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  • Individuals and Communities: No Man Is an Island

    Is individualism adequate to sustain liberty and rein in government? This issue surfaced during the Republican primary debate last week in Las Vegas.

    “This country has always put people in groups” and treated them accordingly, said Representative Ron Paul (R–TX). America needs to move away from this kind of “group mentality,” he says, toward a more individualistic perspective: “We need to see everybody as an individual. And to me, seeing everybody as an individual means their liberties are protected as individuals.”

    While not disagreeing with the fact that government should protect the rights of individuals, former senator Rick Santorum (R–PA) took issue with Paul’s implication that “the country is founded on the individual.” Santorum argued, “The basic building block of a society is not an individual. It’s the family.”

    It’s true that many rights belong to citizens as individuals. People don’t have the right to life and liberty, for example, only if they belong to some privileged group. Rather, God has endowed these rights to every single person as a unique individual with value and dignity.

    But to leave the impression that rights-bearing individuals are islands unto themselves would be a mistake. That notion isn’t true to who we are as people, and it can actually lead to bigger government.

    Everyone exists in some form of relationship to others. In fact, we become who we are—we develop our own unique habits and views—in the context of these relationships. We need to think of ourselves and others not merely as self-standing individuals but as persons in community.

    And the most basic form of community is the family. Families and other community institutions are essential to human well-being. It’s in these local forms of association that we learn not only to respect rights but also to exercise responsibilities to others. If we seek to restore limited government, it’s important not to overlook the fact that much of our flourishing lies in the kinds of relationships fostered in civil society.

    The more people feel that they can trust and rely upon each other, the less they will need to turn to government for care—or to remedy injustice. These interpersonal bonds can be weakened, though, when we overlook the significance of social relationships to individual thriving.

    If we focus too narrowly on people’s individual autonomy, we’re less likely to foster a sense of responsibility for one another through family, church, and community, leaving individuals more likely to turn to the state to meet their needs. As a result, the social role of local, civil society institutions is more likely to give way to a federal government seeking to enlarge its influence. The expanding state and the stand-alone individual go hand in hand.

    We should protect the rights of every single citizen—every “individual,” if you will. To achieve this goal, though, we have to see and treat the “rights-bearer” for what he or she truly is: a social being, a member of various communities and forms of association. That means taking families and faith communities more seriously when it comes to policy decisions.

    Posted in Culture [slideshow_deploy]

    31 Responses to Individuals and Communities: No Man Is an Island

    1. teleo says:

      You seem to have missed the point Ron Paul was making. If we protect the rights of individuals we protect the rights of everyone. If everyone's individual rights are protected then they can't be denied rights for being part of a group. Also, groups of people cannot infringe on the rights of individuals within their group or outside of their group. If you protect the rights of the individual then everyone is protected, no matter what group, race, culture, family, party, religion, company or gender they happen to or choose to be a part of. By recognizing the rights of the individual, you recognize the rights of everyone. Get the idea?

    2. teleo says:

      Also, "rights" are not the same as "privileges". People have no business petitioning the government for special privileges merely because they belong to a particular group or because an individual mistakingly thinks they are entitled a special privilege. This is immoral. This is a separate problem. In fact, it's because the government is in fact in the business of handing out special privileges that this is a problem. I argue that recognizing and teaching people what individual liberty is people will in turn recognize the difference between a right and a privilege and this immoral practice of turning to the state for "privileges" would decrease. The purpose of government is to protect the liberty of every individual, enforce the rule of law, provide for the common defense and no more.

