Individualism is an important concept in both economics and politics. Similar to collectivism it is a foundational principle to understand most ideological systems. At its heart, individualism is a set of principles centered on the belief in the moral worth of the individual. This means, that economic or political systems based on the principles of individualism favor policies that limit the control of the government and instead allow more freedoms for the individual person.
On the political spectrum, individualism is positioned on the right side. This is because the right side of the spectrum is most often associated with limited government intervention in political affairs. Therefore, people who support the principles of individualism argue in favor of self-reliance and independence. This means that they support the idea that individual people should be responsible for their own well-being and not count on the government (or any other outside agency) to assist them in their lives. Click here to read more about economic individualism.
POLITICAL INDIVIDUALISM HISTORY AND OVERVIEW
To understand individualism and these principles its first important to understand its impact on politics and economics. Political individualism is centered on the idea of freedom for the individual person in political decision-making. For example, the concept of liberalism is often associated with the right-side of the spectrum, along with individualism. While liberalism can take different forms such as classical liberalism or modern liberalism, it is most often associated with countries that value democracy as the political system of choice. Democracy is a political system that is associated with the idea that power or authority in a society rests with the people. In general, the people exercise their authority through elections in which they choose others to represent their interests in a formal legislative structure.
The ideas of liberalism emerged out of the tumult of the Age of Enlightenment and famous revolutions from the 18th century such as the American Revolution and French Revolution. The Age of Enlightenment was an important time in the history of the world and modern western societies. The Age of Enlightenment, or just the Enlightenment, occurred during the 17th and 18th centuries and is known as a time period of great change and new ideas. Specifically, the Enlightenment involved an intellectual movement, in which famous thinkers and philosophers challenged some of the basic foundations of society, including: role of the government, basic human nature, sources of authority and ideas centered on liberty. For instance, at the time, Europe was based on the political principles of feudalism and absolute monarchy. Feudalism was a form of government common during medieval Europe that involved society being structured in a very rigid and hierarchical way. It was popular in European society from the 9th century until the 15th century and was the form of government in which the country was dominated by an absolute monarch, in which all power was held within a single king. The monarch would rule over the country while the rest of the people were bound by a hierarchical system in which people were placed into classes in which they were born. The power of the monarch was absolute meaning ‘all powerful’. As such, people in the lower classes of feudal society were unable to question the king because he held total authority over society. However, during the Enlightenment, many different philosophers began to question this state and some offered alternative theories for how society could and should be structured. For example, John Locke, a famous Enlightenment thinker, questioned the authority of absolute monarchs and instead advocated for a monarch who held the support or consent of the people. In this way, Locke was arguing for the idea of basic rights and freedoms of the individual and a limitation of the power of the monarch. Locke is often credited with the emergence of classical liberal values and his ideas were important factors the in the American Revolution. For instance, the American Declaration of Independence is often cited as being heavily inspired by the works of John Locke. Similarly, the Declaration of the Rights of Man from the French Revolution echoed the individualistic values preset in the American Declaration of Independence and the ideas of Locke.
Central to the concept of liberalism is the notion of individual rights and freedoms. As stated above, famous 18th century revolutions saw the creation of documents that supported the idea that all individuals possess some basic rights and freedoms. For example, the American Declaration of Independence, which was written by Thomas Jefferson, states ‘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’. Further to this idea, countries that embrace liberal values usually include basic rights, such as: freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, freedom of association and the right to vote. All of these rights center on the freedom of the individual person and the limitation of power or authority for a centralized government such as an absolute monarchy. As such, individual rights and freedoms are an important principle of liberalism and therefore individualism. As such, modern democratic are based in part on individualism, such as: United States, Canada, Australia, France, England, Germany, etc.