Individualism vs. Personality

In a West that declines as surely as the course of the sun, opponents of the incipient World State often define the modern situation as a dialectical struggle between collectivism on one side and individualism on the other. Usually “collectivism” is meant to define any manifestation of state power, be it fascism, communism, the liberal managerial state, or globalist technocracy, though many would expand the classification to include traditional religious institutions and even the family.

What is less clearly defined is “individualism”, a slippery term that means different things to different people. Popular opinion holds that “individualism” is the ability to choose and follow one’s desires for self-expression, be it spending one’s money how one prefers or something more trivial such as dying one’s hair blue.

When viewed from the perspective of a dialectical clash with collectivism, especially the state, the notion of individuality does take on a weightier significance than its more trivial manifestations, i.e. the university student who gets a tattoo to rebel against her father. Indeed, the individual as such is all too often deliberately devalued by the powers that be. Not only through various forms of economic reductionism, but also in the prevailing ideology which views humanity as a collection of interchangeable, atomistic, consumerist units, or in the more sinister forms of transhumanism of men like Ray Kurzweil, who see humans as nothing more than biological androids or even “ants.”

All too often, the self-proclaimed champions of individualism propose a model not all that different from their “collectivist” opponents – the individual remains a disconnected, atomistic entity, not defined by any external reference. For the absolute individualist, things like religion, ethnicity, family lineage, race, and nation are at most secondary affixations, not essential components to one’s identity. The supposed alternative to collectivist absolutism is a purely desacralized and impoverished conception of man, an outgrowth of Renaissance humanism and the Enlightenment.

Encountering this problematic origin, we draw near to the metaphysical dead end of modernity. As the German philosopher and critic of globalism Rüdiger Safranski observed:

… individualism is a product of secularization, for it presupposes that religious statements have lost their validity with regard to the meaning and purpose of the whole. Individualism invests meaning in individuals, and no longer in such totalities as God, humanity, nation or state.

French metaphysican René Guénon, who saw in the reign of quantity the dissolution of man and the world, articulated a similar position. He identified individualism as “the negation of any higher principle” and “the consequent reduction of civilization, in all its branches, to purely human elements”. In an age of mechanized tyranny, Guénon knew that the supposed alternative to totalitarianism was also one of its sources. Modern, individualistic man, “instead of attempting to raise himself to truth, seeks to drag truth down to his own level.”

Christ on Trial Ivan Glazunov

“Pilate said to Him, ‘What is truth?'” (John 18:38).  Crucify Him, by Iliya Glazunov

Individualism, it cannot be denied, contains a positive recognition of man’s dignity and creative endowments. Yet such an idea systematized and applied to society is entirely inadequate for and oftentimes destructive of culture and its sacral basis. In his work Solitude and Society, Russian philosopher Nicolas Berdyaev offered some answers in the quest for a proper balance between individual and collective. Instead of mere horizontal, atomistic individualism, he saw personality as man’s true identity. While individuality denotes mere quantity, the realized personality springs from the sphere of quality. Indeed, as Berdyaev saw it and consumerist ideology attests, “extreme individualism leads to the negation of the personality.” Personality, rather, is the unity “made up of body, mind, and soul”. It is founded not just on biological, naturalistic, or social foundations, but on man’s very supra-natural nature and origins.

Berdyaev saw the assault on personality as equally present in individualism as in the various forms of collectivist systems, which he saw as anti-personalist. He recognized:

The exploitation of man by man, as well as the exploitation of man by the State, is a way of converting man into an object.

But no mere individualism would suffice to counter the objectification of man; Berdyaev dismissed bourgeois individualism as yet another form of impersonalism. On the other hand, the realization of the personality is both a spiritual and aristocratic undertaking. “The struggle to realize the personality is a heroic one,” he noted. “Heroism is above all a personal act.” If the personality is formed through the heroic, there is no greater heroism than sacrificial love, its essence:

Personalism stands for the love of one’s fellow-beings, of unique personality, of Divine humanity…

And thus personality can never be equated to the individual adrift in society, the “free thinker” who does no more than attempt to avoid the jackboot of collectivism. The true man is vertical in his orientation, and seeks neither material riches nor social license, rather ascending towards the heights, a genuine freedom in the realm of the spirit.