    3. DavidS says:

      While I'm not a supporter of Representative Paul's presidential candidacy, I agree with his quoted statement when his use of the word "we" is associated with government and governmental policy: "we (the government) need to see everybody as an individual. And to me, (government) seeing everybody as an individual means their liberties are protected as individuals.”
      You pointed out that our government recognizes citizens of this country as individuals with endowed rights and not as citizens granted rights derived from belonging (or not belonging) to a particular group. But perhaps we are seeing a reversal today, and individual rights are becoming more subordinated to the rights of groups. And perhaps this is the point Representative Paul was making. Excessive and unsustainable social entitlements, for example, are the product of a government making policy decisions based on a relationship to the people not as individuals but rather as groups.
      The question is, should the government be given responsibility for building society? Who should be promoting the family, communities, and civil society to the individual? Who should be compelling an individual to "exercise responsibilities to others?"
      Rather than encouraging government to take "families and communities more seriously when it comes to policy decisions," perhaps we should be encouraging government to get out of the family and communities business altogether.

    4. Bobbie says:

      I'm not sure who left the impression that rights-bearing individuals are islands unto themselves? That is a metaphor isn't it?
      I agree with what Mr. Paul and Mr. Santorum stated.

      I don't believe any rights have to be legislated that aren't conflicting to civility. As this is happening, it shows favoritism, bias, discrimination, racism. Socialism! Everything unethical under American government. It's wrong to have "rights" legislated for people of "culture." That's their livelihoods that only they benefit from and it's only right to expense the same. How much did foreign cultures cost in their countries of origin? Why is it costing us and not them? How much has their culture transformed (at the expense of tax payers,) in America compared to how it would be today in their countries of origin?

      NOBODY, immigrant American or American born, is an asset to this country that takes from government ANY amount to sustain cultures of livelihoods. These are called burdens to society! (excluding those that pay(id) into receive a promised service!)

    5. Paul Duncan says:

      They are both right. The protection of the individual is first necessary in order to defend one's family. Case and point; The fast and furious scandal seeks to deprive all law abiding Americans of their second amendment guaranteed right to bear arms. Because liberal facist dictator black panther union members Barrack Hussein Obama and Eric Holder are now to be considered God and to hell with what all of us pesky Americans think. They'll silence us all by any means necessary. It ends well Jesus returns.

    6. Paul Duncan says:

      First we must protect individual Freedom. The Family needs to be kept private with no Government interference.

    7. tom says:

      The conversation and conclusions are not productive and endless without benefit.
      If the writer would alter the topic to individual's RESPONSIBILITY and that responsibilty to the FAMILY; then we have something productive.
      The role of government should be to provide improvements to life that individuals and family have little means. A repetitive example, and not a bad one, is the construction and maintenace of interstate roads. The role of government should not replace the role of individual responsibility and the survival of the family.

    8. Todd Wolf says:

      It takes paradoxical thinking to realize the true nature of the relationship of the individual and "the group". Power, the powerful, and the powerless perspectives are the courtiers striving to be recognized as individuals interacting, participating and contributing to the group human.

    9. "…To achieve this goal, though, we have to see and treat the “rights-bearer” for what he or she truly is: a social being, a member of various communities and forms of association. That means taking families and faith communities more seriously when it comes to policy decisions."

      Well, then just who defines what is an acceptable "community" or "form of association" for policy decisions? Would you have the government make a policy decision that favors one of your favored communities, say the "family" over the individual? For example when a GOP President, mind you, in the 80s signed into law that enacted a national policy that prohibited apartment complexes from being "adult only" so that families could also live in those until then adult complexes?

      Notwithstanding the fact that sort of thing should be left to local communities as housing issues in local communities are as varied across the nation as it gets, and thus, by definition should not be something that is a one-size-fits all national matter, where's the fairness in that? (con't below)

    10. Individuals make certain lifestyle choices (e.g. whether or not to have a spouse and children for example), and do so for any number of reasons. And let's face it, single adults, or married couples without children, certainly live different lifestyles, and there is no better example of such differences than in close living quarters such as an apartment complex.

      To be sure, that's just one relatively small, and in the grand scheme of things not that earth shattering, but it nicely illustrates the point of government arbitrarily favoring one group over another group, and in this case the group over the individual. But there are many more.

      The only difference between what Santorum and this author, and people on the left seem to want to do is who they favor. In other words using government power to coerce and force people, with the only difference being what you force them to do. They seem very comfortable with government coercion and force, they just disagree on its application.

