Psychology Wiki

Assessment | Biopsychology | Comparative | Cognitive | Developmental | Language | Individual differences | Personality | Philosophy | Social |
Methods | Statistics | Clinical | Educational | Industrial | Professional items | World psychology |

Social psychology: Altruism · Attribution · Attitudes · Conformity · Discrimination · Groups · Interpersonal relations · Obedience · Prejudice · Norms · Perception · Index · Outline

This is a background article. For the psychological implications see: Individuality

Individualism is a moral, political, and social philosophy, which emphasizes individual liberty, the primary importance of the individual, and the "virtues of self-reliance" and "personal independence". Individualism embraces opposition to authority, and to all manner of controls over the individual, especially when exercised by the political state or "society." It is thus directly opposed to collectivism, which advocates subordination of the individual to the will of the society or community. It is often confused with "egoism," but an individualist need not be an egoist. Individualists promote the exercise of one's goals and desires and so independence and self-reliance[1] while opposing most external interference upon one's choices, whether by society, or any other group or institution[2].

Individualism makes the individual its focus[3] and so it starts "with the fundamental premise that the human individual is of primary importance in the struggle for liberation." Human rights and freedom are the substance of these theories. Liberalism, existentialism and anarchism are examples of movements that take the human individual as a central unit of analysis.[4]

It has also been used as a term denoting "The quality of being an individual; individuality"[5] related to possessing "An individual characteristic; a quirk."[6]Individualism is thus also associated with artistic and bohemian interests and lifestyles where there is a tendency towards self creation and experimentation as opposed to tradition or popular mass opinions and behaviors[7][8] as so also with humanist philosophical positions and ethics[9][10].

Political individualism

In political philosophy, the individualist theory of government holds that the state should take a merely defensive role by protecting the liberty of each individual to act as he wishes as long he does not infringe on the same liberty of another. This contrasts with collectivist political theories, where, rather than leaving the individual to pursue his own ends, the state ensures that the individual serves the interests of society when taken as a whole. It also contrasts with fascism, where the individual is required to serve the interests of the state. The term has also been used to describe "individual initiative" and "freedom of the individual" in general, perhaps best described by the French term "laissez faire," a verb meaning "to let [the people] do" [for themselves what they know how to do].

In practice, individualists are chiefly concerned with protecting individual autonomy by opposing encroachment by the state. They pay particular attention to protecting the liberties of the minority against transgressions by the majority and see the individual as the smallest minority. For example, individualists oppose democratic systems unless constitutional protections exist that preserve individual liberty of individuals from being diminished by the interests of the majority. These concerns encompass both civil and economic liberties. One typical concern is the concentration of commercial and industrial enterprise in the hands of the state, and the municipality. The principles upon which this opposition is based are mainly two: that popularly-elected representatives are not likely to have the qualifications, or the sense of responsibility, required for dealing with the multitudinous enterprises, and the large sums of public money involved in civic administration; and that the "health of the state" depends upon the exertions of individuals for their personal benefit (who, "like cells", are the containers of the life of the body). Individualism may take a radicalist approach, as in individualist anarchism.

The individualist sees society as "a large number of individuals working together" to improve their individual and collective welfare. The single person is not just a member of a greater unity. In fact, the single individual is seen as "the ultimate unity," and society is nothing more than a composition of these "individuals". The "state" is an organized form of society, which "ensures the individual's freedom" by law (under the protections of a republic). Thus, individualist policy tends to approve laws that protect, or otherwise enhance the liberties of the individual citizen, but rejects laws that subordinate the individual to the collective.

Individualism and society

Jean-Jacques Rousseau's "social contract" maintains that each individual is under implicit contract to submit his own will to the "general will." This advocacy of subordinating the individual will to a collective will is in fundamental opposition to the individualist philosophy. An individualist enters into society to further his own interests, or at least demands the right to serve his own interests, without taking the interests of society into consideration (an individualist need not be an egoist). The individualist does not lend credence to any philosophy that requires the sacrifice of the self-interest of the individual for any "higher" social causes.

