Sunday, May 2, 2010

Re: French individualism prior to the World Wars

Billy Blogblather has left a  comment on my post "Was French individualism a virtue prior to World W...":

I cannot believe that you, of all people, would be arguing against individualism. It can only be because there's no room for individualism in the military and you are heart and soul, a military man. Why you are such, I have no idea. I can't imagine being in the military so I just have to accept that there are those who thrive on it. Rorty is my hero. We are fiercely individual persons and who are tightly bound inside a society. Allegiance to each is a life long battle. There are no rules from God, we each work it out for outselves. I prefer the anarchist artists to the CEO's of the world. Thank you, kindly.

Lawrence's response:
            "Individualism" is a word defined in different ways.  Some might recall a note I posted back on March 18, 2009: .  I'll quote the definitions in context:
            On page 17 of a book by Alain Renaut, The Era of the Individual, A Contribution to a History of Subjectivity, he provides definitions of two terms that are critical to the critique of Marxism-Leninism, "Humanism" and "Individualism":
            "Humanism is basically the valorization of humanity in its capacity for autonomy. What I mean by this – without, of course, claiming any originality in the matter – is that what constitutes modernity is the fact that man thinks of himself as the source of his acts and representations, as their foundation (read: subject) or author. (This is why, by the way, the antihumanistic passion common to various genealogical practices of the 1960s so often involved criticizing the idea of the author.) The humanistic man is one who does not receive his norms and laws either from the nature of things (as per Aristotle) or from God, but who establishes them himself, on the basis of his own reason and will. Thus modern natural right is a subjective right, posited and defined by human reason (as per juridical rationalism) or by the human will (as per juridical voluntarism). Thus modern societies conceive of themselves politically as self-established political systems based on a contractualist scheme, in contrast to societies where authority is established through tradition by means of the deeply antimodern notion of 'privilege.'
            "Individualism, on the other hand, carries a different emphasis. Tocqueville accurately predicted that at the level of sociopolitical phenomena it constituted a dangerous, but not irresistible, tendency in modernity. The best definition no doubt follows from Benjamin Constant's deceptively simple formula of the 'freedom of the moderns.' Constant placed less stress on the valorization of autonomy than on independence: among the ancients, he explained in a famous speech delivered at the Athenee royal in Paris in 1819, freedom was defined in terms of participation in public affairs and the direct exercise of sovereignty, by this 'collective freedom' was held to be 'compatible with . . . the complete subjection of the individual to the authority of the community,' to the point that '[n]o importance was given to the individual independence, neither in relation to opinions, nor to labor, nor, above all, to religion''; in contrast, among the moderns, for whom the sovereignty of the individual was profoundly restricted, being publicly exercised only 'at fixed and rare intervals,' the individual nonetheless thinks of himself as free because he is 'independent in his private independence,' Constant added; and in an age where, '[l]ost in the multitude, the individual can almost never perceive the influence he exercises, . . . we must be far more attached than the ancients to our individual independence.'"
            Renaut and Ferry pitted "Humanism" or "Autonomy" against "the individual" or "Individualism," which I found awkward as an American brought up to value "individualism," meaning "rugged individualism" also known as "self-sufficiency," but in these regards, especially in Humanism as Renaut defines it, we are coming athwart the Marxist-Leninist approach . . . the latter term requires fleshing out. Renaut would say, for example, that Heidegger's fascination with Fascism was not accidental. He was philosophically in tune with Fascism. And Nietzsche was a precursor, in this sense, who believed that the "Great Leader" was necessary to lead his sheep-like followers, and Freud described man as an utter response to environmental influences.
            We can see that all the above influences are opposed to "Humanism." There is no "natural right" posited in the individual man's "human reason." Other elements are at work, and we must turn to Heidegger, Nietzsche, Freud, and such followers as Foucault, Derrida, Bourdieu and Lacan to find out what they are.  
            Shattuck's definition is different from Renaut's  His sense of individualism, as applied to the four individuals of The Banquet Years is more consistent with the anti-establishment American movements such as the "Hippies."  Anything goes as long as it's different and doesn't support "the man" or "the system," but people were lining up to be different in the same way.  These "individuals" were known for opposing "the establishment."  They are now known for opposing anything America is for.  With Noam Chomsky they make a full circle all the way back to French Anarchism. 

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