What is individualistic self


Meinhard Miegel
The end of individualism?

Anyone who takes the concept of individualism in their mouth and then even discusses its possible end, is entering a mined area. Not least because this term is mixed up and exchanged in general usage with completely different terms such as individual, individuality or individualization. It is therefore necessary to clearly distinguish the concept of individualism from those other concepts.

In the following, the concept of individualism is used as what it actually stands for: an ideology. And again there is a term in the room that needs explanation. Indeed, the concept of ideology is even more colorful than that of individualism. I understand by "ideology" - and I rely on the relevant German lexicon literature - an "arrangement and production of ideas for the interpretation of the world from a certain point of view" or also the "consideration of the relationship between a world of ideas and a - as always understood - real world ".

The ideology of individualism is - and I again rely on the relevant German lexicon literature - a conception or world of ideas according to which “the interests, needs and rights of the individual take priority over their social environment. From a theoretical, ethical or socio-political point of view, the individual is considered the real or sole reality and is viewed in terms of meaning and value as a purpose, design norm and assessment standard. "Or more pointedly:" Individualism is the representation of one's own interests without regard to society " .

To express oneself critically towards individualism does not therefore mean registering any reservations towards the individual or his individualization. Anyone who thinks the opposite should also assume that all those who turn against materialism or idealism, for example, are opposed to matter or ideals or even ideas - obvious nonsense.

The fact that individualism is often no longer recognized and understood as an ideology in our society is a reliable indicator of the high degree of its internalization. In societies like ours, individualism creates or at least promotes identity. Questioning this ideology is therefore easily perceived as an attack on individual and social identity. In order to prevent this, the ideology of individualism is assigned the rank of a value or, better still, an order of values. This order is the root of convictions and certainties that increase one's self-esteem, according to the motto: Everyone else has ideologies, I myself maintain values.

Now it is undisputed that that ideology of the primacy of the individual over society unleashed a flood of energies and greatly enriched both individual and social life. So much has been said and written about this, but above all this ideology is so actively lived that further confessions are superfluous.

What should be the focus of the following considerations is therefore not a renewed song of praise to individualism, but an indication of its Janus-headedness. Because like all ideologies, individualism has two faces. Its strengths - which are metaphysically exaggerated thanks to their internalization - are opposed to weaknesses that are suppressed for the same reason. This one-sidedness of the point of view is dangerous. Because this allows the weaknesses of this ideology to spread like bone damage, until one day the social structure collapses. Our society, like the societies of other early industrialized countries - so my finding - is approaching this state of affairs. It suffers from a sensitive weakening of its biological and cultural sustainability.

First, a few thoughts on declining biological carrying capacity. From an empirical point of view, individualistic societies and social groupings are very clear. Not a single early industrialized society still has a sustainable birth rate today. Without more or less large immigration, they are all programmed to decrease in numbers, with the old part of the population rising steeply in the initial phase of this population decline.

I attribute this development largely to the ideology of individualism. My argument: If the interests, needs and rights of the individual take precedence over their social environment, then it stands to reason. that possible competitors in the pursuit of such interests and needs are eliminated from the outset, that is, they are neither conceived nor born. Because they compete with career, housing, consumption or vacation. Children are therefore at most acceptable if their "burden" is collectivized, that is, transferred to the state, which then has to provide for crèches, kindergartens, child benefit and the like.

A dense hedge of arguments has grown around this fact, but it can easily be reduced to the basic statement: "Children disturb", "People without children are simply better off" or "If there is a child, it has the interests and needs of its parents The consequence: people from other regions who either sooner or later become individualists pour into the population holes. Then individualistic societies act like black holes, or those who cling to less individualistic ways of seeing and behaving and thus more individualistic forms of behavior In either case, the ideology of individualism becomes less effective.

At the same time, this ideology breaks down its economic and cultural foundations. Since the individual has priority over his or her social environment, freedom - as an individual right - in individualism ultimately means freedom from responsibility. To put it another way: the individual feels hindered in the satisfaction of his interests and needs if he is to bear the consequences of his actions himself. That is why it strives to separate freedom from responsibility.

It wants to be able to satisfy its need for smoking, hang-gliding, etc. without having to pay higher health insurance premiums. It calls for a liberal divorce law, but is reluctant to pay for the ex-spouse and children. The community should stand up for them. The same applies to parents in need of care or other relatives. Here, too, individual responsibility is increasingly rejected and transferred to the community.

The inevitable consequence of this is that state action expands parallel to the increase in individualistic ways of thinking and behaving. Everyone is always responsible for everything: for smokers, orphans who have been divorced, and those in need of care. Expressed in figures: in 1950 a sixth of the gross domestic product was transferred for social purposes, today it is a third, although at the same time the real gross domestic product has increased fivefold. This means that ten times as much is spent on social transfers today as it was 45 years ago - a paradoxical development given the general increase in prosperity.

But this development also contains a second paradox. If the state takes on increasing responsibility from individuals, it cannot, for obvious reasons, individually meet this responsibility. He has to standardize. That means: At the latest when the individual is taken care of by society - which, depending on the current situation, happens more and more frequently - everything individualistic ends. Society still strives for the appearance of individuality by striving for "individual justice". But this inevitably leads to injustice and even arbitrariness. By the massive transfer of responsibility from the individual to the state, the individual degrades himself. It contributes to its de-individualization. Already today, people are rarely born on public holidays, because that doesn't fit into the scheme. Soon, people will probably no longer die on public holidays either.

In addition, the de-individualized service is usually very expensive. The child in the children's home, the old man in the old people's home, the sick person in the hospital - they all cost much more than if they were cared for in the family or by other close people. But more and more often there is neither one nor the other. Not least because of this, we are amazed at the phenomenon that the economy is growing and growing, but that we can no longer afford it, either individually or collectively. The reason: The collective perception of responsibility devours increasing proportions of what has been earned. The effort increases until one day it becomes priceless. We may now have reached that point.

This dilemma can only be solved if the relationship between freedom and responsibility, between individual and community concerns, as it has been brought about by individualism, is changed. At present the relationships between the individual and the common good are no longer right. The unmistakable signs: undeclared work, social abuse, subsidy fraud, tax evasion, corruption, bribery. The question that must be answered again is: Who is responsible for the common good? If this is almost exclusively the state, then individualism must end. But if this responsibility is borne by the individual, then his priority ends over his social environment. The individual would then also have to take into account the needs and interests of others. That would also be the end of the ideology of individualism.

© Friedrich Ebert Foundation | technical support | net edition fes-library | January 1999