Societies and groups can differ, in the extent to which they are based upon predominantly "self-regarding" (individualistic, and arguably self-interested) rather than "other-regarding" (group-oriented, and group, or society-minded) behaviour. There is also a distinction, relevant in this context, between "guilt" societies (e.g. medieval Europe) with an "internal reference standard", and "shame" societies (e.g. post-WWII Japan, "bringing shame upon one's ancestors") with an "external reference standard", where people look to their peers for feedback, as to whether an action is "acceptable" or not (also known as "group-think").

The extent to which society, or groups are "individualistic" can vary from time to time, and from country to country. For example, post-WWII Japanese society was more group-oriented (e.g. decisions tend to be taken by consensus among groups, rather than by individuals), and it has been argued that "personalities are less innately developed" (than is usual in the West). The USA is usually thought of as being at the individualistic (its detractors would say "atomistic") "end of the spectrum", whereas European societies are more inclined to believe in "public-spiritedness", state "socialistic" spending, and in "public" initiatives.

John Kenneth Galbraith made a classic distinction between "private affluence and public squalor" in the USA, and private squalor and public affluence in, for example, Europe, and there is a correlation between individualism and degrees of public sector intervention and taxation.

Individualism is often contrasted with either totalitarianism or collectivism, but in fact there is a spectrum of behaviours ranging at the societal level from highly individualistic societies (e.g. the USA) through mixed societies (a term the UK has used in the post-World War II period) to collectivist. Also, many collectivists (particularly supporters of anarchism or libertarian socialism) point to the enormous differences between liberty-minded collectivism and totalitarian practices.

Individualism, sometimes closely associated with certain variants of individualist anarchism, libertarianism or classical liberalism, typically takes it for granted that individuals know best and that public authority or society has the right to interfere in the person's decision-making process only when a very compelling need to do so arises (and maybe not even in those circumstances). This type of argument is often observed in relation to policy debates regarding regulation of industries.

Economic individualism

The doctrine of economic individualism holds that each individual should be allowed autonomy in making his own economic decisions as opposed to those decisions being made by the state, or the community, for him. Morever, it supports the liberty of individuals to own property as opposed to state or collective arrangements. Such an economic system is often called laissez-faire or capitalism.

Critics of modern capitalism sometimes argue that capitalism is not based on individuals but largely on firms and institutions, and that individuals' roles are largely determined by these institutions. However, compared to various forms of political collectivism, capitalism is usually still considered as individualistic since participation in these institutions is voluntary and an individual choice. Yet, capitalism can also thrive in certain collectivistic societies with individual choice. The only difference is what the choice is based on: individual need versus collective need.

Individualism and US history

At the time of the formation of the United States, many of its citizens had fled from state or religious oppression in Europe and were influenced by the egalitarian and fraternal ideals that later found expression in the French revolution. Such ideas influenced the framers of the U.S. Constitution (the Jeffersonian Democratic-Republicans) who believed that the government should seek to protect individual rights in the constitution itself; this idea later led to the Bill of Rights.

Opposing views

Individualism has negative connotations in certain societies and environments where it is associated with selfishness. For example, individualism was highly frowned upon in post-WWII Japan where self-interested behavior is traditionally regarded as a kind of betrayal of those to whom one has obligations (e.g. family and firm). The absence of universal health care in the United States, which traces back to a belief in individual (rather than societal) responsibility, is widely criticised in Europe and other countries where universal health care (usually funded through general taxation) is seen as protecting individuals from the vagaries of health problems. Health care in the United States is provided through private insurance. Some people who cannot afford health insurance in the United States are eligible for Medicaid, a government-sponsored program. Medicare is generally only available to those who are disabled and to single mothers (and their children). Not all doctors will accept medicare, typically just doctors in poor areas of the country who might have a large number of Medicare patients.

Proponents of such public initiatives and social responsibility argue that their policies are beneficial for the individual, and that excessive individualism may actually hurt the individuals themselves. Opponents hold that such public initiatives may have unintended consequences beyond the issues they are intended to address. Many individualists find the "beneficial to the individual" argument repugnant and argue that individualism is not about individual benefit so much as individual choice.


