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Affluent Christian Investor | October 3, 2023

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The True Foundation Of America Is Individualism, Not Democracy

Declaration of Independence (painted by John Trumbull) (1819)

Defining individualism within the United States gives us an understanding of both our individual purpose and the purpose of our Compactial-Republican form of government.  Both John Locke and Charles de Montesquieu, two of America’s most influential Enlightenment philosophers, articulate this as well.  Dr. Lyle Rossiter, in his study of the American psyche, gives a very concrete definition which eloquently and clearly characterizes the meaning and function of individualism; and, as Dr. Rossiter rightfully states, “Individuation is fundamental to any society grounded in the principles of individual liberty.”  Dr. Rossiter defines and explains individualism as:

The autonomous individuated adult correctly assumes his right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  He assumes the right as a moral conviction: he has a proper sense of entitlement to a life of his own, to live as he sees fit and not as someone else directs.  But mature autonomy does not consist in a belief that one should be able to do or have anything that one wants without regard for others and without earning it.  It does not imply entitlement to goods and services from others simply because one demands it or needs it.  That is the attitude of a dependent child…It is not the callous disdain for the other that is always present in a pathological narcissism but often concealed by superficial charm.

The truly autonomous person learns in contrast to the narcissist that every other person is also an autonomous agent in his own right, not a mere object to be exploited…the truly autonomous person honors the sovereignty of other competent persons and respects their right to live lives of their own.  These insights are critical to participation in a free society.  They ground our conception of individual liberty, lead to prohibitions against encroaching upon the persons and property of others, and establish the attitudinal foundation for equality under the law.[1]

Locke, nearly a century prior to the formation of the United States, wrote[2] that “Men being, as has been said, by nature, all free, equal, and independent, no one can be put out of his estate, and subjected to a political power of another, without his own consent.  The only way whereby any one divests himself of his natural liberty, and puts on the bonds of civil society is by agreeing with other men to join and unite into a community, for their comfortable, safe, and peaceable living one amongst another, in a secure enjoyment of their properties, and a greater security against any that are not of it…wherein the majorityhave a right to act and conclude the rest.”[3]

This individualism cannot be supplanted by the will of the majority.  It is the cornerstone behind why we are not a democracy, but a deliberately chosenConstitutional-Republic.[4]  Our Founders studied the democracies of the past and understood their abject failures, so while embracing democratic principles; they reject democracies as a form of governance.  They realized a pure democracy, as history had demonstrated, was a road to despotism, and an absolute breach of individualism.  Rossiter continues:

Individualism insists that an individual’s freedom to live as he chooses may not be subordinated to any collective-based rules beyond those essential to ensure social order and equal liberty for all individuals…[and]…must give first importance to the individual, not to a group; no collective cause should be allowed to override those rights.  The only legitimate function of government is to foster the lives of citizens by protecting their rights as individuals, not as members of a class or group; no collective cause should be allowed to override those rights.  Individualism opposes any conception of the state or other collective as primary in value over the individual.  In particular, it opposes any notion that the individual exists for the good of the state.[5]

Our Founders, Locke, and Montesquieu couldn’t agree more.

[1] Lyle H. Rossiter, Jr., M.D., 2006, The Liberal mind:  The Psychological Causes of Political Madness, (St. Charles, IL: Free World Books, LLC), pp. 130-131.

[2] Locke ascribes to this throughout his Second Treatise articulated it in a variety of descriptions.

[3] John Locke, 1982, ed. Richard Cox (originally published in 1690), Second Treatise of Government, “Book VIII:  Of the Beginning of Political Societies, Sec. 95,” (Wheeling, IL: Harlan Davidson, Inc.), p. 58.

[4] In pages 120 to 125, Montesquieu begins building the bases for why separate states join to build a confederate-republic.  See Charles de Montesquieu, 2010 (originally published in 1748), The Spirit of the Laws, “Book IX: Of Laws in the Relation They Bear to a Defensive Force,” ( Book), p 120-125.

[5] Lyle H. Rossiter, Jr., M.D., 2006, The Liberal mind:  The Psychological Causes of Political Madness, (St. Charles, IL: Free World Books, LLC), p. 146.



Originally published on Townhall Finance.


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