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Gregariousness is always the refuge of mediocrities, whether they swear by Solovyov or Kant or Marx. Only individuals seek the truth.
~ Boris Pasternak

Individualism is a term which refers to a moral stance, political philosophy, ideology, or social outlook which stresses the intrinsic worth of the individual. Individualists promote the exercise of the desires and experiments with goals which stress the importance of self-reliance and autonomy while opposing most forms of imposed interference with the interests and rights of individuals, whether by society, family or any other group or institution.


A - D[edit]

  • There is another side to this stalwart individualism that also deserves consideration. Great things have been done in its name, no doubt, and it will always have its place in any reasoned scheme of thinking. Individual initiative and energy are absolutely indispensable to the successful conduct of any enterprise, and there is ample ground for fearing the tyranny and ineptitude of governments. … but on other pages of the doom book other entries must be made. In the minds of most people who shout for individualism vociferously, the creed, stripped of all its flashy rhetoric, means getting money, simply that and nothing more. And to this creed may be laid most of the shame that has cursed our cities and most of the scandals that have smirched our Federal Government.
    • Charles A. Beard, The Myth of Rugged American Individualism (1932), §4; reprinted from Harper's Magazine, December 1931, pp.13–22.
  • The cold truth is that the individualist creed of everybody for himself and the devil take the hindmost is principally responsible for the distress in which Western civilization finds itself — with investment racketeering at one end and labor racketeering at the other. Whatever merits the creed may have had in the days of primitive agriculture and industry, it is not applicable in an age of technology, science, and rationalized economy. Once useful, it has become a danger to society. Every thoughtful business man who is engaged in management as distinguished from stock speculation knows that stabilization, planning, orderly procedure, prudence, and the adjustment of production to demand are necessary to keep the economic machine running steadily and efficiently. … And all of them know that this means severe restraints on the anarchy celebrated in the name of individualism. The task before us, then, is not to furbish up an old slogan, but to get rid of it.
    • Charles A. Beard, The Myth of Rugged American Individualism (1932), §4; reprinted from Harper's Magazine, December 1931, pp.13–22.
  • The surest defense against Evil is extreme individualism, originality of thinking, whimsicality, even — if you will — eccentricity. That is, something that can't be feigned, faked, imitated; something even a seasoned imposter couldn't be happy with.
    • Joseph Brodsky, in "A Commencement Address" (1984), delivered at Williams College, published in Less Than One : Selected Essays (1986).
  • British empiricist philosophy is individualist. And it is of course clear that if the only criterion of true and false which a man accepts is that man's, then he has no base for social agreement. The question of how man ought to behave is a social question, which always involves several people; and if he accepts no evidence and no judgment except his own, he has no tools with which to frame an answer.
    • Jacob Bronowski, Science and Human Values (1956), Part 3: "The Sense of Human Dignity", §3.
  • I don't like ass kissers, flag wavers or team players. I like people who buck the system. Individualists. I often warn kids: "Somewhere along the way, someone is going to tell you, 'There is no "I" in team.' What you should tell them is, 'Maybe not. But there is an "I" in independence, individuality and integrity.'" Avoid teams at all cost. Keep your circle small. Never join a group that has a name. If they say, "We're the So-and-Sos," take a walk. And if, somehow, you must join, if it's unavoidable, such as a union or a trade association, go ahead and join. But don't participate; it will be your death. And if they tell you you're not a team player, just congratulate them on being so observant.
  • Miss Goldman is a communist; I am an individualist. She wishes to destroy the right of property, I wish to assert it. I make my war upon privilege and authority, whereby the right of property, the true right in that which is proper to the individual, is annihilated. She believes that co-operation would entirely supplant competition; I hold that competition in one form or another will always exist, and that it is highly desirable it should. But whether she or I be right, or both of us be wrong, of one thing I am sure; the spirit which animates Emma Goldman is the only one which will emancipate the slave from his slavery, the tyrant from his tyranny — the spirit which is willing to dare and suffer.
  • As to the American tradition of non-meddling, Anarchism asks that it be carried down to the individual himself. It demands no jealous barrier of isolation; it knows that such isolation is undesirable and impossible; but it teaches that by all men's strictly minding their own business, a fluid society, freely adapting itself to mutual needs, wherein all the world shall belong to all men, as much as each has need or desire, will result.
    And when Modern Revolution has thus been carried to the heart of the whole world — if it ever shall be, as I hope it will — then may we hope to see a resurrection of that proud spirit of our fathers which put the simple dignity of Man above the gauds of wealth and class, and held that to be an American was greater than to be a king.
    In that day there shall be neither kings nor Americans — only Men; over the whole earth, MEN.
  • Individuality is the aim of political liberty. By leaving to the citizen as much freedom of action and of being, as comports with order and the rights of others, the institutions render him truly a freeman. He is left to pursue his means of happiness in his own manner.
  • All greatness of character is dependent on individuality. The man who has no other existence than that which he partakes in common with all around him, will never have any other than an existence of mediocrity.
  • Self-expression is individuality, and our individuality is our self, which ought to be our chief concern