Main article: Liberalism

Liberalism (from the Latin liberalis, "of freedom; worthy of a free man, gentlemanlike, courteous, generous"[11]) is the belief in the importance of individual freedom. This belief is widely accepted today throughout the world, and was recognized as an important value by many philosophers throughout history. The Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius wrote praising "the idea of a polity administered with regard to equal rights and equal freedom of speech, and the idea of a kingly government which respects most of all the freedom of the governed".[12]

Modern liberalism has its roots in the Age of Enlightenment and rejects many foundational assumptions that dominated most earlier theories of government, such as the Divine Right of Kings, hereditary status, and established religion. John Locke is often credited with the philosophical foundations of modern liberalism. He wrote "no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions."[13]

In the Century 17, liberal ideas began to influence governments in Europe, in nations such as The Netherlands, Switzerland, England and Poland, but they were strongly opposed, often by armed might, by those who favored absolute monarchy and established religion. In the 18th Century, in America, the first modern liberal state was founded, without a monarch or a hereditary aristocracy.[14] The American Declaration of Independence includes the words (which echo Locke) "all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to insure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."[15]

Liberalism comes in many forms. According to John N. Gray, the essence of liberalism is toleration of different beliefs and of different ideas as to what constitutes a good life.[16]

Classical liberalism

Main article: Classical liberalism

Classical liberalism is a political ideology that developed in the 19th century in England, Western Europe, and the Americas. It followed earlier forms of liberalism in its commitment to personal freedom and popular government, but differed from earlier forms of liberalism in its commitment to free markets and classical economics.[17] Notable classical liberals in the 19th century include Jean-Baptiste Say, Thomas Malthus, and David Ricardo. Classical liberalism was revived in the 20th century by Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek, and further developed by Milton Friedman, Robert Nozick, Loren Lomasky, and Jan Narveson.[18]

The phrase classical liberalism is also sometimes used to refer to all forms of liberalism before the 20th century. And, after 1970, the phrase began to be used by Libertarians to describe their belief in the primacy of economic freedom and minimal government. It is sometimes difficult to tell which meaning is intended in a given source.

Individualist anarchism and economics

In regards to economic questions within individualist anarchism there are adherents to mutualism (Pierre Joseph Proudhon, Emile Armand), early Benjamin Tucker); natural rights positions (Early Benjamin Tucker, Lysander Spooner, Josiah Warren); and egoistic disrespect for "ghosts" such as private property and markets (Max Stirner, John Henry Mackay, Lev Chernyi, later Benjamin Tucker, Renzo Novatore, illegalism).


Mutualism is an anarchist school of thought which can be traced to the writings of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, who envisioned a society where each person might possess a means of production, either individually or collectively, with trade representing equivalent amounts of labor in the free market.[19] Integral to the scheme was the establishment of a mutual-credit bank which would lend to producers at a minimal interest rate only high enough to cover the costs of administration.[20] Mutualism is based on a labor theory of value which holds that when labor or its product is sold, in exchange, it ought to receive goods or services embodying "the amount of labor necessary to produce an article of exactly similar and equal utility".[21] Receiving anything less would be considered exploitation, theft of labor, or usury.


Right-libertarianism or right libertarianism is a phrase used by some to describe either non-collectivist forms of libertarianism[22] or a variety of different libertarian views some label "right" of mainstream libertarianism including "libertarian conservatism."

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy calls it "right libertarianism" but states: "Libertarianism is often thought of as 'right-wing' doctrine. This, however, is mistaken for at least two reasons. First, on social—rather than economic—issues, libertarianism tends to be 'left-wing'. It opposes laws that restrict consensual and private sexual relationships between adults (e.g., gay sex, non-marital sex, and deviant sex), laws that restrict drug use, laws that impose religious views or practices on individuals, and compulsory military service. Second, in addition to the better-known version of libertarianism—right-libertarianism—there is also a version known as 'left-libertarianism'. Both endorse full self-ownership, but they differ with respect to the powers agents have to appropriate unappropriated natural resources (land, air, water, etc.)."[23]


Left-libertarianism (sometimes synonymous with left-wing libertarianism and libertarian socialism) is a term that has been used to describe several different libertarian political movements and theorists.

