Relationships in a World of Individualism

  • rWorld

    The rWorld is about more than Dale Kuehne's book Sex and the iWorld.
    The rWorld is a New England based, non-profit (in formation), that is composed of a growing number of people and organizations from many faith and ideological backgrounds worldwide. We believe that much of the fulfillment for which women and men are looking can be found by enhancing the quality of our relationships. While the individual freedom we enjoy in the West is a gift, the love and intimacy for which humans yearn will not be found in self-serving materialism or hedonism, but in a variety of healthy relationships.

    Contact us if you'd like get involved:

  • Dale Kuehne

    Sex & the iWorld

    Professor of Politics and The Richard L. Bready Chair for Ethics, Economics, and the Common Good at Saint Anselm College, Manchester, NH.

    In this blog I'm highlighting signposts of the world in which we presently reside as a means of helping promote a civil, and meaningful dialogue about what kind of world in which we wish to live. I am particularly interested in exploring how might we reconcile the individual good and the common good, and where reconciliation isn’t possible, which should take precedence and why.

    I also blog at

    [Content Caution]

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Its Déjà vu all over again (Tocqueville on America, Part 1)

Posted by Dale Kuehne on February 3, 2010

In 1840 Alexis de Tocqueville wrote:

“I HAVE shown how it is that in ages of equality every man seeks for his opinions within himself; I am now to show how it is that in the same ages all his feelings are turned towards himself alone. Individualism is a novel expression, to which a novel idea has given birth. Our fathers were only acquainted with egoisme (selfishness). Selfishness is a passionate and exaggerated love of self, which leads a man to connect everything with himself and to prefer himself to everything in the world. Individualism is a mature and calm feeling, which disposes each member of the community to sever himself from the mass of his fellows and to draw apart with his family and his friends, so that after he has thus formed a little circle of his own, he willingly leaves society at large to itself. . . .

Selfishness blights the germ of all virtue; individualism, at first, only saps the virtues of public life; but in the long run it attacks and destroys all others and is at length absorbed in downright selfishness. Selfishness is a vice as old as the world, which does not belong to one form of society more than to another; individualism is of democratic origin, and it threatens to spread in the same ratio as the equality of condition. . . .

Among democratic nations new families are constantly springing up, others are constantly falling away, and all that remain change their condition; the woof of time is every instant broken and the track of generations effaced. Those who went before are soon forgotten; of those who will come after, no one has any idea: the interest of man is confined to those in close propinquity to himself. As each class gradually approaches others and mingles with them, its members become undifferentiated and lose their class identity for each other. Aristocracy had made a chain of all the members of the community, from the peasant to the king; democracy breaks that chain and severs every link of it.

As social conditions become more equal, the number of persons increases who, although they are neither rich nor powerful enough to exercise any great influence over their fellows, have nevertheless acquired or retained sufficient education and fortune to satisfy their own wants. They owe nothing to any man, they expect nothing from any man; they acquire the habit of always considering themselves as standing alone, and they are apt to imagine that their whole destiny is in their own hands.

Thus not only does democracy make every man forget his ancestors, but it hides his descendants and separates his contemporaries from him; it throws him back forever upon himself alone and threatens in the end to confine him entirely within the solitude of his own heart.”

Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, vol 2, bk 2, Ch. 2


2 Responses to “Its Déjà vu all over again (Tocqueville on America, Part 1)”

  1. Lauren Fithian said

    Individualism, today, in american politics, is used to describe a virtue, which, if possessed by everyone, would supposedly ensure that hard work and right living would pay off no matter who the individual may be. It is used by the “haves” to defend their social status and economic advantage over the “have-nots.” As in–“I worked hard for what I have and if everyone would just work that hard they would have the same good fortune. Therefore, I’m not going to work in any way to help others.” (Rugged individualism?) This kind of individualism is a tool used in building the wall of denial of the ongoing and pervasive negative effects of racism, sexism, economic elitism, and homophobia, to name a few.

    Tocqueville refers to “ages of equality” during which individualism and its negative effects increase. Today, however, we do not have equality in the US, even if we are closer than we were in Tocqueville’s time. Yet selfish individualism is prevalent. It is a crutch for the fortunate, who either do not have compassion or do not care to act on it. Further, there is a new way that many of us view life and our responsibilities to others that is global in scope. Even if we had true equality in the US, compassionate, thinking humans would still perceive the horrible imbalances and injustices on a global scale. Global compassion for those suffering, or at least understanding one’s sphere of responsibility to others as larger than the “families” of which Tocqueville speaks, prevents us from indulging in the selfish denial form of individualism.

  2. Larry T. said

    Just seen your blog at facebook today and I need to say I like it! Bookmarked this and may be back to check it out more later.

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