- Aug 17, 2005
- Reaction score
- Political Leaning
- Very Conservative
Individual Liberty, Society, and the Role of the State:
The major problem with modern individualism which Bellah et al. illustrate quite clearly in "Habits of the Heart," is one which arises when individuality becomes more important than the society as a whole and to this end creates a situation where not only is the society harmed but also the well being of the individual. It stands to reason that, because the individual does not live in a vacuum but rather in an interconnected societal structure in which the actions of the individual will ultimately affect the society as a whole then certain restrictions on the individual can justly be set in place in order to have a functioning society. Bella et al would argue that these necessary restrictions were once set in place through institutions; such as, the church and the state but as modern individualism and the focus on utilitarianism became more prevalent to the neglect of biblical individualism and classical republicanism that there is no longer a guiding source of morality as a framework for how the individual should interact with the society around them. Furthermore; if the individual is only conscious of himself then how can it reasonably be expected of him to consider the consequences of his actions on the rest of society?
To illustrate why this problem of modern individualism taking the place of classical republicanism is so important we can use one of the more extreme theories of individual liberty and property called anarcho-capitalism. The anarcho capitalist would assert that the state itself is an unjust monopoly which derives its power through the forced taxation of the citizenry and if one were to adopt the economic policies of total deregulation then the invisible hand of the market could take the place of the state; resulting in true liberty. The Anarcho Capitalist would claim that the state can be abolished, because it is assumed that through the individual doing what is most profitable for himself and in his own self interests that this would ultimately be good for the society as a whole, in that, it stands to reason that it is of course not profitable for a business owner, to say, poison his consumers through a flawed product. Yet, what this anarcho-capitalist model fails to take into account is that which is good for one individual is not always good for the society as a whole. To illustrate this point one could take into consideration that what would be in the best interests of the business owner would be for him to automate all production. This would certainly increase his production capacity and, also, his profit margin by reducing the amount he has to allocate to wages… but at what cost? Well of course that negative impact can clearly be seen in the workers who are now found jobless. So while the individual who owns this hypothetical business would benefit through increasing his net gain by decreasing wage costs, and the individual consumer would benefit through the decrease in prices which would inevitably result through the laws of supply and demand, the individual worker is now left jobless and destitute.
Now how does this disproportional focus on modern individualism to the neglect of classical republicanism relate to the practices of individualism in the United States? The best way to put it into perspective is through the context of the extremes on both sides of the spectrum. On one side of the spectrum we have totalitarianism in which the state is all powerful and individual liberty is non existent and on the other side we have anarchism in which the restrictive functions of the state have been totally abolished and unchecked individualism is the law of the land. Now how would this hypothetical anarchist societal structure function? Well let us first assume that the economic structure of any given society would remain intact and in the case of the United States it would continue to be Capitalism. Now that there is no longer a state to provide for services; such as, security, defense, and education there would now be a demand from the public for private companies to fill the void. The individual upon seeing that there was now a demand for him to provide this security, defense, education, etc., would begin to form privatized police, military, and educational institutions. Now that state regulation has been abolished there would no longer be any checks on monopolies. Individual companies each doing what is in their own economic interests would form into large conglomerates. So now a societal structure is beginning to form which in fact looks very state like. Not only has it taken on the form of the state but through the formation of these large conglomerates in which every aspect of society is controlled by a single entity the society has in fact become totalitarian in nature. In effect the individual liberty which the abolishment of the state was supposed to provide has been all but eliminated and in the place of a government of, by, and for the people, we are now left with a government of, by, and for the government. So we can see in this extreme example of how a focus solely on the individual while ignoring the effect that this individual will have on the society as a whole can in actuality create the opposite of the intended effect.
--Thomas Askins (that's me)