Left-libertarianism, as defended by contemporary theorists such as Peter Vallentyne, Hillel Steiner, and Michael Otsuka, is a doctrine that has a strong commitment to personal liberty and has an egalitarian view concerning natural resources, believing that it is illegitimate for anyone to claim private ownership of resources to the detriment of others.[24][25] Some left-libertarians of this type support some form of income redistribution on the grounds of a claim by each individual to be entitled to an equal share of natural resources.[25] Social anarchists, including Murray Bookchin[26], anarcho-communists[27] such as Peter Kropotkin and anarcho-collectivists such as Mikhail Bakunin, are sometimes called left-libertarian.[28] Noam Chomsky also refers to himself as a left libertarian.[29] The term is sometimes used synonymously with libertarian socialism or used in self-description by geoists who support individuals paying rent to the community for the use of land. Left libertarian parties, such as Green, share with "traditional socialism a distrust of the market, of private investment, and of the achievement ethic, and a commitment to expansion of the welfare state."[30]

Methodological individualism

For some individualists, who hold a view known as methodological individualism, the word "society" cannot refer to anything more than a very large collection of individuals. Society does not have an existence above or beyond these individuals, and thus cannot be properly said to carry out actions, since actions require intentionality, intentionality requires an agent, and society as a whole cannot be properly said to possess agency; only individuals can be agents. The same holds for the government. Under this view, a government is composed of individuals; despite that democratic governments are elected by popular vote, the fact remains that all of the activities of government are carried out by means of the intentions and actions of individuals. Strictly speaking, the government itself does not act. For example, the point is sometimes made that "we" have decided to enact a certain policy, and sometimes this usage is used to imply that the entity known as "society" supports the policy and thus it is justified. The methodological individualist points out that "we" in fact did not enact or carry out this policy; among those who voted, a certain group of people voted for the policy, individuals all, and another group voted against it. The decision that emerged was not made by the "people", or by the "government"; it was made by those on the winning side of the vote. This is significant because in any collective there exists individuals who oppose the policy whose wills are being overridden, and the use of "we" tends to obscure that fact. The individualist wishes to highlight the importance of the individual and prevent subsumption into a collective. For these reasons, methodological individualists tend to disagree with claims such as "we deserve the government we have, because we are doing it to ourselves," since perhaps that individual and very possibly many others disagree with the actions of the individuals who hold government power. That said, many individualists are willing to use "we" in reference to government or society as a convenient shorthand as long as the fact that these entities are composed of individuals is kept in mind.

Individualism as personal lifestyle

The anarchist writer and bohemian Oscar Wilde once wrote that "Art is individualism, and individualism is a disturbing and disintegrating force. There lies its immense value. For what it seeks is to disturb monotony of type, slavery of custom, tyranny of habit, and the reduction of man to the level of a machine."[31]. The word individualism in this way has been used to denote a personality with a strong tendency towards self creation and experimentation as opposed to tradition or popular mass opinions and behaviors[32][33]

Anarchist writer Murray Bookchin describes a lot of individualist anarchism as people who "expressed their opposition in uniquely personal forms, especially in fiery tracts, outrageous behavior, and aberrant lifestyles in the cultural ghettos of fin de sicle New York, Paris, and London. As a credo, individualist anarchism remained largely a bohemian lifestyle, most conspicuous in its demands for sexual freedom ('free love') and enamored of innovations in art, behavior, and clothing."[34]

In relation to this view of individuality french Individualist anarchist Emile Armand advocates egoistical denial of social conventions and dogmas in order to live in accord to one's own ways and desires in daily life since he emphasized anarchism as a way of life and practice. In this way he manifests "So the anarchist individualist tends to reproduce himself, to perpetuate his spirit in other individuals who will share his views and who will make it possible for a state of affairs to be established from which authoritarianism has been banished. It is this desire, this will, not only to live, but also to reproduce oneself, which we shall call "activity" .[35].

