Dialogue and Universalism

Volume 15, Issue 3/4, 2005

Sources and New Dreams of Western Wisdom

Dorothea Olkowski
Pages 9-18

The Myth of the Individual

The fundamental liberal argument supporting the concept of “individualism” is that all individuals possess the same rights and liberties which define each citizen as an individual. Yet each individual somehow remains a person who defines her/himself as separate and distinct from all others and so who should never be considered to be a part of a concretely real group. Such a presupposition entails others. Liberalism presupposes naturalism, that human nature is fixed and knowable, as well as idealism, the belief that rational persuasion and argument are assumed to be the engines of change, and moralism, the idea that nature and reason must also provide some clues for acting. Ultimately, liberalism also implies volunteerism, the idea that social life is comprised of autonomous, intentional, and self-will actions that follow from the rules for right and wrong, which are themselves derived from reason, whose efficacy is natural. This essay argues that when women and other minorities examine the reasonable and rational public political culture, they may find that these very social structures, which are the ones they are most likely to value are also the site of their greatest oppression.

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