An analysis of the philosophy underlying anti-collectivist individualism.
The subject matter of this thesis is a particular form of
individualism - anti-collectivist individualism.
To be differentiated from more collectivist, humanist strands of
individualism, anti-collectivist individualism can readily be equated
wi th the classic liberal creed that accompanied a new stress on the
indi vidual and the emergence of a capitalist market economy in the
West in the post-feudal period.
The thesis places anti-collectivist individualism within the classic
liberal tradition. It addresses anti-collectivist individualism both
as an issue of substantive relevance to people and to politics and as
an issue within sociological explanation, from the perspective of that
atomism which underlies it, and through an examination of the
.. :atomistic view of humankind, of history and of social causation.
Specifically addressed in relation to the anti-collectivist framework
the presumed atomistic relations of exteriority between individuals.
the presumption that nothing exists in the phenomenal world other
than individuals in aggregate and that explanatory power therefore
rests with individuals.
the presumption that to provide people with the conditions for
self-reliance is a contradiction in terms.
the presumption that human individuals lack the rationality
to construct a 'good' society and should relinquish
'constructivist' rationalism in favour of 'evolutionary I
The question of whether capitalism and individualism are merely
historically contingent (as per Abercrombie et al 1986) or are
mutually defining (Friedman 1962, 1980) is also considered, it being
concluded that they are not mutually defining but have entered into a
second order symbiotic relation of dependence which may prove
difficult to deconstruct. The ontology underlying anti-collectivist
individualism is rigorously criticised, but it is suggested that
individualism, far from no longer featuring in dominant discourse, as
Abercrombie et al claim, remains the pivotal underlying premise of
social and economic activity in the West, and indeed, being a
historically evolved, even though particular manifestation of important
and necessary elements of the human psyche for security, identity and
self-actualisation, is likely to remain a prime mode of orientation in
the West. It is claimed that this acceptance is not incompatible with
communitarian and/or socialist forms of organisation.