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Individualism and its Discontents

Individualism and its Discontents

(p.189) Chapter 7 Individualism and its Discontents
Cultural Dilemmas of Progressive Politics
University of Chicago Press

How do the case studies and the way of thinking about public discourse speak to contemporary debates about the American cultural scene—the ideologies, religions, and views of the world—and about the impact of these cultural forms on the potentials for progressive politics? This chapter addresses this topic by considering the views of various social critics (along with scholars and journalists) and comparing them to what one sees when one observes activist groups. The chapter discusses the problems and possibilities of individualism and civil society in America. It argues that progressives actually need individualism, but of a particular kind: an individualism that seeks justice and liberty equally, that neither rejects rights language nor accepts it uncritically, and that does not assume that liberty or the individual are “natural” phenomena. The chapter also shows how elements of such an individualism can be found in contemporary activism.

Keywords:   individualism, American culture, cultural forms, progressive politics, civil society, liberty, political activism

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