Individualism vs. Selflessness

In the realm of political and social affairs, we can likely regroup almost all inclinations across times and cultures into three categories: Individualism, Elitism, and Selflessness.

For the individualist tendencies, every human being is an end in itself; for the elitist one, there is a a certain class of individuals (the definition of which varies from one particular system to the other) who has priorities or privileges over the others and necessitates the others to labour for its benefit; and for the selfless tendency, it is actually the broader collectivity of humans that counts, some state, or some institution, more so than particular individuals. We find many examples of each in history:

  • Individualism includes thinkers like Descartes, Kant, Fichte, Berkeley, the Existentialists, Liberalism, Anarchism, and Protestantism.
  • Elitism includes aristocratic thinkers such as Aristotle and Nietzsche, Feudalism, some closed sects and religions, plutocracies, some forms of Capitalism, Scientism, and all of forms of ethnic and racial segregations.
  • Selflessness (also holistic) includes Pantheism, Buddhism, Spinoza, Hegel, Schopenhauer, Nationalism, Hobbes, Rousseau (politically but not morally, Rousseau is notorious for his contradictions), Catholicism, Islam, Marxism and Communism, and the Russian, Chinese, and many Asian cultures generally.

Today, we continue to have a war of the titans between Individualism and Selflessness. Elitism continues to exist, but in more hidden and less declared manners as it is commonly not ‘politically correct’ to ascertain any longer in many developed societies.  We can particularly observe a divide of ‘style’ between the West (individualism, particularly after the Reformation and especially after the failing of European nationalism and the growth of globalisation) and the East (long history of collectivity whether in the religious or social sphere).

We are not laying a judgement here on each genre as, candidly, neither is necessarily superior to the others – typically it all comes down to the details. We had excesses and beauties in both Individualism and Selflessness.



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