Individualism: Sociology and Tocqueville

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David Shaw
History 120


What does Individualism mean to an individual in the 19th century? It means several different ideas; one is being to feel that you are no longer attached to any other people by any type of caste, class, association, or family like your European ancestors were.

The man who introduced the idea of Individualism was a man named Alexis de Tocqueville. Tocqueville was born in Paris, France on July 29, 1805. Tocqueville conceived this new idea to describe the values and living conditions of the white Americans of the 1820's. He felt that Americans were living more solitary lives compared to the Europeans who were our ancestors. Tocqueville had also become well know for writing the book Democracy in America. The book was mainly about the American government and society, the book was very well received throughout Europe.

Individualist believed in a way to maximize human freedom by abolishing all types of involuntary relationships or organizations. Americans were free to belong to any type of church or organization that they wanted to, as long as they had the means to do it. Unlike the Americans, the English had a class system. In England for example, if your father was a baker or a blacksmith then that too was to be your trade you would do for life.

The main idea of individualism is that as a person you are free to think and feel however you what and do whatever you want to with your body or property as long as it does not interfere with any other people. People are free to choose any type of economic, sexual, medical, or any other type of relationship with any person who consents to it. Individualist realizes that a free society is much more risky in many ways than a controlling welfare state, but accepts those risks as a price for freedom.

Unlike Tocqueville a man named Ralph Waldo Emerson believed that individual freedom needed to be balanced by a strong sense of responsibility. Emerson once wrote "Nothing is at last...
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