Individualism is a thought and value system in which the individual is at the center of attention. From a purely theoretical consideration aspects of individualism is in contrast to collectivism. Individualistic theories exist in the culture and the humanities, but also in ecology.

With individualism is also - refers to a personal attitude, be aimed at the independent possible choices and opinion formation, regardless of whether they are compliant with the social context or not - especially in everyday language use. Contrast is the conformism in this case. An individualist in this sense need not be necessarily individualist in the above sense. In a context that prevails as a value system in which individualism, the deviation from the norm, the individual, are specifically intended to seek a greater degree of collectivism (eg, living in a monastery). Especially artists and creative people are often regarded as individualists in this sense. In addition, the individuals of this type characteristics such as courage, self-contained and ingenious thinking, etc. are often attributed to other, but also stubbornness and poor teamwork. Just by proponents of the idea of ​​individualism, self-realization is interpreted as opposed to conformism as an emancipatory and civilizational development, opponents of the idea of self-realization see it differently. They emphasize that self-realization is only really possible, especially in a team / community. The individual will then at least more demanded because of social interactions, which could bring a growth of personalities with them.

In this article, the first meaning is treated.

  • 3.1 Max Stirner
  • Ferdinand Tönnies 3.2
  • 4.1 Cultural Comparison in psychological research
  • 4.2 Cultural differences

Development and consequences of individualism


The ratio of the single individual to the community (or society ), in which it lives, has always been a matter of controversy. While Aristotle the people as a community living beings ( " political animal ", literally about " the need of a polis animal " ) conceived and this dominant view remained for a long time, there was recently a stronger emphasis on the individual. Intellectual history, this was done by liberalism and by anarchism. In the extreme case of individualism was tightened to egoism. Contrarian individualism were placed in pan-Arabism or Islamism, for example, in socialism, Nazism, nationalism, . Even religious communities such as Christianity are the individualism usually very skeptical about.

The basic idea of individualism is thus an idea of ​​liberation. The liberation of the individual from too many constraints will be perceived as pleasant, the collective. Than disabling and cramping

Another justification for individualism is given by economic performance. The west - individualistic system was the obvious powerful of this earth. With this argument, the general prosperity as a result of many egos considered (see Adam Smith).

Ferdinand Tönnies has (in the sense of his study Community and Society, 1887) for periods of individualism (such as the historic Renaissance ) formulated the sociological thesis that there is no " individualism " which was not the foot to " community" and " society" opening ( the modern spirit, 1935, ² 1998).

Social and Legal Implications

Individualism has in our lives a plethora of consequences that are not always aware of us as manifestations of individualism. These include the resolutions of the family and the village and other communities. Even a hundred years ago about the people organized within their communities, often within their professional communities. There were railway workers' sports clubs, teachers, choral societies and other state and professional associations that ran through the entire life.

On the other hand developed during industrialization new communities (eg associations), with the possibility of exercising the individual interests with like- interested people. From this point of individuality and community grow together paradoxically: Individuality is usually exercised with others and overlapping interests. Nevertheless, the contrast remains the collective that now communities are free to form the basis of individual interests.

Clearly the changes are also in sports. There is a gradual but significant increase in individual sports over team sports. Even in the mainstream culture wins the small singing group more weight compared to the large choir. Same clothing as an expression of togetherness are used to a much lesser extent. So also the uniforms has decreased in many professions or was completely abolished, in others it is outside of the range professional stored faster than before.

In administrative law were in the decades passed, the rights of individuals ( residents, " concerned ", etc. ) is strengthened. The community interest is hindered by the stronger individual rights than was previously the case. The weights are shifting. This applies to all kinds of projects of municipalities, states and the federal government. The administrative procedure law has a consistent strengthening of the rights of the individual citizen.

Economic considerations

In business and in the public administrations of individualism, however, already pushes the limits. Individual objectives of the work are often supplemented or replaced by team goals. In particular, in critical areas, the community-building is spreading through " team" again. Maximum benefits are often provided in community. In the management training there is therefore now both events with the aim of promoting the egoism of the individual as well as those to promote team spirit.

