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"No Man Is an Island"

Updated on October 19, 2013

Individualism in America

"No man is an island entire in itself. Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main." The immortal words from " For whom the bell tolls" written by John Donne in 1624, reminds us that we are more than individuals separated from one another by house and cause. We are bound by human kind one to another, like pages in a book.

"The shepherd drives the wolf from the sheep's throat, for which the sheep thanks the shepherd as his liberator. The wolf denounces the shepherd for the same act, which has deprived the wolf of equal liberty. Plainly, the wolf and the lamb are not in agreement over the definition of liberty. I think the same can be said of men." Abraham Lincoln.

Americans hold freedom as an indelible and inherent right. They are rooted in a heritage that proclaims it so. They are as cemented to its footing as the great statue that lifts the torch of liberty and marks the gateway to America to the huddled masses who risk all to walk in her wonderful light.

Liberty, however, is an ambiguous word. Like the lamb and the wolf, the liberty extended one, is constraint imposed on another. In a civilized world, one can not do whatever one pleases if it infringes upon the natural liberty of another. We are not free to pillage and plunder, nor can we ignore the laws which are legislated to protect us from indiscriminate or irresponsible acts of menace. Our freedom is confined to those extented us in our constitution, which in turn, executes upon us all, a rule of law, which defines the liberties which we may exercise.

The marvel and wonder of American liberty is not rooted in the self indulgent praise of rugged individualism. "It is allowed to blossom there." It is not rooted in the self indulgent praise of self reliance. "It is allowed to grow there." It is not rooted in the self indulgent praise of the self made man. "It is harvested there." The marvel and wonder of American liberty is extended and secured in a set of principles, embedded in our Constitution, by people bound to one another in a struggle not to secure "indiscriminate" freedom, but, to secure "just" freedom.

It seems at times that "we the people, in order to form a more perfect union" simply clamor for freedom as though freedom, in and of itself, was the means to a glorious end. The tyranny, which tried "mens souls" and led to the American revolution was more than the enslavement of freedom, it was the imprisonment of justice. America emerged from the ashes of that great war, dedicated to securing a just foundation upon which they would build the house of freedom. We today, must not remember one without the other.

"Freedom consist not in doing what we want, but in securing the right to do as we ought." Pope John Paul II

Amidst the rancor and misguided pride echoing across this great land is a new and improved individualism that has become synonomous with license. We would do well to remember that " "Democracy is nothing more than mob rule where 51% of the people, take away the rights of the other 49%." Thomas Jefferson

"No man has the natural right to commit aggression on the equal rights of another and this is all from which the laws ought to restrain him." Thomas Jefferson

It is right and just to consider the imposition of our liberty upon the liberty of one another because that liberty is secured and preserved not by the individual, but, by the collective and committed ideal which whispers in the souls of men. " I am and not alone, because we are, everyone, common to one another in this above all else; neighbor to neighbor, citizen to citizen, sworn defenders of a just liberty and equally so, both mine and yours."

So we share a common struggle. To secure our enterprise and advance our station proportionate to the fruit of our labor. That is a right and honorable endeavor extended such privilege by consent of those that pledge with life to uphold both mine and your individual right to such pursuit. A country of individuals who share such common struggle, with such common ideal and with such common commitment to one another, should temper their insistance that they are made by virtue of rugged individualism and instead, begin to acknowledge our interdependence upon one another. The root of our individualism is planted in ground secured and protected for us, not by we ourselves, but by a set of principles established and preserved in one another. Without them, there isn't an individual in America that could preserve, of his own resource, whatever he has labored to secure.

Should we forget, in our unabridged march to advance our individual liberty, that we have a just responsibility to preserve the rights of all Americans, we may find that those ignored along the way, may learn from our example and leave us to the self which lived in need of no one. What illusion shrouds the minds of men that they should purchase such absurdity. Because we have left our first love in pursuit of an ideal that comes to flirt with us. We dance with individualism as justice is resigned as a wall flower to watch the seduction of a sweeter liberty.

" I never submitted the whole of my opinions to the creed of any party, in religion, in philosophy, in politics or in anything else, where I was capable of thinking for myself. Such addiction is the last degradation of a free and moral agent, If I could not go to heaven but with a party, I would not go there at all." Thomas Jefferson

The American idea that weakness is revealed in the individual need of another is not evidence of any strength, it is itself the weakness. Man was created with need for others. His need for others does not diminish his individualism, it gives him reason to be responsible with it. It is the common bond which strengthens us and not the empty illusion that we are any more than what we are. Fragile human beings, who, once separated from the rope, are but isolated and weak strands blown about by stiff winds. The writer needs a reader and reader needs a writer. The student needs a teacher and the teacher needs a student. Business needs consumers and consumers need business and the list is unending. We are in need of one another, lest we disolve in the isolation and illusion of a fantasy projected in our minds by story books and Hollywood.

