(redirected from Economic individualism)
Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Financial.


1. another word for laissez faire
2. Philosophy the doctrine that only individual things exist and that therefore classes or properties have no reality
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005


a ramifying collection of philosophical, political, economic, and religious doctrines, underlying which is a recognition of the autonomy of the individual human being in social action and affairs. Epistemological individualism has sought to locate the foundations of knowledge in individual perceptions or APPERCEPTIONS or experience (see also EMPIRICISM). Historically, individualism has been an important element in opposing the powers of the STATE (see also CITIZEN RIGHTS) and in justifications of private PROPERTY and the free play of markets. Religious individualism, the doctrine that Man stands next to God and requires no intermediaries, is characteristic of PROTESTANTISM. In the social sciences, METHODOLOGICAL INDIVIDUALISM is the view that social phenomena can ultimately only be explained in terms of facts about individuals.

Critics of doctrinaire forms of individualism argue that these ideas tend to rest on an asocial conception of the individual person, including in some cases even a denial that 'S ociety’ exists. The polar opposite of individualism, conceptions of ‘structural determination’ (see STRUCTURALISM), are seen as equally problematic by many critics. In seeking to resolve a DUALISM of individual and society many sociologists have adopted theories which emphasize an interaction between individual and society (see STRUCTURE AND AGENCY). This need not undermine conceptions of individual agency and ‘moral responsibility’, e.g. the potency of human purposes ‘as causes’ and the capacity of moral persuasion and social sanctions to influence these (see also FREE WILL). Competing valuations of individual and social interests remain. However, these no longer depend on conceptions of the absolute autonomy of the individual (compare DECENTRED SELF). See also AUTONOMOUS MAN AND PLASTIC MAN.

Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a type of world view the essence of which is, in the last analysis, the assignment of an absolute value to the isolated individual as opposed to society, by which is meant not some particular social system but society in general. Individualism is expressed in real-life conduct, in moral behavior, as well as in abstract conceptions of various kinds—ethical, philosophical, ideological, and political. Individualist conceptions depict man as a primordially asocial or even antisocial being.

Individualism is not characteristic of primitive or archaic societies, where individuals are still so undeveloped and immature that they belong to their social milieu as dependent parts. In this case individuals have not yet developed even to the level of individualism (see K. Marx in K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 46, part 1, p. 18). Individualism arises and consolidates itself only in developed, antagonistic class formations; the grounds for it develop, on the one hand, as individuals acquire independence and, on the other, as cultural and historical forces acquire an alienated and impersonal form of existence in opposition to the immediate existence of individuals.

Relations under private-property systems, especially the bourgeois system, are of this sort, which Marx called “purely atomistic” (ibid., vol. 23, p. 103). These relations give rise to the point of view of the lone, isolated person and create the appearance of a primordial separation of the individual from any social whole, although the separation is, in fact, the result of a prolonged process of sociohistorical development. The fundamental contradiction of individualism consists in the fact that it presupposes the individualization of socially developed cultural riches in order for the individual to assert himself or herself, but at the same time it refuses to recognize the social origin, nature, and orientation of this very individualization.

Even the earliest conceptions of individualism arose as a result of the contradictions in cultural development in ancient society (the Cynics and the Cyrenaic school). The Renaissance was characterized by a cult of individuality that verged on individualism. The ideologists of the Enlightenment often took the abstract individual as their starting point. With the intensification of social atomization under developed bourgeois society sharper and more distinct individualist conceptions were formed. Thus, the Young Hegelian M. Stirner in his The Ego and His Own (Russian translation, 1906) proclaimed the renunciation by the self of everything not given as “mine” (see the criticism of Stirner by K. Marx and F. Engels, ibid., vol. 3). Since individualism places any logic in the social process outside the bounds of human essence, it makes an irrationalist interpretation of its viewpoint possible. This possibility has been most fully realized by existentialism. Under the conditions of monopoly capitalism two tendencies prevail: first, the crisis-stricken ideology of liberalism and individualism is being replaced by the ideology of anti-individualism, tied in with apologetics for the manipulation of people by bourgeois social institutions and with the favorable evaluation of the “organization man”; and second, the utilitarian attitude toward culture has grown stronger, with a retreat from broad social problems and struggle to mere consumerism. On the common ground of anarchistic and nihilistic ultraleftist “revolutionism,” rebellious individualism combines with an extremely primitive anti-individualism hostile to socialism and to the world communist movement (Maoism and gauchisme).

Marxism has explained the nature and historical role of individualism and shown the way for overcoming it. In criticizing individualism, Marxism does not counterpose to it impersonal social forms, detached from individuals, but rather an orientation toward the practical elimination of the social basis of individualism and the total assimilation by individuals of the complex and contradictory content of their social life. The full development of an independent individual can be realized only in association with a genuine collectivity and through it, consequently, only through the elimination of all “surrogate collectivities” (ibid., p. 75). In the struggle for communism, the free development of each individual is the condition for the free development of all (ibid., vol. 4, p. 447). This idea has been made a programmatic thesis of the Communist Party: “Everything for man.” Communist education and the entire ideological activity of the Communist Party are aimed at completely overcoming all survivals of individualism, such as acquisitiveness, arrogance, opposition to the collective, and egoism and at achieving an all-round, fully developed personality, dedicated to communist ideals, with a sense of deep responsibility, a morally concerned activism, and a creative attitude toward all aspects of social life.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


See also Egotism.
Beaumont, Ned
gambler-detective solves murder case in unorthodox manner. [Am. Lit.: The Glass Key, Magill I, 307–308]
Different Drummer
Thoreau’s eloquent prose poem on the inner freedom and individualistic character of man. [Am. Lit.: NCE, 2739]
Longstocking, Pippi
eccentric young girl who sets her own standards. [Children’s Lit.: Pippi Longstocking]
Allusions—Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
It is because her crimes, like the travels of Robinson Crusoe, are rooted in the dynamics of economic individualism that Moll Flanders is essentially different from the protagonists of the picaresque novel.
Economic individualism justified the self-confidence with which civilisation was equated with progress, for it offered the magic key that explained why Europe had developed and grown wealthier, in contrast to the static quality of such state-dominated empires as China or India.
The second type, The Three Musketeers story, is associated with France rather than England, and with state nationalism rather than Defoe's economic individualism. Green relates this form to a keen sense of power, prestige, and hierarchy, and the rise of historical novels in general.
Hackett's and Burke's studies of town founding on the frontier hark back to the classic New England community studies of the early 1970s; each is concerned to determine how far the Dutch settlements replicated or fell short of the standard of communalism based on rejection of economic individualism found in those works.
Oddly enough, economic individualism gets off relatively lightly.
but sacrificed the economic individualism that was at the heart of their [capitalist] membership" (172).
Among the more descriptive efforts are the examination of Puerto Rican support for such values as economic individualism and political tolerance by Rodolfo de la Garza.
Their eventual social and political integration came with the larger society's adoption of their ideology of economic individualism. Political and religious rivalry were transmuted into economic and social cooperation.
Beyond this, the alliance endorses the so-called American way: free enterprise, economic individualism, government deregulation, and so on.