Individualism   /   Spring 2002   /    Interview

Interview with Nancy L. Rosenblum

Colin Bird

Individualism is a term that means many things to different people, and for some it carries strongly pejorative connotations, while for others it signifies both personal and political virtue. Do you tend to think of individualism as a problem or an ideal? Or (to be a bit less crass): which sorts of individualism would you regard as healthy and which pernicious?

You’re right that “individualism” is a Rorschach test—people view it in very different ways. In academic circles its connotations range from metaphysical (individual souls) to epistemological (“we can no more see through another’s eyes...”) to sociological (atomistic individualism, the unencumbered self) to moral (selfish individualism, possessive individualism). Each of these, in turn, appears in both political theories that priv- ilege personal liberty and those that do not. The temptation to simplification—and to ignore the complex history of moral and political thought in the process—is powerful, and academic sound-bites proliferate.

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