The conservative columnist David Brooks argues this morning that the basic principle that the conservative movement has been run on since Barry Goldwater–rugged individualism–is both wrong and disproven by science.
Goldwater’s vision was highly individualistic and celebrated a certain sort of person — the stout pioneer crossing the West, the risk-taking entrepreneur with a vision, the stalwart hero fighting the collectivist foe.
The problem is, this individualist description of human nature seems to be wrong. Over the past 30 years, there has been a tide of research in many fields, all underlining one old truth — that we are intensely social creatures, deeply interconnected with one another and the idea of the lone individual rationally and willfully steering his own life course is often an illusion.
Brooks argues that if man is an intensely social animal, then the uber-libertarian solutions of Republican dogma cannot solve the current crisis.
If there’s a thread running through the gravest current concerns, it is that people lack a secure environment in which they can lead their lives. Wild swings in global capital and energy markets buffet family budgets. Nobody is sure the health care system will be there when they need it. National productivity gains don’t seem to alleviate economic anxiety. Inequality strains national cohesion. In many communities, social norms do not encourage academic achievement, decent values or family stability. These problems straining the social fabric aren’t directly addressed by maximizing individual freedom.
These of course are issues we have been talking about since I started this blog in January. I welcome a pillar of the conservative movement into the conversation.