I Might Not Be a Bigot (or a Commie)


IndividualismIndividualism is so strong in the United States, that if you suggest any sort of limitation of individual freedom you might be called a bigot (by the left) or, worse yet, a socialist (by the right).

I think this might be the reason I find myself feeling more at home in Canada where, it seems,  individualism is softened a bit.

Individualism arises from a particular view of the self–the self is first an individual, and second, a member of a group.

Individualism is not just liberal thing.  Both Liberals and Conservatives enthusiastically support the tenets of the liberal democracies, of which personal freedom is one–they just tend to emphasize different ones.  The liberals tend to be more interested in political and social freedoms and the conservatives are more insistent on economic ones.

I sometimes catch myself wondering if individual freedoms are the ultimate good, or if there might be some merit to sacrificing some of those freedoms for the common good.

I am not a liberal because I question the primacy of individual political and social freedoms.

My ideas about marriage, for instance, lean toward common good at the expense of individual freedom.

If the self is an ultimately an individual (I don’t think too many liberals would argue that this is pretty central to their beliefs) then the primary purpose of marriage is to serve the needs of the individual–it should contribute to happiness and aid in the flourishing of the individual.  If the marriage is no longer achieving this end, then one might legitimately get a divorce and move on.

If the community takes primacy over the individual, then communal flourishing is more important than that of the individual.  Under these conditions the purpose of marriage is to benefit the greater community in some way, say, by providing a secure environment for the nurturing of children.

It seems to me that in our culture we are unbalanced toward the side of individualism and showing no sign of moving toward equilibrium.  Liberals are not responsible for this shift, but  in the area of political and social freedoms, they tend to push that direction.

Abortion, euthanasia, divorce, free speech are complicated issues and many Christians, and other groups who have a more collective mentality, are at odds with those who lean toward the individualist side of the continuum.

Importantly, it is sometimes ones view of the self–whether it is primarily individual or communal–that determines one’s position on these issues and not, simply, ones bigotry or communist leanings.

Paul Tillich wrote that there is a “polar tension” between individuals and community because you can’t have one, without the other.  A community needs individuals to challenge the identity of the community in order to keep it alive, and the identity of the individual is derived from the greater community.

I am a little worried that we are in danger of losing the tension.

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