a product of the Enlightenment, has the function of isolating and alienating individuals from God, society, and eventually even from themselves. From Putnam’s Bowling Alone to the transgender movement, modernity loudly proclaims the inability of people to belong, even to themselves. It instead offers a vision of individualism, in which the person creates themselves in their own image, as if Adam were to form himself in the Garden.

Just as it is vain to think that a lump of clay will form itself into a man, so it is equally vain to think that an alienated, atomized person can create in themselves a personality out of the muck of consumerism and mass media. Modernity tells us that we can form our own personality with tattoos, body modification, consumerist consumption, and status objects like automobiles.

But Putnam is also a strong proponent of democracy. One can argue that atomic individualism, with is related to libertarism, is antithetical to democracy and the democratic process. Sometimes, I think we want it both ways: to oppose both individualism and democracy, but this may not be logically consistent. The answer , like many things, seems to lie somewhere in the middle. This could mean a community united by commonalities (such as culture), but without democracy, and individualism is also preserved. This is similar to the nation state concept:

The most obvious impact of the nation state, as compared to its non-national predecessors, is the creation of a uniform national culture, through state policy. The model of the nation state implies that its population constitutes a nation, united by a common descent, a common language and many forms of shared culture. When the implied unity was absent, the nation state often tried to create it. It promoted a uniform national language, through language policy. The creation of national systems of compulsory primary education and a relatively uniform curriculum in secondary schools, was the most effective instrument in the spread of the national languages. The schools also taught the national history, often in a propagandistic and mythologised version, and (especially during conflicts) some nation states still teach this kind of history.[20]

But I have also heard arguments that individualism is inextricably linked with liberalism and that individualism is an ‘enlightenment’ ideal. But a distinction must be made between enlightenment ideals, which are the antecedent to neo and classical varieties of liberalism, versus welfare liberal ideals (which is a more recent development). The former supports individualism, but also the possibility of unequal outcomes that may arise from it. The latter seeks conformity in the form of egalitarianism and equal outcomes (higher taxes, more social spending, wealth spreading, etc.) despite giving the outward appearance of supporting individualism. Marxist and other far-left variants of liberalism also oppose individualism, preferring the state to mandate ‘equal outcomes’ as well as individual subservience to the state.

But both the ‘left’ and the ‘right’ seem to have a love-hate relationship with individualism. For the ‘left’, they like individualism as a way to rebel against the status quo, but the also oppose individualism if it leads to too much wealth inequality or what they perceive as oppression (such as ‘homophobia’ of a baker for not making a baking a ‘gay cake’); for the ‘right’, they like individualism in context of free markets, personal autonomy, and personal property, but oppose it because it may lead to the breakdown of communities, decline of organized religion, the separation of church and state, and increased ‘moral decay’.

The libertarian or minarchist position, which is somewhere in the middle, may be the most logically consistent in bridging this schism, that strikes a balance between individualism and cohesion. Minarchism is like a shopping mall, where stores exist as individual entities under the patronage of the mall, a symbiosis of sorts where both the mall and businesses benefit. Business pay the mall in exchange for the benefits the mall provides (such as security, infrastructure, and customers). Because it’s elective, businesses don’t have to join, but America’s tax system isn’t and individuals, businesses have to pay to fund services they don’t want or need.

And from Family and Individualism:

In any society, there is probably an optimal balance between individualism and collectivism. A society that is 100% atomized, by definition, is not a society. But history also shows that total conformity is no better. Those quirky people on the right side of the Bell Curve, with their idiosyncrasies, are needed for society to advance technologically, while everyone else goes about tending to civilization. If you go through Charles Murray’s database of human accomplishments, you’ll find virtually all accomplishments were made by smart people. Liberals value social justice and equality over quantifiable results. The left wants America to be a nation of takers, not creators.

Related: Individualism vs. Thede

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