Bolling: Individualism v Collectivism

I was preparing a lesson on America’s unique political culture based on a writing from Dr. Thomas Patterson, who is the Bradlee Professor of Government at the Kennedy School for Government and Public Policy at Harvard University.

In this writing, Dr. Patterson suggests that there are four core beliefs that have historically underpinned American democracy. They are:

• Liberty
• Equality
• Individualism
• Self-Government

Today, I want to focus on the question of Individualism and ask a simple question – do Americans still believe in Individualism?

Individualism is a commitment to personal initiative and self-sufficiency. The French political scientist Alexis de Tocqueville once observed that, “Liberty in America is tied to a desire for independence. Americans’ chief aim is to remain their own masters.”

The opposite of Individualism is Collectivism. In a collective philosophy, the group or society is seen as having precedence over the individual.

Socialism is a collective philosophy. Socialism places the importance of the individual secondary to the well-being of society as a whole.

So again, I ask, do Americans still believe in Individualism?

It seems to me that many from the Millennial, Gen X, and Gen Z generations have migrated rapidly to Collectivism. This results in a dependence on bigger and more intrusive government – a “nanny state” if you will – which they see as a positive, rather than a negative.

If de Tocqueville was right, a migration from Individualism to Collectivism could be the first step in a migration from Capitalism to Socialism and from liberty to oppression.

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