jeudi, octobre 30, 2008

Individualism in Democratic Countries

There was a time when Religon could influence the social, cultural and political order. Today it seems to be the opposite way: Religion is influenced by the ideas of the century. In Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville pointed out the fact that democracy influences our behavior – as it is true for any political regime. The practice of Christian virtues can counterbalance the bad effects of a system. But when Christians follow the thoughts of the world instead of the Word of Christ, there is no more barriers to evil. Democracy has generated individualism that has finally merged with egoism.

Democracy in America
Alexis de Tocqueville

(Volume II; Part 2, chapter 2)

I have indicated how, in ages of equality, every man sougth his beliefs within himself; I wish to show how, in these same periods, he directs all his feelings on to himself alone.
Individualism is a recent coined expression prompted by a new idea, for our forefathers knew only egoism.

Individualism is a new concept based upon two principles:

-individual liberty: putting individual liberty above society
-moral autonomy: I can appreciate by myself what is good and what is evil without rules given by the society.

Egoism is an ardent and excessive love of oneself which leads man to relate everything back to himself and to prefer himself above everything.

This is not the fruit of an ideology but a mark of our fallen nature. Every man knows egoism that dwells in himself. Some fight against, others content themselves with it.

Individualism is a calm and considered feeling which persuades each citizen to cut himself off from his fellows and to withdraw into the circle of family and friends in such a way that he thus creates a small group of his own and willingly abandons society at large to its own devices. Egoism springs from a blind instinct; individualism from wrong-headed thinking rather than from depraved feelings. Its originates as much from defects of intelligence as from the mistakes of heart.
Egoism blights the seeds of every virtue, individualism at first dries up only the source of public virtue. In the longer term it attacks and destroys all the others and will finally merge with egoism.

Egoism is a perversity as old as the world and is scarcely peculiar to one form of society more than another.
Individualism is democratic in origin and threatens to grow as conditions become equal.

Among aristocratic nations, families remain in the same situation for centuries and often in the same location. This turns all the generations into contemporaries, as it were. A man practically always knows his ancestors and has respect for them; he thinks he can already see his great-grandchildren and he loves them. He willingly assumes duties toward his ancestors and descendants, frequently sacrificing his personal pleasures for the sake of those beings who have gone before and who have yet to come.
In addition, aristocratic institution achieve the effect of binding each man closely to several of his fellow citizens. Since the class structure is distinct and static in an aristocratic nation, each class becomes a kind of homeland for the participant because it is more obvious and more cherished than the country at large.

Corporations and Compagnonnage have been abolished in France by the Law Le Chapelier during the French Revolution (June 17th 1791). It brought to an end an old tradition. A consequence would be the separation and then the rivalry between bosses and workers. The Class war is a fruit of the Revolution.

All the citizens of aristocratic societies have fixed positions one above another; consequently each man perceives above him someone whose protection is necessary to him and below him someone else whose cooperation he may claim.
Men living in aristocratic times are, therefore, almost always closely bound to an external object and they are often inclined to forget about themselves. It is true that in these periods the general concept of human fellowship is dimly felt and men seldom think of sacrificing themselves for mankind, whereas they often sacrifice themselves for other men.

In democratic times, on the other hand, when the obligations of every person toward the race are much clearer, devotion to one man in particular becomes much rarer. The bond of human affection is wide and relaxed.

Remember the teaching of the Gospel. We have to love God first, and then, our neighbor. Charity is very practical. I have to love a single person: the one who stands in front of me, someone that I can see and hear, someone that I can interact with, not the entire mankind. What would be philantropy without charity? Even natural love expresses itself to individual persons as Tocqueville seems to admitt: Only those nearest to us are any concern to us.

Among democratic nations, new families constantly emerge from oblivion, while others fall away; all remaining families shift with time. The thread of time is ever ruptured and the track of generations is blotted out. Those who have gone before are easily forgotten and those who follow are still unknown. Only those nearest to us are any concern to us.
As each class closes up to the others and merges with them, its members become indiffirent to each other and treat each other as strangers. Aristocracy had created a long chain of citizens from the peasant to the King; democracy breaks down this chain and separates all the links.

Remember the sermon of last Sunday and the Meditation of the Two Standards: How Lucifer encourages men to break chains (true for individual and society)!

A social equality spreads, a greater number of individuals are no longer rich or powerful enough to exercice great influence upon the fate of their fellows, but have acquired or have preserved sufficient understanding and wealth to be able to satisfy their own needs. Such people owe nothing to anyone and, as it were, expect nothing from anyone. They are used to considering themselves in isolation and quite willingly imagine their destiny as entirely in their own hands.

Thus, not only does democracy make men forget their ancestors but also hides their descendants and keeps them apart from their fellows. It constantly brings them back to themselves and threatens in the end to imprison them in the isolation of their own hearts.

I think we, Christians of the XXI, should meditate on this last sentence. Individualism threatens us too. If my heart is not open to my brother, how can I fulfill the most basic duty of charity? Sadly, I have to say that it is not rare to see Traditional faithfull Catholics with an individualist mentality. I cannot stop myself from thinking that the lack of participation to the Liturgy (public prayer, thus public virtue: see above) regarding the chant is a visible (I should say a non-audible) sign of individualism.

2 commentaires:

Anonyme a dit…

Juste une petite clarification, M. l'abbe. Quand le texte evoque l'aristocratie, les caracteres des lettres sont plus petits. Est-ce que l'auteur est toujours Tocqueville? Je pense que oui mais ne suis pas certaine.
Merci a l'avance de votre reponse.

Father Demets a dit…

Oui en effet, il s'agit bien de Tocqueville. Mes commentaires sont en vert ! Mais je vais essayer de rectifier la taille des caracteres !