Sunday, October 5, 2008
"One important consequence of our actual history, with its persistence of thinking in terms of an absolute order, with its subtle transformation of the free market into the laws of the market, and with its confusion of the idea of brotherhood, has been the personal revolt that is modern individualism. Earlier forms of individualism were primarily the assertion of rights to do and say certain things - society was judged and reshaped to guarantee the exercise of this positive freedom. Modern individualism in part continues this tendency, but on the whole puts more emphasis on a negative freedom: the right of an individual to be left alone. There has been a very widespread retreat from social thinking, rationalized by he formula that almost all good things are done by individuals, almost all bad things by society. The image of society is then of something inherently bad: a restrictive, interfering, indifferent process, whether it claims the virtues of an established order or the creation of human brotherhood. In this personal revolt, nobody is deceived by what societies say they are doing; whatever this may be, the individual is likely to suffer, and the best he can hope for is to minimize its pressures: by detachment, by apathy and skepticism, by seeing that at least he and his family are all right. It is as necessary to acknowledge the great strength and emotional substance of this revolt as to point to its very damaging consequences such an idea of society could only gain currency in a context of major social failure, and it is no use trying to beat it down by repetition of the ideas (duty, responsibility, brotherhood) which have habitually accompanied the hated pressures and failures. The experience has been lived, and has to be expressed. But of course the withdrawal from social thinking leaves the bad society as it is."