Americans and Individualism

The United States of America is the land of the free, the land of
opportunity, the wealthiest country in the world, a country that half the
modern world is modeled after. Its President is referred to as the "Leader
of the free world". Thousands of people come to this country every year,
learning about the country in hopes of becoming citizens. William Hudson in
his book \'American Democracy in Peril \' talks about the seven biggest
challenges to this democratic nation.

Individualism can be seen as a gift or a curse, depending on the context in
which it occurs. Because modern society finds it important that people think
independently, decide autonomously and take personal initiatives, the
concept of individualism has acquired a positive connotation. However,
individualism is also linked with the tendency to withdraw from social life
and turn in towards oneself. Alexis de Tocqueville described individualism
as the cool and considered attitude which drives people to withdraw into a
small, enclosed world consisting of their family and a few select friends,
leaving the rest of society to its own devices.

The most obvious problem stemming from the process of individualism is of a
socio-economic nature and concerns the problem of solidarity. If the link
between the community and the individual becomes less strong, to what extent
will an individual experience social problems, in which he or she is not
immediately implicated, as his or her problems? To what extent are people in
an individualistic society prepared to consider the problems of others as
their own? This is a crucial question for society since it places the
legitimacy of many social institutions and political structures in question.
Whoever accepts that individualism is a fact will consider political life to
be an incessant clash of interests on the part of people who are only in it
for the sake of personal power or an increase in personal fortune. While
they may be fine, responsible people in private life, in their attitude to
government they are like infants, interested only in themselves and what
they consume, howling for more, and not concerned at all about the morality
of using government as a middleman to forcibly take what they desire from
their fellow-citizens. Whereas those people who reject individualism and
accept that the point of an election is to choose representatives whom the
voters can expect will manage the social institutions in a responsible
manner, will have a completely different image of politics.

The Founders believed in men\'s right to choose the government they lived
under, and they believed that to protect the ability to exercise that right,
that particular government could not be allowed such a monopoly of weapons
as would enable it to control the majority without their democratic consent.
In order to prevent tyranny, then, keeping arms and practicing their use had
to be a civic duty and a legally protected individual right. They believed a
widely-exercised individual right to keep arms was necessary as a civic
function, for the good of society as a whole, and of course believed that
people with arms, like anyone else, were subject to law, to civilization,
and to basic rules of behavior, and had duties as citizens to protect each
other\'s freedom and safety. However, these were obligations whose existence
did not depend on the particular government that the people had chosen. In
fact, the government was subject to these things just as much as individuals
were. Individualism taken too far could undermine democracy and make society
vulnerable to despotism.

The passions of men and their Intellectual life would be substantially
modified by democracy. Under pressure from individual autonomy, opinions
would be relativized, mores softened. Public opinion becomes the sole
authoritative voice. While individual rights govern the lives of men, the
ends of man fall into neglect. The morality of life is emptied from the
democratic vessel. The passion for equality, natural to democracy, trumps
every other concern, and begins its endless struggle to eradicate the
natural inequalities of men.

An important aspect of the American Government is its separation of powers
and the emphasized equality of the governmental factions. The framers of
the constitution saw the conditions in which England existed under the
monarchy, and decided to construct a different kind of government in which
no one faction could hold too much power. Thus, they developed a system of
"checks and balances" to prevent any one of the three separate branches of
the government from becoming dominant. The checks and balances included in
the Constitution ensure that the government will never become too
centralized. Thus, it is obvious that the very foundation upon which this
nation was