Communalism and Individualism How far can a person go in life without the need of others? Is it possible for him or her to achieve success without having any sort of social dynamic to aid in the progress of their lives? Does having strong social connections aid a person in shaping his or her character to achieve their goals and can these achievement be defined as his or her own if there was intervention of any sort from a social group?
It is possible to deduce answers to such notions upon a better understanding of the distinction of community and the individual and the effects of these ideas on each other.
The following essay will try to define the distinction between the ideas of communalism and individualism. It will try to isolate the characteristics of each ideal in order to better comprehend their influence on a person life and try to provide an argument on why these two ideas may need to work together in order for a person to lead a fulfilling life.
Communitarianism defines the idea where the individual needs of a person are secondary to the overall development of the social group he or she communes. The social group can be represents as any group of people that share common goals and ideals. Possible factors that define ideals of the group include ethnic background, social or economic status, religious and cultural beliefs. Constant social interaction is important with this ideal. It is communitarian teleology that humankind is social by nature and that this idea grows naturally to this end.
Aristotle was a proponent of communitarianism and – according to class lectures on the subject – believed that being part of a community eased the burden of everyday living. He provided an example on the natural development of speech as a direct result of the necessity of humans to interact with each other to participate in a community. He also hypothesized that in order for human development to flourish there needs to be a sharing of skills and ideas within the social group. The contrasting idea to communitarianism is individualism.
Individualism focuses on the idea of the promotion of an individual thoughts and desires before those of a social group. This idea believes that external involvement from others is unnecessary when trying to achieve an individual’s goals, unless the external interference aids in the achievement of the individuals goals. Advocating social isolationism is not a necessary factor under this ideal; rather the individualist is often part of a social group and adheres to the communal laws and practices set forth upon them in order to promote their own personal gain.
Thomas Hobbes defines an extreme extend of complete individualism. He states, that under individualism, humans care only about themselves and have no regards for the necessity of others and have no moral concern for their actions. Under this state of reality, it seems highly unlike for human development to expand as all focus lie on achieving individual goals for the sake of individual gain rather than sharing the results of intellectual, social, economic, etc. endeavors.
Hobbes realized that such a state of reality cannot naturally exist and deduced that the individualist enters society and agrees to abide by its rules and regulations with the sole purpose of expanding their own personal goals; he coined this compromise “the social contract. ” Based on the interpretations of the ideals of communitarianism and individualism it is possible to obtain an idea on how these ideals shape the individual’s outlook on life. Communitarianism appears to promote the well-being of all, the question to this is at what cost?
The idea that the needs of the many are more important than the needs of the one fails to account for moral responsibility. If we explore individualism further and do not use the extreme representation of the term, we realize that being an individual actually means being free to make choices outside of what other people expect or dictate. In other words, by being an individual you are free to choose and are directly responsible for your actions and their moral implications. Being an individualist is to have free will.
It is impossible to deny that humans tend to gravitate toward the state of a social-collective and in fact, there is evidence that social interaction is necessary. For example, as children we tend to obtain knowledge from many others. We do not learn from one person or one experience, rather we continue to expand our knowledge and thereby our self. In this sense, communitarianism works by providing the individualist with the tools to make choices and commit to actions, but it does not dictate how this person will use the knowledge.
It is up to the individual and his singular choice to decide how to use this knowledge. Communitarianism may hinder personal development. If the individual considers the needs of his community, before his own how can he or she expect to develop as a person? In fact, in some cases, the community will try to keep an individual from growing. For example, in certain communities poverty is the prevalent norm. If the person acts to try to remove him or herself from such a community through his own achievements, some in such community may see him in a different light, not wanting to be part of the group anymore.
This sense of guilt can weight on the individual and create doubt on his achievements and on himself. Although he or she was free to make the conscious choice to get out from poverty, the community still has an indirect control over the person. Communitarianism may also interfere with a clear sense of moral judgment. In general, a person’s self-worth and values are defined by their individual actions. In some cases, communitarianism blurs the distinction between the values of the individuals and the values of the group.
In such instances, wrongful generalizations of a person values and choices can be made based solely on the choices and values of the community they belong to; this is called stereotyping and/or racism. It is unclear how the will of others can influence the moral decisions of a person. Communitarianism can server a person in the early stages of life (when individual thought and reasoning are not fully developed) to provide the tools necessary to shape their life. However, in the end, the individualistic actions of a rational, independent, free-to-choose individual that define a person.