Reformed Reflections

The Political Realm (1993-94)

Collectivism & Individualism

Collectivism undermines the welfare of modern society but so does individualism. Individualism has been described as the view that the individual is completely autonomous in his decisions and actions. He believes that truth is relative; there is no objective measure of right and wrong. Self-discipline is archaic. He is preoccupied with the welfare of self. This view has become so pervasive in our society that many follow this new commandment, "Be good to yourself." This is individualism running rampant. Society is then no longer experienced as a community but as a mass of isolated individuals. This has fostered excessive introspection and the enthronement of individual rights at the expense of community rights.

Sociologists speak of individualism as defining and determining American culture. Although the term was not used until the 19th century by Alexis Tocqueville (1905-59), its concepts can be traced back to Adam's rebellion in paradise. He became a law unto himself when he disobeyed God. Cain became a law unto himself when he killed Abel, his brother (Gen, 4:9). Lamech's Song of the Sword (Gen, 4:23ff.) was also an early expression of individualism. In recent history with the growth of trade and industry, culminating in the Industrial Revolution, individualism became a powerful element in Western thought. Major thinkers of that period taught that the best government was that which governed least. This view favoured the middle class; but it led to direct conflict with the disadvantaged, the exploited workers and those who sought to help the "underdog," as well as government bureaucracies. It also led to the relegation of religion to the private sphere, irrelevant to public justice. The sphere of religion became home and church, The pursuit of happiness became more important than the pursuit of God. And pioneers in the frontiers of young America became symbols of rugged individualism.

But America's individualism has undergone a powerful change. What makes it different from the past is its rapid loss of religious safeguards. Os Guinness notes that America's powerful tradition of individualism was constrained by America's equally robust tradition of religion and moral principles. He says, "Predominantly religious beliefs held in balance apparently Irreconcilable opposites, such as self-reliance and community cooperation, daring enterprise and social stability,"

Extreme individualism is as dangerous as extreme collectivism. Extreme individualism leads to chaos and anarchy. Private choice becomes king and moral relativism queen. Christians on the other hand believe that they are individuals created in God's image always responsible to Him and for their neighbours.

Johan D. tangelder