America And Individualism


America And Individualism Essay, Research Paper

The United States of America is the land of the free, the land of opportunity, the wealthiest country in the world, a country that half the modern world is modeled after. Its President is referred to as the “Leader of the free world”. Thousands of people come to this country every year, learning about the country in hopes of becoming citizens. William Hudson in his book ‘American Democracy in Peril ‘ talks about the seven biggest challenges to this democratic nation.

Individualism can be seen as a gift or a curse, depending on the context in which it occurs. Because modern society finds it important that people think independently, decide autonomously and take personal initiatives, the concept of individualism has acquired a positive connotation. However, individualism is also linked with the tendency to withdraw from social life and turn in towards oneself. Alexis de Tocqueville described individualism as the cool and considered attitude which drives people to withdraw into a small, enclosed world consisting of their family and a few select friends, leaving the rest of society to its own devices.

The most obvious problem stemming from the process of individualism is of a socio-economic nature and concerns the problem of solidarity. If the link between the community and the individual becomes less strong, to what extent will an individual experience social problems, in which he or she is not immediately implicated, as his or her problems? To what extent are people in an individualistic society prepared to consider the problems of others as their own? This is a crucial question for society since it places the legitimacy of many social institutions and political structures in question. Whoever accepts that individualism is a fact will consider political life to be an incessant clash of interests on the part of people who are only in it for the sake of personal power or an increase in personal fortune. While they may be fine, responsible people in private life, in their attitude to government they are like infants, interested only in themselves and what they consume, howling for more, and not concerned at all about the morality of using government as a middleman to forcibly take what they desire from their fellow-citizens. Whereas those people who reject individualism and accept that the point of an election is to choose representatives whom the voters can expect will manage the social institutions in a responsible manner, will have a completely different image of politics.

The Founders believed in men’s right to choose the government they lived under, and they believed that to protect the ability to exercise that right, that particular government could not be allowed such a monopoly of weapons as would enable it to control the majority without their democratic consent. In order to prevent tyranny, then, keeping arms and practicing their use had to be a civic duty and a legally protected individual right. They believed a widely-exercised individual right to keep arms was necessary as a civic function, for the good of society as a whole, and of course believed that people with arms, like anyone else, were subject to law, to civilization, and to basic rules of behavior, and had duties as citizens to protect each other’s freedom and safety. However, these were obligations whose existence did not depend on the particular government that the people had chosen. In fact, the government was subject to these things just as much as individuals were. Individualism taken too far could undermine democracy and make society vulnerable to despotism.

The passions of men and their Intellectual life would be substantially modified by democracy. Under pressure from individual autonomy, opinions would be relativized, mores softened. Public opinion becomes the sole authoritative voice. While individual rights govern the lives of men, the ends of man fall into neglect. The morality of life is emptied from the democratic vessel. The passion for equality, natural to democracy, trumps every other concern, and begins its endless struggle to eradicate the natural inequalities of men.

An important aspect of the American Government is its separation of powers and the emphasized equality of the governmental factions. The framers of the constitution saw the conditions in which England existed under the monarchy, and decided to construct a different kind of government in which no one faction could hold too much power. Thus, they developed a system of “checks and balances” to prevent any one of the three separate branches of the government from becoming dominant. The checks and balances included in the Constitution ensure that the government will never become too centralized. Thus, it is obvious that the very foundation upon which this nation was constructed, the Constitution, blocks any of the three branches from dominating the other two. And while it is true that government has become more centralized than the framers of the Constitution had probably planned, it is still far from the monarchy of England. The Separation of Powers devised by the framers of the Constitution was designed to do one primary thing: to prevent the majority from ruling with an iron fist. For example, the President appoints judges and departmental secretaries. But these appointments must be approved by the Senate. The Congress can pass a law, but the President can veto it. The Supreme Court can rule a law to be unconstitutional, but the Congress, with the States, can amend the Constitution. Individualism breeds fragmentation and brings about disconnectivity and this is in complete contradiction with the ‘connected’ governmental system in the United States where the governmental divisions are always checking each other.

On one hand, democracy’s project is unrealizable, because it is contrary to nature. On the other, it is impossible to stop short of this democracy and go back to aristocracy. This is because democratic equality also conforms to nature. It follows that we can only moderate democracy; we cannot stop short of democracy, because it fulfils nature. We cannot attain the end of this movement, for it would mean subjecting nature completely and dehumanizing man. Escaping democracy is not an option. We can never possibly make democracy completely “real”, and we must not try. We can and must moderate democracy, limit it, sober down its hostility to nature, all the while benefiting from its conformity to nature. To moderate democracy so as it conforms with human nature, to limit it insofar as it is contrary to it, such is the sovereign art on which depend the prosperity and morality of a democracy.


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