In the book Imperfect garden : the legacy of humanism humanist philosopher Tzvetan Todorov identifies individualism as an important current of socio-political thought within modernity and as examples of it he mentions Michel de Montaigne, François de La Rochefoucauld, Marquis de Sade, and Charles Baudelaire[36] In La Rochefoucauld he identifies a tendency similar to stoicism in which "the honest person works his being in the manner of an sculptor who searches the liberation of the forms which are inside a block of marble, in order to extract the truth of that matter."[37] In Baudelaire he finds the dandy trait in which one searches to cultivate "the idea of beauty within oneself, of satisfying one´s passions of feeling and thinking."[38]


Main article: Anarchism

Anarchism is a political philosophy encompassing theories and attitudes which consider the state to be unnecessary, harmful, or otherwise undesirable, and favor instead a stateless society or anarchy.[39][40][41][42][43][44] Individual anarchists may have additional criteria for what they conceive to be anarchism, and there is often broad disagreement concerning these broader conceptions. According to The Oxford Companion to Philosophy, "there is no single defining position that all anarchists hold, and those considered anarchists at best share a certain family resemblance."[45]

See also=


  1. "individualism" on The Free Dictionary
  2. "individualism" on The Free Dictionary
  3. "Individualism" on Encyclopedia Britannica Online
  4. L. Susan Brown. The Politics of Individualism: Liberalism, Liberal Feminism, and Anarchism. BLACK ROSE BOOKS LID. 1993
  5. "individualism" on The Free Dictionary
  6. "individualism" on The Free Dictionary
  7. "individualism" on The Free Dictionary
  8. Bohemianism: the underworld of Art by George S. Snyderman and William Josephs
  9. "The leading intellectual trait of the era was the recovery, to a certain degree, of the secular and humane philosophy of Greece and Rome. Another humanist trend which cannot be ignored was the rebirth of individualism, which, developed by Greece and Rome to a remarkable degree, had been suppressed by the rise of a caste system in the later Roman Empire, by the Church and by feudalism in the Middle Ages."The history guide: Lectures on Modern European Intellectual History"
  10. "Anthropocentricity and individualism...Humanism and Italian art were similar in giving paramount attention to human experience, both in its everyday immediacy and in its positive or negative extremes...The human-centredness of Renaissance art, moreover, was not just a generalized endorsement of earthly experience. Like the humanists, Italian artists stressed the autonomy and dignity of the individual.""Humanism" on Encyclopedia Britannica
  12. Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Oxford University Press, 2008, ISBN 9780199540594.
  13. Locke, John (1690). Two Treatises of Government (10th edition), Project Gutenberg. URL accessed January 21, 2009.
  14. Paul E. Sigmund, editor, The Selected Political Writings of John Locke, Norton, 2003, ISBN 0393964515 p. iv "(Locke's thoughts) underlie many of the fundamental political ideas of American liberal constitutional democracy...", "At the time Locke wrote, his principles were accepted in theory by a few and in practice by none."
  15. Thomas Jefferson, Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776.
  16. John Gray, Two Faces of Liberalism, The New Press, 2008, ISBN 9781565846784
  17. Modern political philosophy (1999), Richard Hudelson, p, 37
  18. David Conway. Classical Liberalism: The Unvanquished Ideal. Palgrave Macmillan. 1998. ISBN 9780312219321 p. 8
  19. Introduction
  20. Miller, David. 1987. "Mutualism." The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Political Thought. Blackwell Publishing. p. 11
  21. Tandy, Francis D., 1896, Voluntary Socialism, chapter 6, paragraph 15.
  22. Serena Olsaretti, Liberty, Desert and the Market: A Philosophical Study, Cambridge University Press, 2004, 14, 88, 100.
  23. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on Libertarianism, Stanford University, July 24, 2006 version.
  24. "Libertarianism" entry at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
    Prof. Will Kymlicka "libertarianism, left-" in Honderich, Ted (2005). The Oxford Companion to Philosophy, New York: Oxford UP. "It combines the libertarian assumption that each person possesses a natural right of self-ownership over his person with the egalitarian premise that natural resources should be shared equally. Right-wing libertarians argue that the right of self-ownership entails the right to appropriate unequal parts of the external world, such as unequal amounts of land. According to left-libertarians, however, the world's natural resources were initially unowned, or belonged equally to all, and it is illegitimate for anyone to claim exclusive private ownership of these resources to the detriment of others. Such private appropriation is legitimate only if everyone can appropriate an equal amount, or if those who appropriate more are taxed to compensate those who are thereby excluded from what was once common property." See also Steiner, Hillel & Vallentyne. 2000. Left-Libertarianism and Its Critics: The Contemporary Debate. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 1
  25. 25.0 25.1 Gaus, Gerald F. & Kukathas, Chandran. 2004. Handbook of Political Theory. Sage Publications Inc. p. 128
  26. Joy Palmer, David Edward Cooper, Peter Blaze Corcoran. Fifty key thinkers on the environment. Routledge. 2001. p. 241
  27. DeLeon, David. 1978. The American as Anarchist: Reflections on Indigenous Radicalism. Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 1978
  28. Goodwin, Barbara. 1987. Using Political Ideas, 4th edition. John Wiley & Sons. p. 137-138
  29. O'Hara, Phillip Anthony. 1999. Encyclopedia of Political Economy. Routledge. p. 15
  30. Herbert Kitschelt, cited in Radical right-wing populism in Western Europe, Palgrave Macmillan, 1994. pp. 180-181.
  31. The soul of man under Socialism by Oscar Wilde
  32. "individualism" on The Free Dictionary
  33. Bohemianism: the underworld of Art by George S. Snyderman and William Josephs
  34. "2. Individualist Anarchism and Reaction" in Social Anarchism or Lifestyle Anarchism - An Unbridgeable Chasm
  35. "Anarchist Individualism as a Life and Activity" by Emile Armand
  36. Imperfect garden : the legacy of humanism. Princeton University Press. 2002.
  37. Imperfect garden : the legacy of humanism. Princeton University Press. 2002.
  38. Imperfect garden : the legacy of humanism. Princeton University Press. 2002.
  39. Mclaughlin, Paul (2007). Anarchism and Authority, Aldershot: Ashgate. Johnston, R. (2000). The Dictionary of Human Geography, Cambridge: Blackwell Publishers.
  40. Malatesta, Errico. Towards Anarchism. MAN!.
  41. Agrell, Siri (2007-05-14). Working for The Man. The Globe and Mail.
  42. Anarchism. Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Premium Service. URL accessed on 2006-08-29.
  43. (2005) Anarchism. The Shorter Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy: 14.
  44. Slevin, Carl. "Anarchism." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Politics. Ed. Iain McLean and Alistair McMillan. Oxford University Press, 2003.
  45. "Anarchism." The Oxford Companion to Philosophy, Oxford University Press, 2007, p. 31.

