What is individualism?

We explain what individualism is and what are the different meanings it has. In addition, their differences with collectivism.

  1. What is individualism?

Individualism is a political, moral and philosophical tendency , whose supreme values are the autonomy and self-sufficiency of the individual in society , emphasizing his “moral dignity” in the face of any attempt of intervention by the State or any other institution in his decisions and personal options.

Individualism pursues the total liberation of the individual , and that is why he places it at the center of his interests, since human rights and individual freedoms are his main bastions. Many political and social movements drink from the current of individualism (such as liberalism , existentialism and individualist anarchism ), opposed to the doctrines influenced by collectivism (communism, socialism, anarcho-syndicalism, etc.).

This current comes from the individual salvation raised by the Christian religion during the Middle Ages, but was drastically modified by the prevailing ideology during the Industrial Revolution , so it became a component of the way of seeing the world proposed by capitalism .

Other meanings

Individualism is also understood as the tendency in the artistic and bohemian fields to contravene established traditions and bet on self-creation and personal experimentation, distancing oneself from popular or mass opinions.

And in everyday or popular language, it can be used as a synonym for egocentrism , narcissism, selfishness or that type of behavior in which the individual desire over the welfare of the mass is deprived.

  1. Individualism and collectivism

Individualism and collectivism are opposite doctrines . While the first defends individual freedoms and free existence as the goal to be achieved, the second advocates social responsibility, community awareness and the foregoing of the needs of the community to the individual’s wishes.

Philosophical doctrines such as freethinking, ethical selfishness (or moral selfishness), or objectivism are the product of the juncture of individualism and capitalism (in what has been called economic individualism), and are to some extent heirs of bourgeois liberalism of Modern era.

From the collectivism these doctrines are considered as the product of a society that is not altruistic, focused on selfishness and individual benefits instead of common welfare.

  1. Individualism in today’s society

Contemporary society is often debated between collectivism and individualism as its two opposite and possible tendencies . During the close of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first, there was a marked tendency towards individualism in global terms, after the fall of the large collectivist projects of the Eastern Communist bloc, German reunification and the opening of China to global markets. This led to individualism being the prevailing system in politics and economics of the contemporary world.

However, collectivist projects tend to reappear, as happened in Latin America in the decade marked by progressive and populist governments such as Hugo Chávez (Venezuela), Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (Argentina), Luis Ignacio Lula da Silva (Brazil) , Evo Morales (Bolivia) and Rafael Correa (Ecuador). For some, however, the balance is not too favorable (especially in the Venezuelan case) and this led to a new return to capitalist individualism in the region.

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