E - H[edit]

  • True and false individualism differ, according to Hayek, not primarily about values but about facts. The question of how societies are actually ordered or organized separates them: Are communities created, or do they evolve? The answer is obviously some combination of the two, but the relative weighting is of the greatest importance. If one believes that it is possible to plan centrally an economy or society, an entirely different normative society may emerge than if one believes that such planning is not possible. Starting from different factual premises, contrasting moral systems may be built.
    • Alan Ebenstein, Hayek's Journey: The Mind of Friedrich Hayek (2003), Ch. 8. “The Abuse and Decline of Knowledge”
  • The less government we have, the better, — the fewer laws, and the less confided power. The antidote to this abuse of formal Government, is, the influence of private character, the growth of the Individual.
  • The most important things about the individual are what he cannot or will not say.
    • Lawrence K. Frank (1939) "Projective methods for the study of personality" The journal of psychology 8, p. 395.
  • Could Hamlet have been written by a committee, or the Mona Lisa painted by a club? Could the New Testament have been composed as a conference report? Creative ideas do not spring from groups. They spring from individuals. The divine spark leaps from the finger of God to the finger of Adam, whether it takes ultimate shape in a law of physics or a law of the land, a poem or a policy, a sonata or a mechanical computer.
    • Alfred Whitney Griswold, president of Yale, baccalaureate address, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut (June 9, 1957); reported in Congressional Record (June 11, 1957), vol. 103, Appendix, p. A4545.
  • I am only one,
    But still I am one.
    I cannot do everything,
    But still I can do something;
    And because I cannot do everything
    I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.
    • Edward Everett Hale, "Lend a Hand", in James Dalton Morrison, ed., Masterpieces of Religious Verse (1948), p. 416.

I - L[edit]

  • One man with courage makes a majority.
    • Andrew Jackson; reported in Robert F. Kennedy, "Foreward to the Young Readers" Memorial Edition of John F. Kennedy, Profiles in Courage (1964), p. xiii. Reported as unverified in Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of Quotations (1989). Robert F. Kennedy continued, "That is the effect President Kennedy had on others" A variation of the phrase above, "One man can make a difference and every man should try", was written by Jacqueline Kennedy on a card to accompany an exhibit that traveled around the country when the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston was first opened.
  • At the heart of that western freedom and democracy is the belief that the individual man, the child of God, is the touchstone of value, and all society, groups, the state, exist for his benefit. Therefore the enlargement of liberty for individual human beings must be the supreme goal and the abiding practice of any western society.
    • Robert F. Kennedy, "Day of Affirmation", address delivered at the University of Capetown, South Africa (June 6, 1966); reported in Congressional Record (June 6, 1966), vol. 112, p. 12429.
  • First, is the dangers of futility; the belief there is nothing one man or one woman can do against the enormous array of the world’s ills—against misery and ignorance, injustice and violence. Yet many of the world’s great movements, of thought and action, have flowed from the work of a single man.
    • Robert F. Kennedy, "Day of Affirmation", address delivered at the University of Capetown, South Africa (June 6, 1966); reported in Congressional Record (June 6, 1966), vol. 112, p. 12430.
  • Each human being, as a single individual, must account for himself to God; and while no third person dares to introduce into this settling of accounts between God and the single individual, the speaker dares to and ought to remind us with his question that this is not forgotten, remind us that the most pernicious of all evasions is-hidden in the crowd, to want, as it were, to avoid God’s inspection of oneself as a single individual, as Adam once did when his bad conscience fooled him into thinking that he could hide among the trees.

