It is the one-size-fits-all mentality, that’s what lies behind it. Individualism is notoriously eclectic in the sort of human lives it regards as perfectly legitimate, acceptable, capable of being lived properly, virtuously. But what do so many conservatives want? To get a clear view of this one need but read the non-fiction works of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who would send us all back to live on the farms; or John Lukacs, who has become an environmentalist and is urging us all “to protect the landscape (and the cityscape) where [we] live.” ~Tibor Machan
Apparently these citations are supposed to serve as some kind of insult. Farming! Tending the landscape! You can almost hear him sneer when he says Prof. Lukacs “has become an environmentalist.” How can he live with himself? Before you know it, these people might even be encouraging others to get married and raise families. What will the mad fools think of next?
If Mr. Machan were in the least familiar with the tradition of conservative thought represented by ISI and the IR, both of which he maligns in this article, he would know that the last thing these folks have is a “one-size-fits-all mentality.” Decentralism, variety, and the encouragement of regional and local diversity are among their guiding principles. If they don’t accept the ideas that liberty entails self-indulgent license or that liberty should mean the collapse of community, this is indeed because they want to uphold the integrity of the variety of people who are inevitably reduced to increasingly identical masses of individuals in a world where particular loyalties and attachments are swept away in the storms of “creative destruction” and the homogenising effects of centralised politics, mass media and mass consumerism. It is because individualism is the prelude to every abusive collectivist backlash (because the atomisation and separation of individualism is unnatural for man) that those genuinely interested in preserving inherited liberties regard individualism in every sphere as an abomination and a threat.
Inexplicably, after reading (or, more likely, quickly browsing) Look Homeward, America he has this to say:
Each of these advocates embraces just one of thousands of ways of living a good human life, favoring it above all the rest but for no discernible, rational reason one
There are thousands of ways to live a good human life? I suppose there may theoretically be thousands of kinds of work a man can do, or thousands of places he can live, but when it comes to living a good, humane life the alternatives are actually surprisingly few. You can hold fast to the traditions and customs of your fathers, remain loyal to your hometown, raise a family, cultivate habits of restraint and discipline of the passions (submitting them, by the way, to reason and moral imagination) and worship God as you have learned from your religion, or you can choose to neglect one or more of these things. Ayn Rand, to pick on the hero of Objectivists (since they feel compelled to kick around some of our folks), neglected pretty much all of them and was proud that she had done so. We on the traditional conservative side argue that the former assist in cultivating human flourishing, and we discern this from the effects these practices actually have in the real world and the effects that their neglect has. Individualism cannot contribute to human flourishing, because man was not meant to live in just any old way. There is a way of life in accordance with nature, so in the sense that everyone is human (which even includes the Objectivists) it is appropriate to say that there is, broadly speaking, one, virtuous way to live. That a man can live a virtuous life in a variety of professions and settings is not in doubt. How insisting upon the life of the virtues dictates a “one-size-fits-all” view of things, I have to confess I have no idea.