Pulling ourselves up by the bootstraps and building empires is commendable, but, I've read of none ever executed in isolation or harvested, absent the laws of a just society to insure and protect the exercise of such freedom. Undoubtedly, it requires a tenacity and unrelenting drive to build from ground to crown. That is born of individuals, but, it is born of individuals where one nation, indivisible, has their back. It is born of individuals who venture all to risk, for either loss or gain, but, born of individuals where loss and debt are insufficient offenses to secure punishment in a debtors prison. It is born of individuals, because, individuals are emancipated by the collective ideal, housed within the neighbor at his left and the neighbor at his right. Individualism is planted in the protected and guarded soil of American farmers. It is planted in the industry of minimum wage earners. It is protected and guarded by teachers, lawyers, doctors, shop keepers, mothers and fathers. It is protected and guarded by every American, on every acre from sea to shining sea. Individualism is alive and well in America, but, not without the complicity of something greater than the individual. It is the complicity collected, gathered and cemented to the footing of a constitution poured from the concrete of a collective bond.

The ideologies of our political parties tout their own definitions of liberty and like the lamb and the wolf, they are in disagreement in the interpretation. I suspect it varies from year to year, depending on whether they are lamb or wolf. In the end, perhaps it is as Epictetus noted " Freedom is not procured by full enjoyment of what is desired, but by controlling what is desired."

Perhaps, a just freedom, has as much to do with my fellow Americans freedom, as it does my individual liberty.

Perhaps, as Abraham Lincoln so eloquently stated when confronted by the lambs and wolves during the war against slavery, " Those who would deny freedom to others, deserve it not themselves."

We would do well to remember that our insistance on greater individual freedom, sometimes can only come by diminishing anothers. Sometimes it is right that it is so. We need simply ask ourselves, " Is what I ask, just for all." Therein lies the hallmark of a great people who remain the only guardians of an American liberty that was rooted in "justice for all."

The link below is an audio presentation which celebrates our founding. It is worth listening to and take notice of a comment in the beginning. "We will certainly all hang together or we will hang alone." This link is from a 4th of July presentation offered by Nellieanna H Hay and includes a very readable copy of our Declaration of Independence.


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    • arb profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from oregon

      Thanks for reading and for your thought provoking reply.

    • Mr. Happy profile image

      Mr. Happy 

      7 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      "Freedom consist not in doing what we want, but in securing the right to do as we ought." Pope John Paul II - What we "ought" is the problem because we do not all have the same morals/morality. And at times, we end-up killing one another over what we "ought" ...

      "No man has the natural right to commit aggression on the equal rights of another and this is all from which the laws ought to restrain him." Thomas Jefferson - I wish Bush the Second would have remembered this quote before invading Iraq. Him and Blair should be extradited to the Hague, to the International Criminal Court. And even the war hawks who are talking about pre-emptive strikes on Iran should read this quote.

      "Pulling ourselves up by the bootstraps and building empires is commendable" - Not really. Empires are built at the cost of those invaded so, it is not commendable from the perspective of the ones suppressed.

      " Those who would deny freedom to others, deserve it not themselves." - Maybe this is why the cards are turning on the Great United States Empire ...

      Interesting read. Thank You for sharing your thoughts.

      All the best!

    • arb profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from oregon

      be well gerry

    • sligobay profile image


      7 years ago from east of the equator

      I've just found more shared foundation in your discussion of intolerance and left a comment. Midnight approaches on the East coast and the"nap" beckons. Good night my friend.

    • arb profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from oregon

      Thank you gerry, I wrote this about two months ago. I am delighted that you have undertaken its reading and I thank you for comment. I've read much in your writing which has led me to believe we build on a like foundation. Be well my friend.

    • sligobay profile image


      7 years ago from east of the equator

      This is an absolutely wonderful and well-documented discussion of individual freedom secured only by the common good. It is quite an undertaking. When did you write this article? We are certainly kinsmen in thought. I take issue with none of your many points. As a Jeffersonian, I relish many of his quotations which you have chosen. We have abdicated many of our freedoms in the name of security and must begin to reverse the process before it is too late. Great write, Arb.


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