      • It appears they cut off the first part of my post. I was pointing out that the author's statement:

        "we have to see and treat the “rights-bearer” for what he or she truly is: a social being, a member of various communities and forms of association. That means taking families and faith communities more seriously when it comes to policy decisions…"

        raises of the question then of who decides what group or association is a "proper" one when making these policy decisions. Take for example when a GOP President in the 80s signed a FEDERAL law that said that in matters of housing, apartment complexes could no longer be all adult.

        Notwithstanding that housing issues are so varied from place to place that it is inherently a local issue and not a one-size-fits all national issue, where is the fairness in such a policy. And it favors a group over an individual – NATIONALLY – when there might not even be a problem in most places.

    11. william thompson says:

      Well, it seems you are zero so far on your attempt to pitch "Group Think" . We are called Sovereign Individuals, not Sovereign Families. Once you begin to group think, every special interest group can expect a place at the trough. Where did you come up with this idea?

    12. John says:

      That was the accepted way of life . .. before FDR

    13. Tom says:

      This is a misrepresentation of Ron Paul's views. He's not saying that men are or even should be "islands". Obviously, human interaction and human relationships enrich our lives, give them meaning, and increase prosperity. He means that in a legal sense, individuals are the relevant units of analysis for lawmaking. Liberal policies work from the assumption that the relevant unit of government is "society", or various other collectives. Ron Paul is merely emphasizing the idea that our founding fathers believed in: that the individual is sovereign. That government derives its authority from the consent of the individuals. That individuals receive their rights from God, and therefore they cannot be violated, even for the so-called "common good."

    14. Roy Callahan says:

      I understand the premise of your aticle, but I disagree. The Declaration of Independence and other founding documents speak to our God Given Rights (Individual). This country was founded on "individual liberty" and the Jamestown experiment that history shows failed speaks to the collective that has never worked in the anals of human history.

    15. Bill Anderson says:

      You seem to be straining gnats here. I cannot determine motivation, but this could be construed as disingenuous at the least. As others noted, Paul's point is that if individual rights are protected, then any relevant group's rights are also (i.e.: the family as you noted). The point was not about whether individuals or some group of individuals (family) is the building block of society, rather it was about protecting freedoms from an overreaching government in contravention of the US Constitution.

      Your point about the relationship of individuals and families, while having some validity in another context, is for another argument. That said, what was the true purpose of this presentation, what ends were you trying to reach, what point do you want us to understand?

    16. . I believe in volunteerism and have helped to raise millions of dollars for various charities and non-profits over the years. I got my main experience with help groups in the early '70s in New Orleans where I assisted as a cadre member of the all volunteer ABBA Foundation, a group that provided counselling (New Orleans Switchboard Exchange:NOSE) medical (HEAD clinic), temporary and full-time employment (Mother Truckers, Rent a Hippie, & Help Around The Neighborhood Directory: HAND Jobs, New Orleans Talent Exchange: NOTE, etc), business assistance, educational, temporary and permanent housing and energy assistance, food, runaway shelter, legal aid, travelers aid, and many other services provided by local voulenteers without any government funding or paperwork, just networking and sound fundraising programs. "We are all a part of the continent, a piece of the main…" J.Donne

    17. Mare Z Doats says:

      __I remember Michells Bachman (sp?) saying it is the family that is the 'building block' not Santorum. It was a bit shocking to hear and I'm glad I came across these posts. I. too, cringe at the amount of 'groupthink' in evidence – tyranny of the minorities.

