Written by Ethan Anderson
The United States is known as a place of promise, a place where people can come from nothing and achieve greatness. The “American Dream” is something that people have been chasing for centuries. It exemplifies the individualistic tendencies of this nation, where many people believe in doing what needs to be done themselves. However, is it fair to refer to the United States as an individualistic nation? There are many aspects of everyday American life that are possible thanks to the idea of communitarianism. Despite the labels, the communitarian aspects of American life and Western culture must be adequately recognized.
First and foremost, individualism is the idea that people should act for themselves and look to their own needs before looking to the needs of others. Ralph Waldo Emerson writes of this in his essay “Self-Reliance.” Emerson writes that readers should use their own methods, discover things for themselves, and find what goodness means to them before acting on it (Emerson 2). He argues that in order to live the most satisfying and fulfilling life, people must address their own wishes before addressing those of others. He goes as far as to refer to those who seek help from others as the leeches of society (Emerson 3). While this idea may be extreme, individualistic tendencies can be traced back to the beginnings of the United States.
The oppressive rule of the British government over the United States colonies led the colonists to yearn for independence. After achieving such independence, they created a national doctrine that would afford all Americans the rights that were not granted to them by the British. They were free to do as they pleased and granted the new government little power over the people. This revolutionary idea birthed the beginnings of individualism within the United States. The people were given basic rights and liberties and the majority could not take that away from them.
But as the centuries passed, it can be seen how the efforts of the American collective have led to many great things. For example, the American Revolution itself was a communitarian effort. It consisted of people coming together for a common cause: freedom. Daniel Kemmis wrote his essay “Barn Raising” arguing that the community receives the most out of issues that are decided upon by everyone. A collective common ground serves the community better than if everyone were to live based solely on their individual needs.
This idea of communitarianism is often overlooked by Americans. After all, the foundation of this country is that of a sentiment of individualism. The communitarianism that is neglected is often utilized in everyday life. For example, it is a collective effort to manufacture and grow food to be sold to the public. It is a collective effort to build up industries that grow the economy. It is a collective effort for people to develop communities and suburbs. While it is important to remember the individualistic roots of this country, it is also important to recognize and appreciate all that communitarianism has built for the American people.
Emerson, R. W. (n.d.). Self-Reliance. Emerson on the Soul.
Kemmis, D. (1990). “Barn Raising” – The Community and Politics of Place.