M - P[edit]

  • I think the question is not about "communists" and "individualists", but rather about anarchists and non-anarchists. And we, or at least many of us, were quite wrong in discussing a certain kind of alleged "anarchist individualism" as if it really was one of the various tendencies of anarchism, instead of fighting it as one of the many disguises of authoritarianism. … In the anarchist milieu, communism, individualism, collectivism, mutualism and all the intermediate and eclectic programmes are simply the ways considered best for achieving freedom and solidarity in economic life; the ways believed to correspond more closely with justice and freedom for the distribution of the means of production and the products of labour among men.
    • Errico Malatesta, in "Note to the article "Individualism and Anarchism" by Adams" in Pensiero e Volontà No. 15 (1 August 1924).
  • If it were felt that the free development of individuality is one of the leading essentials of well-being; that it is not only a coordinate element with all that is designated by the terms civilisation, instruction, education, culture, but is itself a necessary part and condition of all those things; there would be no danger that liberty should be undervalued.
  • But society has now fairly got the better of individuality; and the danger which threatens human nature is not the excess, but the deficiency, of personal impulses and preferences.
  • Gregariousness is always the refuge of mediocrities, whether they swear by Solovyov or Kant or Marx. Only individuals seek the truth.
  • The most banal thing, discovered in ourselves, becomes intensely interesting. It is no longer an abstract banality, but an amazing co-ordination between reality and our own individuality.

Q - T[edit]

  • If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.
  • Individualism is the self-affirmation of the individual self as individual self without regard to its participation in its world. As such it is the opposite of collectivism, the self affirmation of the self as part of a larger whole without regard to its character as an individual self.

V - Z[edit]

  • Throughout the whole world we see variations of this same subordination of the individual to the organisation of power. Phase by phase these ill-adapted governments are becoming uncontrolled absolutisms; they are killing that free play of the individual mind which is the preservative of human efficiency and happiness. The populations under their sway, after a phase of servile discipline, are plainly doomed to relapse into disorder and violence. Everywhere war and monstrous economic exploitation break out, so that those very same increments of power and opportunity which have brought mankind within sight of an age of limitless plenty, seem likely to be lost again, it may be lost forever, in an ultimate social collapse.
    • H.G. Wells, The Rights of Man, or What Are We Fighting For?" (1940).
  • Private property … has led Individualism entirely astray. It has made gain not growth its aim. So that man thought that the important thing was to have, and did not know that the important thing is to be. The true perfection of man lies, not in what man has, but in what man is.
  • Art is the most intense mode of Individualism that the world has known. I am inclined to say that it is the only real mode of Individualism that the world has known. Crime, which, under certain conditions, may seem to have created Individualism, must take cognisance of other people and interfere with them. It belongs to the sphere of action. But alone, without any reference to his neighbours, without any interference, the artist can fashion a beautiful thing; and if he does not do it solely for his own pleasure, he is not an artist at all.
  • Art is individualism, and individualism is a disturbing and disintegrating force. There lies its immense value. For what it seeks is to disturb monotony of type, slavery of custom, tyranny of habit, and the reduction of man to the level of a machine.
    • Oscar Wilde in The Soul of Man under Socialism (1891)

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

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