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
- 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.
- Men are grown mechanical in head and in heart, as well as in hand. They have lost faith in individual endeavour, and in natural force, of any kind. Not for internal perfection, but for external combinations and arrangements, for institutions, constitutions, for Mechanism of one sort or other, do they hope and struggle. Their whole efforts, attachments, opinions, turn on mechanism, and are of a mechanical character.
- Thomas Carlyle, Signs of the Times (1829).
- 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.
- Voltairine de Cleyre, in "In Defense of Emma Goldmann and the Right of Expropriation", an address in Philadelphia (16 December 1893); Emma Goldman's name is mispelled Goldmann throughout the 1910 version. Some of this text is quoted as presented in Selected Works of Voltairine de Cleyre (1914) edited by Alexander Berkman.
- 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.
- James Fenimore Cooper, "On Individuality" The American Democrat (1838).
- 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.
- James Fenimore Cooper, "On Individuality" The American Democrat (1838).
- Sciences contained in books, (such of them at least as are made up of probable reasonings, without demonstrations), composed as they are of the opinions of many different individuals massed together, are farther removed from truth than the simple inferences which a man of good sense using his natural and unprejudiced judgment draws respecting the matters of his experience.
- René Descartes, Discourse on Method, J. Veitch, trans. (1899), part 2, p. 13.
- Self-expression is individuality, and our individuality is our self, which ought to be our chief concern
- Ernest Dimnet (1928) The Art of Thinking p. 250.
- The book is one of the springs of creative individualism, that individualism which, in these uncertain times, remains the guardian angel of human society. For five hundred years the book has been, for the solitary mind, an incomparable instrument of uplift and liberation.
- Georges Duhamel, In Defense of Letters (1937), E. Bozman, trans. (1939), p. vii.
E - H
- 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 former generations acted under the belief that a shining social prosperity was the beatitude of man, and sacrificed uniformly the citizen to the State. The modern mind believed that the nation existed for the individual, for the guardianship and education of every man. This idea, roughly written in revolutions and national movements, in the mind of the philosopher had far more precision; the individual is the world.
- The highest merit we ascribe to Moses, Plato and Milton is that they set at naught books and traditions, and spoke not what men, but what they, thought.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Self-Reliance,” Essays: First Series (1883), p. 47.
- A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within more than the lustre of the firmament of bards and sages. Yet he dismisses without notice his own thought, because it is his.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Self-Reliance,” Essays: First Series (1883), pp. 47-48.
- The nonchalance of boys who are sure of a dinner and would disdain as much as a lord to do or say aught to conciliate one is the healthy attitude of human nature.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Self-Reliance,” Essays: First Series (1883), p. 50.
- Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Self-Reliance,” Essays: First Series (1883), p. 52.
- Few and mean as my gifts may be, I actually am, and do not need for my own assurance or the assurance of my fellows any secondary testimony.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Self-Reliance,” Essays: First Series (1883), p. 55.
- 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.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Self-Reliance,” Essays: First Series (1883), p. 55.
- 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.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Self-Reliance,” Essays: First Series (1883), p. 56.
- 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.
- For a man without the pride of being the center of things the end of his collective whole is supreme, and being, like all other individuals, so small a part of that, he despises himself.
- When an individual endeavors to lift himself above his fellows, he is dragged down by the mass, either by means of ridicule or of calumny. No one shall be more virtuous or more intellectually gifted than others. Whoever, by the irresistible force of genius, rises above the common herd is certain to be ostracized by society, which will pursue him with such merciless derision and detraction that at last he will be compelled to retreat into the solitude of his thoughts.
- Heinrich Heine, in Heinrich Heine: His Wit, Wisdom, Poetry (1892), p. 26.
- Since man has to finish and “make” himself, there are unavoidably greater differences between individual men than between individual animals.
- Eric Hoffer, Reflections on the Human Condition (2006), #34.
- Do they think that any individual who is still capable of resistance would allow himself to be guided, even in his sleep, by the deceitful image of the supposedly authentic and real, and not rather by his own insight into relations as they really are?
- Max Horkheimer, “The concept of man,” Critique of Instrumental Reason (1967), p. 5.
- As interiority has withered away, the joy of making personal decisions, of cultural development, and of the free exercise of imagination has gone with it. Other inclinations and goals mark the man of today: technological expertise, presence of mind, pleasure in the mastery of machinery, the need to be part of and to agree with the majority or some group which is chosen as a model and whose regulations replace individual judgment.
