Individualism – Renaissance: Striking a Balance
How it works
Individualism is a topic that could be argued over if America gave it focus instead of wondering how to build a wall. Individualism has many meanings, but in the end, it all circles back to the individual themself and their equality. A basic description of Individualism is being self-reliant, having freedom and equality. Yet, America has and will continue to short us of our equality unless we stand up and fight for Individualism. Therefore, would the people of America be better off practicing Individualism? Or is a civil society that dictates our every move better?
Historical Foundations of Individualism
In the book Culture Wars and Enduring American Dilemmas written by Irene Thomason, there was a specific section where people were asked to participate in a survey in regards to individualism and if America should practice it as a whole.
Most people agree that Individualism is a great idea and America should practice it. There is a passage in the book that states, “More than 75% of Americans in four different national surveys during the 1970s and 1990s supported the value of the free enterprise and endorsed ‘the rights to one’s own opinion’ and the view that ‘what happens to me is my own doing,’”(qtd. in Thomson 88). The survey took place some years ago, but I would argue that it is still relevant to the idea of Individualism. America was not the only country that took part in this survey, but as the results showed, it was definitely one of the more supportive of the idea, as a majority of people that took part agreed that it was something that should be implemented. To further back up this survey and the research statement, the author stated, “ In one respect, the evidence is clear: Americans are more supportive of economic individualism than are citizens of any other nation and are more likely than others to believe that individuals’ fate lies in their own hands… Americans have consistently and unambiguously supported the values of free enterprise and competition” (Thomson 88). Therefore, Individualism seems like something Americans should practice, both for what was gathered from the survey and if only for the fact that its’ success is marked by prerequisites, as I will further stipulate now.
Individualism was an idea practiced years ago when the American Revolution and Italian Renaissance took place. In the American Revolution, America gained its independence from Great Britain, which made the American people proud and free. They no longer had to succumb and follow British orders, nor would they have to continue to adhere to their lifestyle; therefore, the American people could express themselves freely in their own way. The Italian Renaissance was an event that allowed people to express their ideas during the cultural movement. When people were given the option of Individualism a chance, they were happy and would do more good for their community. In the dissertation, David and Goliath: Individualism and Liberty in the Italian Renaissance and the American Revolution, an author spoke highly on the subject of Individualism and the good effects it had on the people back then:
Modern Endorsement of Individualism
The Renaissance and American ideals of individualism create a “complete” individual who is better able to serve the common good. Jakob Burkhardt’s 1860 work The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy was possibly the first to connect the Renaissance with individualism. Quentin Skinner points to the idea of vir virtutis, or the individual who has achieved his highest potential of excellence. This idea was the foundation for civic humanism in the Renaissance and is significant in classical republicanism as well. The American ideals of republicanism, as stated by Wood —“its spirit, its morality, its freedom, its sense of friendship and duty, and its vision of society”—were also based on the merit and virtue of the individual. Other scholars in various disciplines address the values, freedoms, rights, and worth of individuals within all areas of society; they generally recognize how beneficial individualism is to a culture’s progress rather than its destruction. (qtd. in McConnell 10)
The Renaissance supported individualism and encouraged people to express their talents along with their character to better serve society. Therefore, Individualism has more pros than cons and can bring a community to a civilized state if they let each individual be themselves.
In the reading “My Kinsman: Major Molineux,” a young boy named Robin had set out into the world under the impression that he would receive a great pension from his uncle, who works for the government, which would help him succeed in life. However, when things didn’t go as Robin pinned, he started to wonder if he could make it on his own in this world. The theme of this reading is the human desire for identity and independence. Robin needed to know who he truly was and to accomplish that, he needed to get out of his comfort zone. Robin went to Boston looking for his uncle, and on his journey, Robin found his true identity. This story ties in with the subject of Individualism because instead of Robin trying to fit in with other town folk, he finds himself. There was a quote in the reading that states, “Or, if you prefer to remain with us, perhaps, as you are a shrewd youth, you may rise in the world, without the help of your kinsman, Major Molineux”(“My Kinsman: Major Molineux”). That was a statement made by a stranger whom Robin encountered near the end of his journey. Those words that were spoken to Robin carried a lot of weight both literally and thematically because, in the end, Robin stayed and made it in the world on his own. The overall message of the story is that any individual can succeed on their own without help from the government or any other person. The author, Nathaniel Hawthorne, got his point across by using many literary devices in the reading, with the key ones being allusion, symbolism, and irony. Allusion was expressed in the reading when the author said, “ a man, who, like the moonshine of Prymasus and Thisbe, carried a lantern needlessly aiding his sister.” Hawthorne’s allusion to a play by Shakespeare, Midsummer Nights’ Dreams, highlights the foolishness of mankind; the man and woman performed a parody of the play. The author used these literary devices to exaggerate the meaning and get his point across. Along with Hawthorne, there are other famous authors who argued heavily for the ideal of Individualism.
