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Reclaiming individualism

Reclaiming individualism: Perspectives on public policy

Paul Spicker
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  • Book Info
    Reclaiming individualism
    Book Description:

    This book is about individualist ideas, and how they shape contemporary approaches to public policy. If we were to believe the existing literature, we might think that only markets can satisfy people's needs, and that any collective concept of welfare compromises individual welfare. The price mechanism is taken to be the best way to allocate resources, and it is assumed that individualised responses to need must be better than general ones. Reclaiming individualism reviews the scope of individualist approaches, and considers how they apply to issues of policy. It argues for a concept of individualism based on rights, human dignity, shared interests and social protection. A valuable resource for those working or studying in social or public policy, this book is a powerful restatement of some of the key values that led to individualism being such a force in the first place.

    eISBN: 978-1-4473-0909-3
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. List of tables and figures
    (pp. v-vi)
  2. INTRODUCTION: Six impossible things before breakfast
    (pp. 1-4)

    This book is about individualist ideas, and how they shape the way we think about public policy. After the Second World War, the United Kingdom introduced a ‘welfare state’, an idealised system that was supposed to offer people the best provision possible on a collective basis. When in the 1960s and 1970s, that collectivism was challenged by the ‘New Right’, a loosely formed movement of economists, politicians and political commentators, their views may have seemed eccentric.¹ The ideas have been carried forward by pro–market think tanks, such as the Cato Institute in the United States (US), or the Institute...

  3. PART ONE Individualism
    (pp. 5-22)

    Individualism emerged during the Enlightenment as a challenge to the established order. Feudal societies attributed social roles according to birth, status and obligation. Individualism was a critique of the societies that existed up to then, an assertion of the rights of every person to choose their own course for themselves, and a justification for resistance against oppressive governments. Individuals are independent and self–determining. They are not subject to obligations and restrictions imposed by birth or origin. Individualism is a claim for human dignity, and the rights of people to develop according to their own lights.9 People are possessed of...

  4. PART TWO The moral dimensions of individualism
    (pp. 23-56)

    Moral individualism depends on the premise, not just that each person is an individual, but also that each individual is of value. one of the key roles of individualism has been to assert that every person matters. Doctrines that dismiss, disregard or diminish the individual – caste, racism or fascism – are mistaken, oppressive and morally wrong.

    The idea of value is expressed in different ways – that individuals have human dignity, that they are deserving of respect and that they have rights. of these three, the idea of dignity seems to be the term that is least often discussed. Nordenfeldt distinguishes four...

  5. PART THREE Methodological individualism and rational self-interest
    (pp. 57-98)

    The greatest difficulty that individualists have with a commitment to welfare seems to be experienced by those who write about methodological individualism. The reasons for the conflict are not intrinsic to the approach, because a position that is intended to identify broad principles might reasonably have been expected to be more flexible and adaptable than the others. The problems arise because of the dominance within the methodology of a model, which identifies welfare with the operation of specific economic processes. That identification begins with the idea of utility.

    The concept of utility has referred, in its history, to a range...

  6. PART FOUR Substantive policy
    (pp. 99-138)

    There is no clear point at which methodological individualism gives way to substantive individualism – when arguments framed in terms of people who act as if they are individuals give way to arguments that people really do act as individuals, and have to be responded to on that basis. Much of the methodology considered up to this point is prescriptive: it identifies not so much what people do, as what they would need to do in order to achieve certain effects. However, those prescriptions are often overlain with a further substantive assumption – the conviction that an individualist analysis tells us something...

  7. PART FIVE Individuals and collective action
    (pp. 139-170)

    Both methodological and substantive individualism start from the position that individuals make their own choices, that these choices are made independently and that they are diverse. None of those assumptions is unreasonable, but once that much has been accepted, it can be difficult to move from there to any meaningful concept of social choice or welfare.

    Bentham proposed that the welfare of a society could be found in ‘the greatest happiness of the greatest number’.⁴⁰² This outweighs the position of the individual in both moral and substantive terms: the good of anyone can be set aside for the good of...

  8. PART SIX Government and public policy
    (pp. 171-200)

    For many individualists, government action is considered implicitly to restrict the freedom of individuals, and so to violate the rights of individuals. The individualist critique of the state has been dominated by arguments from the neo-liberals of the New Right, represented by Hayek, Friedman and the work of free-market think tanks. This work has been characterised by a deep suspicion of the actions of government. The arguments of contemporary libertarians begin with the view that state action is illegitimate; government is at best a necessary evil.

    The origins of this model can be found in the arguments of Thomas Hobbes....