Individualism reconsidered : political theory and contemporary conceptions of the self
Contemporary communitarians focus their critiques on liberal individualism and posit as a counterpoise to the self-sufficiency and priority of the liberal self their own conception of the self: the individ- ual-in-community. Selfhood, in their view, is inherently communal; one cannot know or define oneself, or be an individual, except in and through the community life in which each is raised. This thesis presents, in contrast to the liberal and communitarian conceptions, a third conception of the self built from developmental psychology the self as compound individuality. Here the self is seen to develop through a series of levels, each level a world unto itself, but each also a part of a more inclusive whole. Both liberal individualism and the communitarian conception that challenges it are, in the light of the theory of compound individuality, seen to be half-right and half-wrong. They gain coherence, and cogency, only when joined. Joining the two is difficult. At the center of the difficulty, and at the center of the liberal-communitarian debate, are competing notions of autonomy and of relationships. Some communitarians see autonomy as leading ineluctably to pernicious individualism. Liberals, on the other hand, argue that individual autonomy must be protected from any communal ends and relationships that might limit it. The theory of compound individuality demonstrates that there is a level of self at which relationships do not threaten autonomy, but, on the contrary, help through autonomy to define the self. Autonomy, rather than jeopardizing relationships by emphasizing self-sufficiency, as the commun- itarians fear, here promotes a level of constitutive relationships. This level of self beyond individualism might be engendered through increased, though restructured, social and political participation. But are the communitarians 1 concerns and their understanding of community fully embraced at this level? If liberal societies were to move beyond individualism, would those societies be any more communitarian and any less liberal? Those societies, as argued in this thesis, would cer- tainly be different from what communitarians envision and from liberal polities today.