Let’s change gears for a time. In the interest of being fair-minded and balanced, let me posit a view of individualism that runs counter to the one I attributed to Hobbes.
Friedrich A. Hayek’s seminal work, Individualism and Economic Order, will serve as the text, particularly 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 genuinely 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 event, one’s intellectual development cannot be complete without taking full account of a reasoned, conservative viewpoint, regardless of whether you happen to be a liberal or a conservative, an anarchist, a communist, or a socialist.
I suppose the first thing that had 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. All along, I was 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 a political theory as such, a grab bag of sorts, incorporating a whole bunch of concerns under one umbrella (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).
Interestingly, Hayek advances here a thesis of “methodological individualism.” It’s his way of explaining the workings of 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.
And so, we must deal with Hayek.