Let’s change gears for a time. In the interest of being fairminded and balanced, let me posit another view of individualism, a view which runs counter to the one I attributed to Hobbes. Friedrich A. Hayek’s seminal work, Individualism and Economic Order (see the featured selection) will serve as the text, in particular, the first chapter, “Individualism: True and False.” If you can’t avail yourself of a copy from your local bookseller or Amazon.com, here’s is a link to a full and unabridged .pdf file.
One cannot overemphasize here the fact that Hayek’s is a most lucid and readable work, a must read for anyone who is truly determined to grapple with the best of conservative thought, best since Edmund Burke, at least. Of course, Hayek is a far more modern thinker than Burke ever was; one only wishes he was more modern. In any case, I must thank Mark Eden, aka “troll,” for alerting me to Hayek’s writings and works. As far as I am concerned, one’s intellectual development cannot be complete without taking full account of a reasoned, conservative viewpoint, and that’s regardless of whether you happen to be a liberal or a conservative, an anarchist, a communist or a socialist. So yes, I do remain indebted!
I suppose the first thing that struck me about Hayek’s presentation was his argument to the effect that conservatism and the conservative viewpoint have amounted to anything like a political or social theory. I was always under the impression it was a reactive type of stance, necessitated as it may have been by the liberal program, designed with no other purpose in mind than to fight liberalism tooth and nail. And since liberalism itself was by and large a program rather than any political theory, a grab bag of sorts, incorporating a whole bunch of concerns under one umbrella, a patchwork in a manner of speaking (and I refer the reader here to section X), how could conservatism be any different?
Well, along comes Hayek, with his declarative statement:
What, then, are the essential characteristics of true individualism? The first thing that should be said is that it is primarily a theory of society, an attempt to understand the forces which determine the social life of man, and only in the second instance a set of political maxims derived from this view of society (page 6, author’s italics).
Clearly, Hayek advances here a thesis of “methodological individualism.” It’s his way of explaining the workings of a society. Nothing wrong with that offhand, and I’d alluded to this mode of explanation in Part I, though I certainly reserve the right to comment on it later.
Meanwhile, we have to deal with Hayek.