    18. Timothy Ross says:

      Our founding fathers were concerned with Americans individual liberty. All though they understood the strength of the family, they also recognized how groups would naturally try to come together and want legislation that would recognize there groups interest. James Madison said we need to have a greater variety of groups to make it less likely that a common group could invade the rights of other citizens. This demonstrates that even our framers were concerned about government trying to interfere with individual freedom. Yes groups like the family are important, so are the lima bean farmers, and teachers in public schools. But when these groups donate money that effects legislation that interferes with individual freedom they are perpetrating the framers very fears of the wrong way to use the federal government. Example kids being forced to attend sex education in public schools when it is contrary to the family values. Government mandates that force citizens to buy health insurance. Although both of these examples have pro and con arguments for what their effect on society may be, they both are being used to limit individual liberty and force family values to take second place to the interest of a group who draws its power from the Federal government.

    19. Saeed U. Din says:

      A person is free to associate intense and permanant manner to any one group of the society to which is desired by values, qualities and any other characteristics that he/she chooses are more likely to his/her in priciples and charatner, and to others groups in the society as general being a civilized and lawfulmember of the society. It is my way of approach that is right, proper and rational that I believe. being intelectual, civilized and lawful person in character in almost in my life.

    20. Saeed U. Din says:

      Any reply to me be sent to my e-mail address which is sdin007@aol.com strictly to the issue.

    21. Dr. Henry Sinopoli says:

      The premise that the 'family' is a valid unit or building block for society is only reliable if the government does not define and mandate what defines the family. It must be based on the cultural foundations developed by individuals mutually defining what is important to their group…even if it does not comply with what we think it should be.

    22. Paul Mero says:

      Ron Paul is wrong; Santorum is right. And thanks Heritage for joining the ranks of authentic conservatives who recognize family is the fundamental of society…and everything else in a free society.

    23. Jacob Davis says:

      Sounds like Ryan Messmore is running out of material to write on.

      Ron Paul has been married 54 years has 5 children, 18 grand children and 5 great grand children. He has voluntarily delivered many babies for free and promotes charities, families and churces to help the poor and needy. He is the only candidate fighting for our freedom and trying to stop the government from growing.

      Ryan has obviously missed the fundamental message of Ron Paul.

    24. Jeff Barkey says:

      Life consists of government yes, social societies yes, and families yes but boils down to the key ingredient, individuals. Without the individual there can be nothing else. That in mind, our individual rights must come from a power which was before our creation and not from any government which came after. Our Founders understood this which is why they created a system of government that was to work for the people without treading on the moral rights of the people. Social programs have been slowly deteriorating the strength and despite of the individual over many years and allowed in many a false sense of security in the government allowing them to grow extensively and filling politician's pockets and egos. If people took more pride in themselves as individuals as they once did, families would be stronger, social societies would get along and prosper and government would shrink back to it's intended size. Power and moral freedom begins with the individual.

    25. Tim Bellair says:

      Its too bad Heritage Foundation doesnt support the only true conservative running!!!!Go Ron Paul!!!!

    26. Jason M says:

      This article touches on one of my biggest beliefs. If we can turn to each other for support and can rely on others, the less we need the government for aid. But I do
      understand the point of the individual having rights and existing as his own entity instead of being part of a group. Because if you protect the rights of an individual, then
      rights of everyone are protected. So technically no man should be an island, because family and community should be part of an individuals life. They are the institutions
      that provide the values and morals that make up an individual. On the other hand the individual should not have rights based on the fact that he belongs to a group, so his
      rights are bestowed to him because of the fact he is an individual all his own, which allows for every individual to have the same rights. Within society, governement has to
      be small enough to allow individuals to have the necessary freedoms which caused America to prosper in the first place, not to limit them.

    27. Chris Posa says:

      So what this author is saying is that a man that has no family (ie veteran, senior, homeless, orphan teen, etc.) is not included in basic, essential rights of Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness? Ron Paul was simply pointing out the emphasis of Liberty as an Unalienable Right granted to each one of us as Individuals regardless of Governmental, Organizational, Religious or Privatized Affiliation… In this day and age, it is not the Family Community that concerns the Patriots of this Nation; it is the "Global" Community in which caution of usage should be understood… The emphasis on such a community that is done in such a way as to promote the acceptance of change by sacrificing those right for the greater good of the "Global" unit…

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