Political individualism

The objective of the Company is ultimately the collaboration of individuals, because in co-operation can be achieved more. The collective is but in the service of individuals and not vice versa. Today, companies are so strong organized so that the individual is hardly any more room for self-determination.

The individualism in favor of the freedom of the individual. In contrast to anarchism he accepted state laws, especially if they relate to the legal interests of the individual, so as life, liberty, property, and self-determination.

The political individualism is contrary to the collective coercive dictatorial and fascist systems.

Major theorists of individualism

Max Stirner

The approach to individualism is particularly evident in Max Stirner. His book The Ego and Its Own (1844 ) begins with the complaint:

Ferdinand Tönnies

The founder of German sociology, Ferdinand Tönnies finished second in his last book, the modern spirit in 1935 his sociological theory that individualism can determine only an intermediate epoch forever because he could only follow a largely " jointly " adjusted age ( no: must ) and necessary his own end by up lead that he opens an era largely " social " character. (See his fundamental work community and society (1887 ) ).

Cross-cultural and value system

Individualism has experienced in the Western world is spreading, as it was never in the history of the case. Thus, the West is in contrast to their own traditions, which were non- individualistic, but especially to all other cultures. Hugely worth considering, however, that none of the currents of Western individualism, not even the radical representative of the libertarianism or anarcho- capitalism ( Murray Rothbard, Ayn Rand ), rely on Max Stirner, but even explicitly distance themselves from him. With respect to a value system focused individualism, the subordination of common goals for the benefit of personal ambitions and stresses in addition to autonomy and self- responsibility and competition principles and skills of thinking. With respect to the individualism in Western cultures, is particularly referred to the recent aspects. Individualism also reflected already in the education of respective cultures, in which children are educated generally early to independence. So sleeping infants in more Western cultures, for example, mostly alone in a separate room while they often sleep in more collectivist societies with their parents or the mother. Nevertheless, individualism as a value system can not be generalized as a rigid construct, since the individual features occur in the cultures in different weighting and not in their entirety. Therefore, an assignment to a purely Western societies is problematic, although the tendency applicable.

Cultural comparisons in psychological research

There are interesting studies in the field of cross-cultural psychology, which refers to individualistic and collectivist cultures. Usually made from more individualistic countries (eg the U.S.) compared with individuals from more collectivist cultures (eg many Asian countries ) subjects. Important research contributions originating, inter alia, by Nisbett, Kitayama and Markus ( Myers, 2005). Some of her studies as an example:

Cultural differences

In the analysis of cultural characteristics of the comparison of individualism and collectivism in their expression in countries, businesses, social groups, but also individuals is one of several evaluable, conscious and partly visible dimensions.

However, individualism and collectivism are not opposite poles of a single dimension, but two independent dimensions; they occur in the cultural comparison not necessarily to be opposites. For example, many Latin American cultures both highly individualistic ( - they reach there similarly high levels as the United States - ), as well as highly collectivist. Only the latter feature clearly distinguishes it from North American and Western European cultures.

Individualism in ecology

In individualistic theories ( in the discussions of the nature conservation often classified under " imbalance Ecology" ) is assumed by the individual: In an area coexist all the species got there and have found suitable environmental conditions. You are not limited in their existence to it, for others, or a parent company to fulfill functions such as in organic organicism. The declaration is therefore not a functional reference to an individuals comprehensive wholeness of a community or ecosystem. It is the needs of individuals, not the functional needs of a community which force the individual organisms, relationships ( competition for resources, co ) produce to others. The change in the society, the succession is aimless, their direction depends on random factors ( environmental changes, migrations ). If one can speak of higher development in the context of these theories at all, then it is not one of the community that a given target approaches, but it is an improvement from the perspective of individuals, namely those that prevail in the competition for resources. Early representatives of individualism in ecology are eg Gams in Germany, Ramensky in Russia and Gleason in the U.S.. In ecology dominated by the middle of the 20th century organicist theories. In the U.S., about individualism in 1950 was influential.