Difference between Traditional Individualism and Modern Individualism or Individualistic Theory

A distinction is often maintained between old or classical individualism and new or modern individualism. As developed and spread in its pure form, old individualism refers to the freedom of thought, speech and action and complete non-interference in economic sphere. It stands for maximum amount for individual initiative and freedom.

Towards the close of nineteenth century, individualism has undergone certain changes. There was a pragmatic revolt against absolutism and collectivism. Attempt was made to revive individualistic thinking in a new form.

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It was known as modern individualism. The modern individualist differs from the old in regarding the group and not the individual. The modern individualists regard the State little more than a federation of groups, a union of guilds, or a “community of communities”.

They deny the proposition that the State came into existence in response to the needs of man. It is viewed as merely a piece of administrative machinery useful for co-ordinating activities and adjusting claims between conflicting groups and associations. They challenge the supreme moral position which is attributed to the State by the idealists and the collectivists.

It is maintained that the State is just one of the many associations and it cannot claim, on any moral grounds the sole allegiance of the people. The State does not and cannot possess a real personality and a real will over and above the personalities and wills of the individuals who compose it.

All groups including the State posses their personalities. Loyalty of the individuals to the groups sometimes out weighs the loyalty which they owe to the State. Laski says, “The only State to which I owe allegiance is the State in which I discover moral adequacy” and adds that if the individual’s “church conflicts with the state, he chooses and he alone can choose where his allegiance should go”.

Pluralism strongly supports this point of view. The State is accepted as a coordinating agency capable of adjusting the conflicting claims of different groups. Thus, modern individualism is a strong protest against the rise of totalitarianism like communism and Fascism. War and economic planning have made the state a “new Leviathan”, reducing individual freedom to a marginal experience.

Miss Follett, in her book ‘The New State’, gives a new meaning to modern individualism and the subtitle of the book was “Group Organizations, the Solution of Popular Government” is significant of this meaning.

Miss Follett supports the pluralists and others who contribute to the theory of modern individualism on the importance of the groups. To conclude, the modern individualists suggest a new institutional pattern woven by a multiplicity of autonomous groups and associations.

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