It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion. It is easy in solitude to live after our own. But the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.
Most men have bound their eyes with one or another handkerchief, and attached themselves to some one of these communities of opinion. This conformity makes them not false in a few particulars, authors of a few lies, but false in all particulars. Their every truth is not quite true. Their two is not the real two, their four not the real four; so that every word they say chagrins us and we know not where to begin to set them right.
In anxiety there lies the possibility of a disclosure which is quite distinctive; for anxiety individualizes. This individualization brings Dasein back from its falling, and makes manifest to it that authenticity and inauthenticity are possibilities of its Being. These basic possibilities of Dasein (and Dasein is in each case mine) show themselves in anxiety as they are in themselves—undisguised by entities within-the-world, to which, proximally and for the most part, Dasein clings.
Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, translated by John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson, p. 235
It is true that we instinctively recoil from seeing an object to which our emotions and affections are committed handled by the intellect as any other object is handled. The first thing the intellect does with an object is to class it along with something else. But any object that is infinitely important to us and awakens our devotion feels to us also as if it must be sui generis and unique. Probably a crab would be filled with a sense of personal outrage if it could hear us class it without ado or apology as a crustacean, and thus dispose of it. “I am no such thing,” it would say; “I am myself, myself alone.”
It is Christian heroism—a rarity, to be sure—to venture wholly to become oneself, an individual human being, this specific individual human being, alone before God, alone in this prodigious strenuousness and this prodigious responsibility.
Søren Kierkegaard, The Sickness Unto Death (1849), H. and E. Hong, trans. (1980), pp. 5-6
The common individual always conforms to the prevailing opinion and the prevailing fashion; he regards the state in which everything now exists as the only possible one and passively accepts it all. … To the genius it always occurs to ask: Could this too not be false?
By the term individual I shall mean that in which each of us is peculiarly himself. I shall emphasize not what is common is us, but what is uncommon, and this leads me to a restatement of our question. In considering what is happening to the individual, I shall discuss what in modern civilization is happening to the uncommon in us. Are we becoming more common or more uncommon? Are the common people destroying the uncommon? Is the public self of us crushing out the personal self? Are we being directed more from without than from within? As our group memberships grow larger, do we as persons tend to grow smaller? Do the tendencies of the present day, mass movements, social organization, publicity, public education, emphasize the unique in man, or enhance the dominance of undifferentiated man acting as mass?
Everett Dean Martin, The Conflict of the Individual and the Mass in the Modern World (1932), p. 9
It is not by wearing down into uniformity all that is individual in themselves, but by cultivating it and calling it forth, within the limits imposed by the rights and interests of others, that human beings become a noble and beautiful object of contemplation.
In his heart every man knows quite well that, being unique, he will be in the world only once and that no imaginable chance will for a second time gather together into a unity so strangely variegated an assortment as he is: he knows it but he hides it like a bad conscience—why? From fear of his neighbor, who demands conventionality and cloaks himself with it. But what is it that constrains the individual to fear his neighbor, to think and act like a member of a herd, and to have no joy in himself? Modesty, perhaps, in a few rare cases. With the great majority it is indolence, inertia. ... Men are even lazier than they are timid, and fear most of all the inconveniences with which unconditional honesty and nakedness would burden them. Artists alone hate this sluggish promenading in borrowed fashions and appropriated opinions and they reveal everyone’s secret bad conscience, the law that every man is a unique miracle.
Friedrich Nietzsche, Untimely Meditations, “Schopenhauer as educator,” § 3.1, R. Hollingdale, trans. (1983), p. 127
A man can be himself only so long as he is alone; and if he does not love solitude, he will not love freedom; for it is only when he is alone that he is really free. Constraint is always present in society, like a companion of whom there is no riddance; and in proportion to the greatness of a man’s individuality, it will be hard for him to bear the sacrifices which all intercourse with others demands.
As long as man has not ascended to the rank of existence where he leaves behind him the domain of the universal and enters into his own personal domain—no longer dependent upon the principles operative in the realm of the universal—he is still subject to the rule of the species and the universal form. However, as soon as he liberates himself from the burden of the species, he becomes a free man. Complete freedom belongs only to the prophet, the man of God. The man who is a mere random example of the species, on the other hand, is wholly under the rule of the scientific lawfulness of existence. Between this species man and the man of God, between necessity and freedom, is the middle range in which most people find themselves.