1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Individualism

6032491911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 14 — Individualism

INDIVIDUALISM (from Lat. individualis, that which is not divided, an individual), in political philosophy, the theory of government according to which the good of the state consists in the well-being and free initiative of the component members. From this standpoint, as contrasted with that of the various forms of socialism (q.v.) which subordinate the individual to the community, the community as such is an artificial unity. Individualism is, however, by no means identical with egoism, though egoism is always individualistic. An individualist may also be a conscientious altruist: he is by no means hostile to or aloof from society (any more than the socialist is necessarily hostile to the individual), but he is opposed to state interference with individual freedom wherever, in his opinion, it can be avoided. The practical distinction in modern society is necessarily one of degree, and both “individualism” and “socialism” are very vaguely used, and generally as terms of reproach by opponents. Every practical politician of whatever party must necessarily combine in his programme individualistic and socialist principles. Extreme individualism is pure anarchy: on the other hand Thomas Hobbes, a characteristic individualist, vigorously supported absolute government as necessary to the well-being of individuals. Moreover it is conceivable under given circumstances that an individualist might logically advocate measures (e.g. compulsory military service) which conflict with individual freedom. In practice individualism is chiefly concerned to oppose the concentration of commercial and industrial enterprise in the hands of the state and the municipality. The principles on which this opposition is based are mainly two: that popularly elected representatives are not likely to have the qualifications or the sense of responsibility required for dealing with the multitudinous enterprises and the large sums of public money involved, and that the health of the state depends on the exertions of individuals for their personal benefit.