Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Philosophy of Individualism

Thanks for the comments Chris. As I said, it is work in progress, I am just trying to learn by dialogue.

There is a difference between Individuality (a perfectly sound concept) and the philosophy of Individualism, which attempts to build a world view of life, the universe and everything, based on the individual person. This is why Thatcher said "There is no such thing as Society". The only ultimate philosophical and political reality for her was the individual (though she allowed it to extend a little to "The Family"). Individualism is the root of free market capitalism, in that corporations have been granted the status in law of individual persons, with the same rights that are granted to a person (although, interestingly, less responsibilities than a person, thanks to "Limited Liability", a notion that is beginning to be challenged.

[In its extreme form Individualism comes through as libertarianism, which crosses all sorts of lines: extreme conservatives and extreme (as in Revolutionary Workers Party) socialists and anarchists all seem to flourish the libertarian flag.]

I started a debate on "The assumptions behind peoples' acceptance of militarism" on openDemocracy . It has turned to a discussion on the Philosophy of individualism. Here goes:

Individualism is the polar opposite to Socialism. They are both -isms, that is, both philosophies based on the absolutisation (in my own view, anyway) of one aspect of the human being. They are antithetical, that is, irreconcilable in their own terms.

I personally believe that they can be reconciled or achieve synthesis in the wider matrix of ecological philosophy, that is the philosophy that finds its startting point in our position as an element in the living system on a finite planet. Both individual and society depend on Nature to sustain them. By attending to the preservation and healing of our environment, we can overcome all sorts of conflicts. So in healing Nature, we can sort out the problems which are ascribed to our "human nature", because here I agree with you Chris, that it is our behaviour, not our "nature" which needs to be put right. Which is a much more hopeful way of looking at the state in which we find ourselves.

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