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individualisma 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.
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.
G. S. BATISHCHEV