The Individual versus Society
The other day at the dinner table the topic came up, which was more important the individual or society. Half at the table thought society should be placed first. I of course was saddened to hear this. It is the cry of today’s age that is getting stronger and stronger. It is a moral philosophy that people often times don’t understand and don’t fully comprehend. They want to be “good” and in so doing they seek to help as many as possible not realizing the result of such a mentality. I of course place the blame at the feet of modern education but that’s another topic. Thus, it is with good intentions that such paths are laid before us not understanding that within the means often times hides the ultimate ends – the society or the individual.
History holds an important account of the debate between the value of the individual and the value of society. Philosophers through the ages such as Locke, Hobbes, and Hume have basically argued for the importance of a “social contract” which stems from “natural law” (for this one can go back as far as Aristotle but also Aquanis and Hobbes). This “social contract” is provided only by the consent of individuals as natural law doesn’t apply to the society as a whole but to the individual. In other words, the “social contract” does not exist without the individual rights aligning themselves with the contract first. Therefore, the individual is superior to the social contract itself and the individual is superior then society as a whole.
Of course those that place society first will generally out of misunderstanding align themselves with the opposition. The opposition is not to shabby either. Marx, Neitzsche, or even though to a lesser extent Rousseau were effective in their criticsm of liberal values. The strongest of these of course being Marx who viewed history as the history of the struggle between classes of society or better said…
“The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles” – Marx
The United States of course was founded on the ideas of Locke, Hobbes, et al, as the Constitution itself was intended to protect the individual rights of man and out of this of course sprang the Bill of Rights. On the other hand Marx of course is famous for his ground breaking document the Communist Manifesto which attempts to lift society up first, as the individual serves the greater good. What you get is statism, behavorism and a proletariat morality if you attempt to make a cohesive worldview. In my opinion a dangerous path indeed.
Which do you think should get the highest priority or be the most important? Society or the individual? Let the sages of ages past answer for me…
“You have rights antecedent to all earthly governments: rights that cannot be repealed or restrained by human laws; rights derived from the Great Legislator of the universe.” – John Adams