Church teaching is infused with a personalist, communitarian worldview.
Each person has intrinsic dignity and worth, since we are all made in the image of God. We realize our full potential as human persons within communities -- from the family to the office to the neighborhood to the global community. Get the best of NCR delivered to your inbox!
Individualism and the Vitality of Community Life
Sign up here. This explains the importance of Mass and the centrality of the Eucharist in Catholic spirituality and worship: Our faith is communal at its core. It is the quest for communion that defines the mission of the church and each of its members.
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These past two Sundays, the priests at my parish have made this same point. Following the way of Christ is not simply about maintaining a personal relationship with Jesus and the pursuit of individual salvation. The commandment to love others, to treat one another as brother and sister, makes us value both the eternal salvation and temporal well-being of every person.
We seek communion not only with God, but with others as well. This focus on community clearly contrasts with a strong strand of contemporary American liberalism, which is rooted in individualism and embraces social libertarianism. This form of liberalism conflates license and liberty, ignoring the duties that correspond with the rights that exist in a free society. It values utility and enlightened self-interest, which are often better than base selfishness, yet can lead to dehumanizing policies, such as the legalization of abortion and euthanasia.
Classical Individualism: The Supreme Importance of Each Human Being
The worth of the person is disregarded as people are treated instrumentally rather than in a way that is consistent with their innate dignity. Individual choice and autonomy reign supreme.
Individualism is also at the heart of American conservatism, particularly on economic matters. Unlike European Christian Democrats, who are sometimes the most influential political party on the conservative side of the aisle in their countries, the Republican Party embraces an economic libertarianism that is grounded in the classical liberalism that the church explicitly rejected in shaping its social doctrine.
Republicans today often attribute godlike powers to the free market, even in areas, such as health care, where such mystical beliefs are shown to be completely divorced from concrete reality. They mistakenly argue that policies based on the deification of the market fall within the bounds of legitimate prudential reasoning. Republicans seek widespread deregulation on the heels of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, a crisis caused in large part by underregulation.
They attempt to make taxation more regressive and give tax cuts to the richest members of our society. For far too many, the motive is to ensure that individuals can enjoy the unchecked pursuit of personal wealth.
enlightenment: Tibor Machan: Individualism and the Vitality of Community Life
But methodological individualism is not good scientific methodology, even if, as we will show, some of the intuitions that motivate it are sound. The plausibility of Marxian methodological individualism depends, of course, on what methodological individualism is thought to be. Unfortunately, at the current stage of discussion, many of the obscurities that have always pervaded debates about methodological individualism are effectively reproduced in the Marxian context.
One objective of this essay is to reduce this confusion by clarifying the stakes in claims for and against methodological individual ism, both as these apply to the specific context of Marxian explanations and to social scientific explanations generally. In the next section, we characterize methodological individualism by contrasting it with three other stances towards explanation in social science. This will be followed by a more intensive discussion of methodological individualism itself, suggesting that its reductionist ambitions cannot be fulfilled.
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Nevertheless we will argue, in the final section, that a practical implication of methodological individualism—that the microfoundations for macro-level theory should be elaborated—is timely and important, even if methodological individualism itself is not. This is something that will have a major impact on the social sciences, on psychology and psychotherapy, and, of course, on ethics and morality. Yet different people are also uniquely configured, as it were, as human beings; thus they can face different yet equally vital tasks in their lives.
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Machan identities, develops and defends what he calls classical individualism: the sort with roots in Aristotle rather than Hobbes.