- Max Horkheimer, “The concept of man,” Critique of Instrumental Reason (2013), p. 12.
- Love is the irreconcilable foe of the prevailing rationality, for lovers preserve and protect neither themselves nor the collectivity. They throw themselves away; that is why wrath is heaped upon them. Romeo and Juliet died in conflict with society for that which was heralded by this society. In unreasonably surrendering themselves to one another they sustained the freedom of the individual as against the dominion of the world of things.
- Max Horkheimer, “The End of Reason,” The Essential Frankfurt School Reader (1982), p. 43.
- The resistant individual will oppose any pragmatic attempt to reconcile the demands of truth and the irrationalities of existence. Rather than to sacrifice truth by conforming to prevailing standards, he will insist on expressing in his life as much truth as he can, both in theory and in practice. His will be a life of conflict; he must be ready to run the risk of utter loneliness.
- Max Horkheimer, Eclipse of Reason (1947), p. 112-113
- In the course of evolution nature has gone to endless trouble to see that every individual is unlike every other individual. ... Physically and mentally, each one of us is unique. Any culture which, in the interests of efficiency or in the name of some political or religious dogma, seeks to standardize the human individual, commits an outrage against man’s biological nature.
- Aldous Huxley, Brave New World Revisited (1958), Chapter 3, p. 21.
I - L
- 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.
- Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-imposed immaturity. Immaturity is the inability to use one’s understanding without guidance from another. This immaturity is self-imposed when its cause lies not in lack of understanding, but in lack of resolve and courage to use it without guidance from another. Sapere aude! “Have courage to use your own understanding!”—that is the motto of enlightenment.
- Laziness and cowardice are the reasons why so great a proportion of men, long after nature has released them from alien guidance (natura-liter maiorennes), nonetheless gladly remain in lifelong immaturity, and why it is so easy for others to establish themselves as their guardians. It is so easy to be immature. If I have a book to serve as my understanding, a pastor to serve as my conscience, a physician to determine my diet for me, and so on, I need not exert myself at all. I need not think, if only I can pay: others will readily undertake the irksome work for me.
- 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.
- The crowd is untruth. Hence none has more contempt for what it is to be a man than they who make it their profession to lead the crowd. Let some one approach a person of this sort, some individual—that is an affair too small for his attention, and he proudly repels him. There must be hundreds at least. And when there are thousands, he defers to the crowd, bowing and scraping to them.
- Søren Kierkegaard, cited in Existentialism from Dostoevsky to Sartre, p. 96.
- The individuals of the contemporary generation are fearful of existence ... only in great masses do they dare to live, and they cluster together en masse in order to feel that they amount to something.
- 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.
- 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.
- Søren Kierkegaard, Upbuilding Discourses in Various Spirits, p. 127-128 (1847).
- Precisely the way on which the species reaches its perfection, every individual human being (one earlier, one later) must have traversed, too.
- Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, The Education of Mankind, § 93 cited in W. Kaufmann, Hegel (1966), p. 43.
M - P
- Individualist anarchism and communist anarchism are the same, or nearly so, in terms of moral motivations and ultimate goals.
- 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).
- Either one defines “personality” and “individuality” in terms of their possibilities within the established form of civilization, in which case their realization is for the vast majority tantamount to successful adjustment. Or one defines them in terms of their transcending content, including their socially denied potentialities beyond (and beneath) their actual existence; in this case, their realization would imply transgression, beyond the established form of civilization, to radically new modes of “personality” and “individuality” incompatible with the prevailing ones. Today, this would mean “curing” the patient to become a rebel or (which is saying the same thing) a martyr.
- Herbert Marcuse, “Critique of Neo-Freudian Revisionism,” Eros and Civilization (1955).
- While individualism was once widely hailed in Britain and especially the United States, today it is deemed amoral and heartless. The individualist viewpoint is unable to promise honestly that everyone will eventually be completely well-off. Critics find this defeatist and insist that ‘we must do better’ while calling upon the forces of the state to see that we do.
- Tibor R. Machan, "Private Rights and Public Illusions", New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers (1994) p. 67
- What is taking place is a sweeping redefinition of thought itself, of its function and content. The coordination of the individual with his society reaches into those layers of the mind where the very concepts are elaborated which are designed to comprehend the established reality. These concepts are taken from the intellectual tradition and translated into operational terms—a translation which has the effect of reducing the tension between thought and reality by weakening the negative power of thought.
