Tuesday, August 12, 2008
There's a strange and ambivalent column in the New York Times by David Brooks about collectivism versus individualism in the light of the Olympic opening ceremony. 'The ideal of the harmonious collective,' he writes, 'may turn out to be as attractive as the ideal of the American Dream.' He concludes: 'It's certainly a useful ideology for aspiring autocrats.' As with discussions of libertarianism, the outer edge of individualism, this is a debate in which the terms are just too slippery. Individualism is defined by a collective just as the self is defined by the collective enterprise of language. Collectivism is defined by the individual just as society is defined by individual judgment. Seeing China as solely collectivist and America as nothing but individualist is an illusion. To a large extent, these are matters of rhetoric. That these two countries are different is indisputable, but differences between nations can seldom be reduced to a simply duality. Brooks rightly says that the rise of China is cultural. But he means it is not just economic. I think it is only cultural and culture can only be felt.
Posted by Bryan Appleyard at 7:01 am