“In our personal ambitions we are individualists. But in our seeking for economic and political progress as a nation, we all go up or else all go down as one people.” ~ Franklin D. Roosevelt
The world economy has shifted significantly over the last few hundred years, particularly in the West. As feudalism gave way to various forms of capitalism, where the means of production is privately owned and operated for profit, the way we viewed our roles as individuals also experienced a dramatic and fundamental shift. In the former model of governance, we belonged to the state, while in our present model the state belongs to us.
The rise of capitalism was both propelled by and defined through the rise of the cult of the individual. In no other era of recorded history have we seen individualism as highly prized, protected and in many ways, worshipped than in our own. Albert Einstein once noted that: “All that is valuable in human society depends upon the opportunity for development of the individual” and it is difficult to argue with the results of this new paradigm. The progress we’ve witnessed over the last few centuries is mind-boggling!
Moral rectitude and civic responsibility temper the more dangerous facets of economic systems that place so much emphasis on the individual as do unfettered free-market and other varieties of capitalism. Absent these moderating qualities, things get really interesting as individuals driven primarily by the concern to serve their own interests enter society.
If those in society are incapable of governing themselves, laws, regulations and the like provide artificial and often inefficient constraints on their behavior and function. Whenever a society becomes overly reliant on this bandaid approach, trying to control the symptoms rather than addressing the deeper causes, its members unwittingly donate the bricks used by a future tyrant to build his fortress.
“Remember always that you not only have the right to be an individual, you have an obligation to be one.” ~ Eleanor Roosevelt
9 thoughts on “The Cult of the Individual”
I think you are addressing both the cause of our recent successes and the cause of our recent failures in western society. In many ways, we have already embraced the privileges without remembering the responsibilities, and it is playing havoc in the world right now. We live in the most advanced time in recent history, but we are still falling prey to the petty issues that have plagued humanity for many years. We can break out of this rut, it is absolutely possible. To set the example and put responsibilities ahead of privileges is one step that is sorely needed.
It seems to me that if we spend more time developing ourselves with virtues being our foundation and less time finding fault with others, then we would no longer have the need to create more man-made laws. However, it seems that far too many find it easier to knock others and harder working on developing their own character, and the result is, predictably, decay. Thanks for the very thought provoking post Gregg!
Great quotes, powerful essay- important read for self reflection. Great stuff!
Men fight for freedom, then they begin to accumulate laws to take it away from themselves
Power to the people is not just a slogan it is a fact; whether it is understood or not. Our moral dilemma is how we use the power.
You reminded me of this quote by Thoreau,”Law never made men a whit more just.”
Developing virtuous people is the answer not creating more laws to protect from the lack of virtue.
Excellent observations, thank you.
You indicated recently, that as we allow the truth to be the governing influence in our lives as individuals, we automatically become integrated and in agreement with others being governed by the same influence.
Therefore, being governed by truth would not only be “An attracive option” but the only choice, when seen in the light of the options available, and the only true way to reveal what is highest and finest of ourselves, as individuals.
I choose freedom.
Much obliged, Gregg.
Excellent post. We as the individuals have to realize that we plant the seeds, we as a country harvest.