By Insula Qui

One of the most common sentiments expressed by both individualists and nationalists is that these two perspectives are incompatible. It is supposedly impossible to both prioritize the well-being of the singular individual and the well-being of the nation. No matter if the charge is being an anti-social, politically autistic individualist or a collectivist nationalist, there is a tremendous amount of hostility between the adherents of these ideas. If one wants theoretical reasons for why individualism and nationalism are supposedly incompatible, one must analyze the objections from both sides and consider what it means to be an individualist and a nationalist, respectively.

The Individualists

The doctrine of individualism rests on a fundamental assumption that in both theoretical and practical matters, an appropriate guideline is the primacy of the individual. Collectives are not immoral or illogical, but all collectives are ultimately reducible to the actions of individuals. Since societies are determined by individuals and not vice versa, it must also be the case that individuals are responsible for the health of societies. By this standard, there can never be any attempt to increase the health of a society by suppressing the individual. Individualism also implies that each individual ought to be judged by one’s own actions. This means that an entire society should not be glorified for the actions of a heroic individual within that society, and an individual should not be held accountable for deeds done by others in the society who claim to act on behalf of all.

This supposedly creates a fundamental incompatibility between individualism and nationalism, as nationalism judges individuals by their collective affiliations. Nationalism discriminates according to national origin, even though a person does not choose one’s heritage. Individuals become tied to a collective and are discriminated either for or against by collective preference, regardless of their individual goals and deeds. This is contrary to individualism because it subordinates individuals to the national collective. Individuals have their opportunities reduced or expanded, and their persons degraded or elevated due to being considered part of a nation. Furthermore, some forms of nationalism aim to practically reduce the role of individual choices and increase the role of national choices. Even worse, a significant amount of nationalist philosophies are thoroughly anti-individualist, so nationalism as a political force can be contrary to individualism as a political force.

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