Further reading

  • Brown, L. Susan (1993). 'The Politics of Individualism: Liberalism, Liberal Feminism, and Anarchism', BLACK ROSE BOOKS LID. ISBN.
  • Emerson, Ralph Waldo (1847). Self-Reliance, London: J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd.. ISBN.
  • Dumont, Louis (1986). Essays on Individualism: Modern Ideology in Anthropological Perspective, Chicago: University Of Chicago Press.
  • Lukes, Steven (1973). Individualism, New York: Harper & Row.
  • Renaut, Alain (1999). The Era of the Individual, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
  • Shanahan, Daniel. (1991) Toward a Genealogy of Individualism. Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press. ISBN 0-870-23811-6.
  • Watt, Ian. (1996) Myths of Modern Individualism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-48011-6.
  • Barzilai, Gad. (2003). Communities and Law. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. ISBN 0-472-11315-1.
  • Adam Smith The Wealth of Nations
  • Karl Popper The Open Society and Its Enemies
  • Alan Waterman The Psychology of Individualism
  • Lawrence Kohlberg Six Stages of Moral Development

External links

relativism and universal moral

de:Individualismus es:Individualismo fr:Individualisme he:אינדיבידואליזם nl:Individualisme no:Individualisme pt:Individualismo sl:Individualizem sv:Individualism zh:个人主义

This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia (view authors).