Individualism is the Opposite of a "Cult"
I suspect the author of the blog article “The Cult of the Individual” may not authorize my comment on his article, so I will repost it here just in case.
“Asking an American about individualism is like asking a fish about water. It’s the environment that we live in, and it’s so pervasive that it’s hard to get perspective on it. There are hundreds of thousands of people in our society like the entrepreneur above. Their entire life was a gift from others who donated to the cause, but they sincerely think of themselves as strong individuals who made their way to success because of their own determination. They are literally blind to the fact that their life is only possible because of functional community systems–family, school, government, business networks, protective agencies, and so on.”
You are a very skilled writer, but I believe you consider individualism to be the opposite of community spirit, or cooperation, or brotherly feeling. This is not the case. Individualism is not exclusive of society or community action to solve common problems.
The theory that individuals can survive and indeed, thrive, based on mutual cooperation, without the need for government force, is not a baseless vision derived from the “cult of the individual.”
For example, government expenditures at every level show the paltry levels of support individuals were afforded as the country was being built. (http://tinyurl.com/3hpm3pv.)
The link above gives the government spending per capita since 1792. The point is simple: How much do Americans rely on government and thus, tax redistribution? So, in 1800, the U.S. government spent about $1 per capita in defense, and 30 cents in “other spending.”
How did they ever survive without the government taking care of them?
Today, if we include deficit spending, the U.S. government at all levels combined spends about $18,781.90 per person! This is an absolutely unsustainable level of spending, and is commensurate with people’s refusal to take responsibility for themselves. Of course, all manner of rationalizations and intellectualization of avoiding responsibility can be concocted by sophists.
To sum up on this point, individualism does not exclude human beings coming together to pursue a common interest. It is a legal principle that bestows man with rights, and prevents his abuse by his fellow man, and particularly, the State.
I find you are also conflating Jesus’ will, as Thomas Aquinas pointed out, giving man free will to live his own life, and the will of the state, typically filled with self-serving politicians and bureaucrats.
Nor did the Church need the State to promote religious ends in America. As Locke predicted, Christianity flourished in freedom. And as Alexis de Tocqueville noted in Democracy in America, the Church fulfilled many social and charitable roles in America, now taken over by the State. The redirection of man’s individual will and energies through the State, rather than leaving him free to spontaneously cooperate and help others, leads to atomization and apathy, not greater harmony and brotherhood. Attempting to imbue Christian ideals in the state is replacing the emphasis in Christian society on taking, rather than giving. This furthermore leads to resentment, as man’s will becomes usurped.
Americans don’t need government to take care of them. Americans, in general, need to relearn how to take care of themselves. And that entails getting government out of the way so they can act in their full capacity as caring human beings.
And on the contrary, individualism is the opposite of a “cult.”
“Socialism, like the ancient ideas from which it springs, confuses the distinction between government and society. As a result of this, every time we object to a thing being done by government, the socialists conclude that we object to its being done at all. We disapprove of state education. Then the socialists say that we are opposed to any education. We object to a state religion. Then the socialists say that we want no religion at all. We object to a state-enforced equality. Then they say that we are against equality. And so on, and so on. It is as if the socialists were to accuse us of not wanting persons to eat because we do not want the state to raise grain.” – Frederic Bastiat, The Law