Define individualism and explain its importance in liberal ideology.


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Tiksi Sribalakrishnan Miss Atwal
Define individualism and explain its importance in liberal ideology.
The central theme of liberal ideology is a commitment to the individual and the desire to
construct a society in which people can satisfy their interests and achieve fulfilment. The
importance of individualism is rooted in all liberal's core values: Reason, Justice, Tolerance
and Freedom.
Individualism is a belief in the supreme importance of the individual over any collective
body. Individuals were thought to possess personal and distinctive qualities: each was of
special value. Liberals believe that human beings are individuals endowed with reason. This
implies that each individual should enjoy the maximum possible freedom. Individuals should
be entitled to equal legal and political rights as well as be rewarded for their talents and their
willingness to work.
Firstly, the belief in the supreme importance of the individual leads naturally to a
commitment to individual freedom. Individual liberty is the supreme political value and the
unifying principle within liberal ideology. Secondly, Individualism implies a commitment to
Foundation Equality. Human beings are seen to be `born' equal and each individual is of equal
moral worth, an idea embodied in the notion of natural rights or human rights. Foundation
equality also implies a belief in Formal Equality which is the idea that individual's should enjoy
the same Formal Status in society. Thirdly, an acceptance of Pluralism can be said to be
rooted in the principle of individualism, and the assumption that human beings are separate
and unique creatures. Mill argued from the Individual point of view by stating that toleration
is primarily a guarantee of personal autonomy and is thus a condition of moral self
Classical liberals have an Atomism view of individuals which a belief that `society' itself does
not exist but is merely a collection of self-sufficient and egoistical individuals. Macpherson
(1973) characterized early liberalism as `possessive individualism' in that it regarded the
individual as `the proprietor of his own person or capacities, owing nothing to society for
them'. Spencer used the theory of natural selection develop the social principle of the
survival of the fittest. People the hard working and the talented would thrive while the lazy
and the incompetent would fail to survive.
Modern liberals, on the other hand, shifted the emphasis away from individualism to
individuality. They had a more optimistic view of human nature and are prepared to believe
that egoism is tempered by a sense of social responsibility especially a responsibility for
those who are unable to look after themselves. Mill stressed the desire of an individual to
achieve personal development, autonomy and self-realisation to attain their true potential in
life. There high pleasures and low pleasures, with the first being intellectual education normal
& aesthetic and the latter being simple, crude pleasure seeking.


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