Strong Individualism vs. Strong Government This essay is about wither or not society should embrace altruism and whether its the governments place to do so or the individuals.

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Society has gone through its ups and downs, but what is it that makes society turn for the better or worse? Many philosophers have explained what they think is wrong with society in their point in time and argued that it boils down to a reign of a strong government or a rise in the strength of individualism. Each author states their viewpoints of how the government should or should not intervene with society and if they believe that the strength of the individual should be endorsed. Their viewpoints range from the idea of abolishing the government entirely to strengthen individualistic thought, to the thought that everyone should completely devote their life to their country. In this paper, I will first examine the position in favor of strong individualism and then the position in favor of a strong government in determining which is better for society. Also, I will analyze each author’s argument to show their viewpoint and their reasoning to back it up.

In doing so, I hope to show that there are many different theories of how to better society.

In the fight for stronger individualism amongst society, radical anarchist Alexander Berkman believes that the government should be abolished entirely. In The ABC of Anarchy, he complains about what individuals are required to do in their lives, work. He argues that people are forced to work because they have no other choice in life. As he states, “You can’t work for yourself; under the capitalist industrial system you must work for an employer” (Berkman 14). A working class person cannot be self employed. On the contrary, they must be employed by someone of the upper class in society. It is a spiral of depression in where the factory worker works for a wage, where as the factory owner receives all of the profits and benefits from the workers production. To stop this from happening Berkman believes that the government should be abolished because it is letting the capitalists control the worker’s lives. He explains, “Capitalism robs and exploits the whole of the people; the laws legalize and uphold this capitalist robbery; the government uses one part of the people to aid and protect the capitalists in robbing the whole of the people” (21). To clarify this statement Berkman believes that the government gives the capitalists control of the working class; therefore Berkman is in favor to stronger individualism rather than a stronger government.

Also fighting for stronger individualism among society is author John Stuart Mill, who claims that the government is infringing on the rights of individuals. Mill feels as though the upper class is using the government to control and prohibit individual’s rights. He believes, “No such person will ever feel that others have a right to control him in his concerns” (Mill 83). He doesn’t believe that government knows what is best for the individual or that the government should be forcing themselves into individual’s lives. As he states, “He [the individual] is the person most interested in his own well-being” (76). Meaning it is unrealistic that government knows what is better for the individual than the individual himself. The individual should be making their own choices, not the government. Mill continues on with the argument stating that the government is forcing people to abide by their guidelines by making outlandish laws that do not have the intent of protecting the public. Undeniably Mill believes that the government should not try to control a person’s life as he strongly supports the push for stronger individualism rather than a stronger government.

From the opposite side of the spectrum is Benito Mussolini who believes a strong government is essential in society. As the fascist that Mussolini is, he believes that one should be totally devoted to one’s country. His ideology, fascism, is that the government is not just regulations bounded on society, but a lifestyle for which citizens should live by. He argues that, “fascism is not only a system of government it is a system of thought” (Mussolini 2). He thinks that everything a person does in life should be in the best interest of their country. There is little room allowed for individualism in Mussolini’s fascist government system as he states, “the individual only in so far as his interests coincide with those of the State” (3). So unless an individual’s actions are bettering their country they should not be done. By Mussolini’s reasoning the government should be first and foremost in a person’s life and individualistic thoughts and actions are just selfish acts towards the progress of one’s society.

Also in support of a strong government over individualism is Thomas Hobbes. Hobbes believes a strong government is essential to keeping peace in society as without a strong government intact he believes that men would be at each other’s throats. He believes that society would not prosper with strong individualism but would fall apart as men, “make war upon each other, for their particular interests… without a common power to keep them all in awe” (Hobbes 337). His meaning is that society needs a strong government otherwise complete chaos would take place. He admits that society does not have the strength in unity to do what is best for it as a whole. Hobbes believes that society should adhere to certain guidelines agreed upon and let the government take control of governing peoples rights. He explains, “if every man should say to every man, I authorize and give up my right of governing myself, to this man, or to this assembly of men, on this condition, that thou give up thy right to him, and authorize all his actions in like manner” (339). If all of society agrees upon this unwritten “contract” than society would become united and would have a far greater chance to progress. Accordingly Hobbes supports the idea of a stronger government rather than stronger individualism.

From a different view then all of the previous authors, Peter Singer, who wrote How Are We to Live, has a unique approach on how individualism would be better for society. Singer explains his theory of how individuals being trustworthy and doing what is best for everyone could be the solution. He encourages a certain sense of being trustworthy to one another to unite society and thus improve it. He explains, “It [trustworthiness] has the potential to change not only our personal lives, but the world” (Singer 132). His major example is the “Prisoner’s Dilemma” where two prisoners are faced with a tempting offer that would keep them out of jail while sentencing their comrade to ten years of imprisonment. If the prisoner confesses that the other committed the crime while the other does not confess then the first would be free to go while the other is condemned to ten years of jail. Where as if neither of them confesses they would both spend six months in jail and then be let free. If they both confess they would both spend eight years in jail compared to the original ten years. The best choice would be for neither of them to confess so they both get a good deal. Singer sums up his ideology, “Each side may be tempted to try to reap the benefit of co-operation without paying the price; but if both do it, they will both be worse off than they would have been if they had all co-operated” (142). By doing what is best for everyone in the situation instead of what is best for yourself, both sides have a good outcome. Singer argues that a strong individual, that does what is best for the whole of society, is what would be best for society.

Each author has stated their viewpoints of what is needed to be done to better society. Berkman has his idea of abolishing the government entirely to keep capitalists from controlling the workers lives. Mill feels as though the upper class of society is using the government to control and prohibit individual’s rights. Mussolini has is ideology that everyone should devote their life to their country. Hobbes thinks that society should adhere to an unwritten contract that allows relinquishes individuals rights to govern themselves. Singer wants individuals to become more trustworthy towards each so a stronger government is not needed. With so many different ideas of how to better society only time can tell wither strong individualism or a strong government is what is better for society.

Works CitedBerkman, Alexander. “Law and Government”, “How the System Works”, “Whose is the Power?”. The ABC of Anarchy. Dover. Mineola, NY. 2005.

Hobbes, Thomas. “Leviathan pp. 249-268, 335-340”. Hobbes Selections. Ed. Frederick Woodbridge Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York. 1958.

Mill, John Stuart “On the limits to the authority of society over the individual” On Liberty and Other Writings Cambridge University Press. New York. 1989.

Mussolini, Benito and Giovanni Gentile. The Doctrine of Fascism., Peter. “Tit for Tat”. How are we to live?: Ethics in the Age of Self Interest. Prometheus. New York. 1995.