INDIVIDUALISM (from individual, from ML. indiridualis, relating to an individual. from Lat. individnus, indivisible, from in-, not dir-idnus, divisible, from dividcre, to divide). The doctrine that society is only an artificial device, whose value is to be gauged by its con duciveness to the good of the several associated members or by some other standard set by these individuals. Individualism must he distin guished from egoism. with which it is often con founded. While individualism perhaps is gener ally egoistie in character, it is not always so. An individualist may maintain that the end which justifies all justifiable means is "the greatest good of the greatest number;" what makes him an individualist is his conception of the great est number as composed of imIcpcndent units, the happiness of each of which is to be reckoned as a separate item in the sum total of general happiness. Such being the nature of individual ism, it is clear that in all the sciences which deal with man as a social being there may be indi vidualistic tendencies. And as a matter of tact individualism has been a marked characteristic of many prominent theories in political science, in economies, and in ethics.
In political theory the consistent individualist regards the State as a means, to subserve individ ual ends. He may be an egoistic anarchist. desir ing to remove all restraints which the State im poses upon his freedom of action. On the other hand, lie may be an absolutist, believing that the restraints imposed by a supreme government are necessary to prevent the disastrous consequences which would follow from every man's acting upon his unregulated desires, and thus involving him self in perpetual warfare with all his neighbors. Thus we see that the sovereignty of government, which the individualist must deny in ultimate theory, he may stoutly maintain in practical politics. Hobbes. the prime individualist of mod ern limes, was nevertheless one of the stanchest supporters of unlimited despotism when despot ism was making its last stand against parlia mentary government in England. Again, an al truistic individualist may. like the egoistic. be either an anarchist or a believer in government. The anarchism of our day is in large measure a reaction against absolutism, a reaction motived by a sincere desire to secure for mankind at large the blessings of freedom. The trouble with it is that it conceives freedom as license, and regards license as in its nature humane when not irritated by authority. Other altruistic individualists, however, who do not share with the benevolent anarchist the optimist belief that man is by na ture a saint and only by government a sinner, justify government as a necessary evil: an evil because individuality is more or less repressed by law, but a necessity because without some measure of such repression some individuals would make life intolerable or even impossible for others. It is thus clear that individualism as a political theory Is quite compatible with ac quiescence in and support of almost any form of government, or even with revolt from all govern ment. Practical individualism, on the other
hand, may prevail to a large extent along with anti-individualistic theories, for it is quite logi cally consistent for a thinker to maintain that the true end of all government is the welfare of society as an organic whole, and yet that this welfare can best be served by allowing every individual to pursue his own ends.
In economies individualism has generally advo cated the practice which is formulated in the well known precept, laissez faire, laissr:- passer. The State is to keep hands off of the economic ma chinery. Free competition, resulting in the sur vival of the economically fittest, is the individual istic ideal. Hence we find among individualists a tendency to oppose all sumptuary and other economic legislation. Compensation for service rendered is held to be a matter which concerns merely the parties immediately involved, and no general laws, it is urged, should control the unre strieted privilege of any man to buy labor as cheap and to self it as dear as the relation be tween supply and demand allows. No minimum of wage, no maximum of hours, 110 restriction upon the age or sex of employees, nu liability except as specified by contract, no foster ing of industries by tariff or subsidy, no political arbitration of economie disputes, no t;overnment ownership or operation of any industrial plant— in sLort, no State interference in production. dis tribution. or consumption—this is what absolute and unadulterated individualism is apt to hold before itself as the true type of the industrial life. But pure economic individualism is at the present day more a theory than a practice. Pub lic policy has asserted itself against private license, and the struggle at present is not so much between State interference and free com petition as between different views as to the points at which State interference is advisable. Thus, in the United Stales both of the great political parties are anti-individualistic in their economic principles. The Republican Party stands for State interference in international trade, while in matters of internal policy it is inclined to allow competition a freer hand. 'me Democratic Party advocates greater freedom in international! economie activity, while, at least of recent years. it has sought to interfere with the freedom of capital to combine and with the free dom of natural preference for the eeonomically more valuable medium of exchange found in gold. The paternalism of the tariff is offset by the paternalism of State-ordained bimetallism. in dividualism has become more of a war-cry than an accurate designation of economic principle. What is true of Ameriean economics is also true of the economic status in other civilized coun tries. The socialism and the agrarianism of Ger many are no more and no less anti-individualistic than the governmental policy they oppose. The question is only as to the character of the limita tions to be put upon the freedom of the indi vidual in his economie relations.