Friday, June 25, 2010

Collectivism and Individualism

The two prevailing views of human social life are, collectivism and individualism. It is the great contribution of Kuyper & Dooyeweerd to show a Xn alternative to both and thus why being presented with only them is a false dilemma. The basic issue is: which is the fundamental reality the group or the individual? Is it that groups give rise to individuals or do individuals give rise to groups? This would be funny - like the question which came first the chicken or the egg - if it didn't have such serious consequences.

The collectivist view is that it takes a community to produce and maintain an individual. Aristotle, for example, says "the solitary individual dies" and holds that anyone who can survive outside the state is either a beast or a god but not a human. Hobbes, on the other hand, says that only solitary individuals existed at first and all groups are the product of their free decisions to form them. The state is voluntarily formed because of fear, since life without it is "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short." Locke followed him.

The thing is, each has a plausible argument. Surely there can be no individuals without parents. But just as surely there can be no marriages without individuals. The Xn position is given, I'd say, in Genesis where we're told that God created more then one human and put them in community with one another. So the short reply is: neither individuals nor groups are the origin of human society, God is. And every theory that regards either individuals or groups as the origin of the other both ignores God and overestimates the role of whichever it picked in his place. So, for example, individualism has led to the notion that ONLY individuals have rights and legal standing, and that the state (and other communities) exist only to serve the individual. On the other hand collectivism has led to the notion that the individual exists to serve the group, so Aristotle actually held that justice is whatever preserves the state. By contrast, the WdW frees us from that false dilemma and calls for rights for families, churches, schools, businesses, etc. as well as individuals. It also calls on the state to aim at PUBLIC justice not just the preservation of individual rights.

But pointing to all that shouldn't blind us to the elements of truth in each of the false views. It surely is the case that a sense of individual worth and independence was a marked improvement over, say, the tribal mentality. And the belief that each individual has his or her calling from God frees a person from feeling bound by traditional ideas of class and occupation. So while the good that Hayek points to is legitimate, it doesn't arise only from individualism but also from the doctrine of creation and sphere sovereignty. So despite what's right about his point it is still a mistake to identify the Xn position exclusively with either individualism or collectivism. - Roy Clouser explained more fully in The Myth of Religious Neutrality?

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