Decline of the 19th century individualism and emergence of Modern Individualism in the 20th century:
After the eighteenth century, there was a decline in the influence of individualism and in its place the idealism and collectivism gained importance. Joad says, “The theory of individualism or its doctrine of freedom, which is very valuable in politics, when applied in economic sphere, proved disastrous”.
According to Joad, individualism is based on three misconceptions:
(1) That each individual is equally sagacious and he has an equal capacity for knowing what he wants.
(2) That each individual possesses an equal power of obtaining what he wants and an equal freedom of choice.
(3) That the satisfaction of the wants of all individuals is identical with the well-being of the community as a whole.
Thus on the basis of the reasons mentioned above, individualism suffered a setback and idealism and socialism took its place. But when both these theories explained the functions and powers of the state in an exaggerated form, and when they did not attach any importance to individual freedom, there was a great reaction against them and individualism took birth in a refined form. Prof, Joad says, “But the reaction against individualism has produced a reaction in its turn. The wheel has turned full circle and the present dissatisfaction with the state has promoted a revival of individualist thinking akin in spirit though not in form to the individualism of nineteenth century”.
Meaning and Growth of Modern Individualism:
The distinction between modern individualism and ninetieth century individualism is that nineteenth century individualism gives more importance to individual than the state and in order to protect individual liberty, it wants to limit the functions of the state.
On the other hand, modem individualism lays more emphasis on groups and associations and considers the state an association like other associations. The common thing in both of them is that both want to place limitations on the powers of the state. In short, modern individualism is a form of pluralism.
The following are the causes of its origin:
(1) Increase in associations in human society and the acceptance of their importance as compared to state.
(2) During the First World War the European governments acquired all powers, suppressed the individual freedom and acted arbitrarily. Thus the people started thinking of imposing restrictions on the absolute and unlimited powers of state.
(3) Many people even objected to the majority rule in democracy and the states acting in an arbitrary manner. Thus, in order to protect the minority from the dictatorship of the majority, the intellectuals emphasised that a check should be imposed on the powers of the state. Moreover, these powers should be decentralized.
Exponents of Modern Individualism:
Grham Wallas, Norman Angell, Miss Follett and many other Guild socialists are the exponents of modern individualism. Garham Wallas, in his book, ‘Great Society’ exhibits a, “distrust of the power of the over-developed state”. According to him, centralised state with parliament composed on the basis of territorial representation, is hardly an effective organ for the expression of popular will.
Therefore, he recommended the organisation of the second territorial basis. He condemned the dictatorship of the majority. For the economic and educational functions, he suggested the establishment of special, elected bodies, which may also have representatives of professional organisations.
Norman Angell was a great supporter of Internationalism. He strongly opposed the enhanced powers of the state in his book, ‘The Great Illusion”. He said that people come together for their common economic interests.
Generally, man does that job which is useful from economic point of view. But different states compete with one another and they instigate the people in the name of national interest. When the people start thinking as one unit of international economic society, they will give up the modern society based on territorial limits and they will aspire for the society based on economic classes.
Miss Follett in her book, ‘The New Stage’ has thrown light on the relations between individual, association and state and has laid emphasis on the importance of associations. She has said that man can develop his personality through groups only.
Guild-socialists also lay a special emphasis on professional groups in the society. They say that on territorial basis the representation of varied interests is not possible in modern parliaments. Therefore, along with the establishment of Political democracy, they say that there should be separate institutions for industry, religion, education and other activities and the state should have minimum right to interfere in their affairs.
In this way modern individualists attach more importance to groups in society than to individuals and they recognise the separate existence of groups and associations. The function of the state is that it should create some co-ordination between their activities. State is an institution like other institutions and it should not claim any special allegiance of individuals. The state is not an indispensable institution.