Radical Individualism -- America's Dominant Narrative
Once upon a time Americans believed in the myth of the "self-made man" and then the Stock Market Crash hit and people turned to each other and to the government for help. During the Great Depression it became clear that people couldn't survive on their own. At that time the New Deal was enacted to provide a safety net that hadn't been there before. One of the pieces of that safety net is Social Security. Then in the 1960s the programs of the Great Society were enacted, including Medicare. None of these programs are perfect but they are a response to the realities that none of us can survive on our own.
I think that many people have forgotten that lesson. The myth of the "self-made man or woman" has returned with a vengeance. The safety net, which has admittedly grown ever-larger, is under attack. I would be the first to say that reform is needed, but that's not the point. The point is one of ideology.
The narrative of Radical Individualism strikes at the very fabric of American life. It undermines such important institutions as public education, which was designed to make sure that every American had access to quality schools.
One of the ideological cornerstones of radical individualism is a rejection of the idea that I have a responsibility to my neighbor, especially if my neighbor looks different or believes differently. One of the central figures in this new era of radical individualism is a long deceased writer named Ayn Rand. Rand espoused an "objectivist ethic" that taught the "virtue of selfishness." She believed that altruism -- doing good to the other without expectation of something in return was evil. The self is the center. This philosophy stands at the heart of a number of political movements, and has been, at least until recently, embraced by the GOP Vice Presidential Candidate -- Paul Ryan. Rand had little use for government except -- as she lays out in an essay these three areas:
The proper functions of a government fall into three broad categories, all of them involving the issues of physical force and the protection of men’s rights: the police, to protect men from criminals—the armed services, to protect men from foreign invaders—the law courts, to settle disputes among men according to objective laws.
You will see nothing here regarding a safety net, nothing having to do with education or infrastructure. Think about it for a moment when you go for a drive in that care -- who built the roads? Well we did as a society, paying takes and users fees. That's a government role that Ayn Rand rejects.
My question is -- what does the future hold for a nation that embraces "radical individualism"? What happens to a society when the poor, the weak, the infirm can no longer take care of themselves -- to whom shall they turn? You say -- to the churches. Well, if only the churches had the numbers and the wealth to deal with such issues. You say that asking you to pay taxes to care for such people is an infringement on your rights? Well, I didn't agree with the war in Iraq -- am I not paying for it? Is that not an infringement on my rights? After all, Iraq didn't attack us so even on Rand's premises that war mad no logical sense.
More to my point -- if we continue on a course guided by these values, where we see greater inequality in our country -- where does that lead us? Is that a good thing for us as a country?