The Individual vs Society

By Haven Bradford Gow.

RTO_Trailer_pix The Individual vs SocietyIn his work Return to Order, Catholic scholar John Horvat II provides a critique of the atomistic individualism that ruptures the social bonds that make civilized social life possible; he says this destructive kind of individualism sets forth “a philosophy of life that declares self-preservation and its corollary self-interest to be the most common and inalienable of all rights and the root of all morality and justice.” According to this view, “we are all involved in our own inebriating pursuit of self-interest… [The individual] is the ultimate judge of what is right and wrong… This concept holds that an individual becomes a perfect and complete being when ‘unencumbered’ by strong ties to tradition, family, custom, or moral law.”

These observations reminded me of the late scholar/educator Wilson Carey McWilliams and his book The Idea of Fraternity in America (U. of CA Press). According to Prof. McWilliams, although we have had a strong religious tradition in our own country, our public institutions have been based upon the assumptions and theories of the liberal Enlightenment. Our social, economic and political systems contain “a bias toward individualism, a hostility to communities, an assumption that material well-being and technological advances are in the high interests of man.” The liberal, Lockean tradition proposed to discard fraternity as a necessary means to human development and as a norm in everyday social and political life. Indeed, that tradition shunted aside the belief that man is a social and political animal who requires civic relations for his perfection. With the erosion of commitment to the old religious tradition, said Prof. McWilliams, the liberal tradition and its stress on a competitive ethos, its concern for material power and its atomistic individualism have come to permeate all aspects of American life with disastrous consequences; one such consequence is the sense of isolation – social and spiritual – felt by increasing numbers of Americans.

RTO-mini2 The Individual vs SocietyFree Book: Return to Order: From a Frenzied Economy to an Organic Christian Society Where Weve Been, How We Got Here, and Where We Need to Go


Implicit in the atomistic individualism that John Horvat and Wilson Carey McWilliams reject is the assumption that society is artificial. From the liberal, Lockean perspective, man enters society out of fear and greed; man enters society simply as a means of self-preservation. Society, at best, is a necessary evil. In sharp contrast to this view of social life is St. Thomas’ view that society is natural, that it arises from the intense and persistent demands of man’s higher nature. Man has natural inclinations toward social life; he enters society to share friendship, love, knowledge and pursuit of the common good.

John Horvat’s Return to Order restates St. Thomas’ much needed view of man and society.

Haven Bradford Gow is a teacher, writer, columnist and contributing editor as well as a television and radio commentator. He hails from Greenville, Mississippi.


  • DLL

    We are community based subjective servants placed in a time to occupy a given space. We really only know what we encounter and in where we place our faith trusts. We are meant to use time and place to promote good health,welfare and trust in others that we can be relied on to promote the common good. Life is a precious gift from God. All must protect this gift for ourselves and for everyone else. Diversity does not mean tolerance for sin as a protected evil. Sin consumes those who promote it and it destroys them as their souls are darkened. Progressivism does not mean a “New World Order” where the rich and powerful are in total and complete control of the rest of the so called by Hillary Clinton as “undesirables”. When people get called undesirable they will eventually become subjected to Marshall laws and persecutions by those who call themselves “Elite”people as only they should have power over the masses, as they have termed them to be only a populace of inferiors. This “New World Order” has an objective to become a total World controlled economic government to regulate the behavior and freedoms of all the so called masses. For Instance! Property will eventually,all become reallocated, so the “State” will possess it and control regulation of it all in the name of “Global warming” to control the masses and their so called individual “Carbon footprints”. The European Union is the current test to create a sense of this new world order with a sort of elusive control, where no one really knows what elitist is in charge of any of this government power,as they have become the hidden,unspoken of a government within a government.