- Herbert Marcuse, One Dimensional Man (1964), p. 104.
- 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.
- John Stuart Mill, On Liberty (1859), p. 102.
- 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.
- John Stuart Mill, On Liberty (1859), p. 109.
- Human nature is not a machine to be built after a model, and set to do exactly the work prescribed for it, but a tree, which requires to grow and develop itself on all sides, according to the tendency of the inward forces which make it a living thing.
- John Stuart Mill, On Liberty (Henry Holt, New York: 1895), Chapter 3, pp. 106-107
- Gregariousness is always the refuge of mediocrities, whether they swear by Solovyov or Kant or Marx. Only individuals seek the truth.
- The mass crushes beneath it everything that is different, everything that is excellent, individual, qualified and select. Anybody who is not like everybody, who does not think like everybody, runs the risk of being eliminated.
- José Ortega y Gasset, The Revolt of the Masses, p. 18.
- As one advances in life, one realizes more and more that the majority of men—and of women—are incapable of any other effort than that strictly imposed on them as a reaction to external compulsion. And for that reason, the few individuals we have come across who are capable of a spontaneous and joyous effort stand out isolated, monumentalized, so to speak, in our experience. These are the select men, the nobles, the only ones who are active and not merely reactive, for whom life is a perpetual striving, an incessant course of training.
- José Ortega y Gasset, The Revolt of the Masses, p. 65
- 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.
- Cesare Pavese, This Business of Living, 1939-01-19
Q - T
- The vilest form of self-abasement and self-destruction is the subordination of your mind to the mind of another, the acceptance of an authority over your brain, the acceptance of his assertions as facts, his say-so as truth.
- It is individuality which is the original and eternal within man. ... To pursue the education and development of this individuality as one’s highest vocation would be a divine egoism.
- Friedrich Schlegel, “Selected Ideas (1799-1800)”, Dialogue on Poetry and Literary Aphorisms, Ernst Behler and Roman Struc, trans. (Pennsylvania University Press: 1968) # 60.
- What a man is by himself, what accompanies him into solitude, and what no one can give to him or take from him is obviously more essential to him than everything he possesses, or even what he may be in the eyes of others. A man of intellect, when entirely alone, has excellent entertainment in his own thoughts and fancies, whereas the continuous diversity of parties, plays, excursions, and amusements cannot ward off from the dullard the tortures of boredom.
- Arthur Schopenhauer, “Aphorisms on the Wisdom of Life,” Parerga und Paralipomena, E. Payne, trans. (1974) Vol. 1, pp. 318-319.
- The fool in purple groans under the burden of his wretched individuality that cannot be thrown off, whereas the man of great gifts populates and animates with his ideas the most dreary and desolate environment.
- Arthur Schopenhauer, “Aphorisms on the Wisdom of Life,” Parerga und Paralipomena, E. Payne, trans. (1974) Vol. 1, pp. 330-331.
- The happiest destiny on earth is undoubtedly to have a distinguished and rich individuality and in particular a good endowment of intellect. ... Whoever has been granted this lot through the favour of nature and fate will be anxious and careful to see that the inner source of his happiness remains accessible to him and for this the conditions are independence and leisure. And so he will gladly purchase these at the price of moderation and thrift, the more so as he is not, like others, dependent on external sources of pleasure. Thus he will not be led by the prospects of office, money, favour, and approbation of the world into surrendering himself in order to conform to the sordid designs or bad taste of people.
- Arthur Schopenhauer, “Aphorisms on the Wisdom of Life,” Parerga und Paralipomena, E. Payne, trans. (1974) Vol. 1, p. 334.
- Man is the only being which can lay claim to possess an individual character. But in most men this individual character comes to very little in reality; and they may be almost all ranged under certain classes: ce sont des espèces. Their thoughts and desires, like their faces, are those of the species, or, at any rate, those of the class to which they belong; and accordingly, they are of a trivial, every-day, common character, and exist by the thousand. You can usually tell beforehand what they are likely to do and say. They have no special stamp or mark to distinguish them; they are like manufactured goods, all of a piece.
- Arthur Schopenhauer, “Psychological Observations,” R. Dircks, trans., Parerga and Paralipomena
- 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.
- Henry David Thoreau, Walden: Or, Life in the Woods (1854), chapter 18, p. 210.
- 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.
- Paul Tillich, The Courage To Be (1952), p. 113.
V - Z
- 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.
- Oscar Wilde, The Soul of Man Under Socialism, ¶ 15.
- 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)