Individualism and Community Harmony
Thoreau and Emerson are two famous authors who believed in the practice of Individualism and nonconformity. Both authors wrote within their works about what an individual would need to succeed and what reforms to society would need to take place. A primary work published by Thoreau is “Resistance to Civil Government.” In this essay, Thoreau states, “That government is best which governs not at all, and when men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of government which they will have”( Thoreau). Thoreau was saying the best government for society is no government, and when that idea is put in place, society will be more at ease. This essay aligns with Emerson’s primary work, “Self-Reliance,” because both sources are based on the aspects of Individualism. Emerson stated, “Our housekeeping is mendicant, our arts, our occupations, our marriages, our religion we have not chosen, but society has chosen for us… If our young men miscarry in their first enterprises, they lose all heart. If the young merchant fails, men say he is ruined”(Emerson). Emerson was expressing the cons of having a government that dictates your every move. The government has a charge over who we can marry, what religions we can practice, where we can practice, what we are permitted to do, etc. However, things are in the process of changing, and hopefully, everyone can receive the equality that the US Constitution promised was innate to our country. Some political parties are trying to make it a bigger subject to focus on, which would let the community know they are listening.
Balancing Individualism and Collective Welfare
The practice of individualism is becoming more popular. The Liberal Party is primarily known for advocating individualism and are arising more in the political world. It is not a surprise that the American people do not work alongside each other, and some people believe that this is the problem with America; our country has reached a crossroads. In regards to Individualism, some believe everyone should be able to work together under the pretense that there is a government that dictates each person’s move instead of having the freedom to each their own. In the book “Individualism: New and Old,” the author states:
But I wonder if we have not put the cart before the horse if the root problem is not changes in the community but changes in the individuals who make up the community if civil society and community have declined only as ‘the vices or virtues of individuals have changed. And so perhaps this is the place, to begin with the question of how American individualism has mutated over the decades. (Wolfson 76)
The author is expressing his feelings towards the reduction in the use of the idea of individualism. Wolfson believes that the problem lies within the community because they try to mold people into someone that they are not. Everything the author stated is true, which leads to the reason why people don’t get along because there is always somebody trying to overrule the next person.
An individual can succeed in life, but how they’ll succeed is the question that ponders people’s minds. From looking over all the statistics and facts that are credible, it seems that an individual can succeed on their own without help from their community. Many people have a mindset they can be whoever they want to be, and from looking at the statistics earlier, most people agreed it’s best if Americans practice individualism. Another key factor that helps in this new global era is technology. Technology is an essential factor when defining and inventing things, in this case, Individualism. In the book “The Theory of New Individualism,” the author states:
Our age is of a new individualism: our present fascination with instant creation, reinvention, and transformation of selves is, in one sense or another, an element of contemporary life. Living in the global age of a new individualism requires individuals capable of designing and directing their own biographies, defining identities in terms of self-realization, and employing social goods and cultural symbols to represent individual expression and personality. In current social circumstances – in which personal life is reshaped by technology-induced globalization and the transformation of capitalism – it is not the particular individuality of an individual that is more important. What is increasingly significant is how individuals create identities, the cultural forms by which people symbolize individual expression and desire, and, perhaps, above all, the immediacy with which identities can be reinvented and transformed. (Elliot 474)
An individual can express themselves freely with the use of technology and can redefine who they truly are, not what society has made them be.
In conclusion, it is clear that a majority of Americans agree on its viability and that it has often been viable in the past. Practicing Individualism would not do any harm to anyone, and an individual has a higher chance of succeeding on their own. Individualism worked against the grain of adversity, and people succeeded; therefore, it can easily be gleaned that the same feat could be accomplished again. Technology can be of great use to people as well, in which they can express themselves freely and redefine who they truly are. America is at crossroads because somebody will always have the need and want to control somebody else life. In reality, the answer to the problem lies right there in their face; Individualism is the best solution.
- Elliot, Anthony. “The Theory of New Individualism.” Cambridge University Press, 2018.
- Hawthorne, Nathaniel. “My Kinsman: Major Molineux.” 1832.
- McConnell, Brian E. “David and Goliath: Individualism and Liberty in the Italian Renaissance and the American Revolution.” University of California, 2015.
- Thomson, Irene. “Culture Wars and Enduring American Dilemmas.” University Press of Kansas, 2010.
- Thoreau, Henry David. “Resistance to Civil Government.” 1849.
- Emerson, Ralph Waldo. “Self-Reliance.” 1841.