The Evolving Notions of Individual and Society
“Society and the Individual from the Middle Ages to Rousseau: Philosophy, Jurisprudence and Constitutional Theory.” History of Political Thought 1(Summer 1980):145–166.
What is the relationship between the individual and the group? Is individual autonomy (or “methodological individualism”) a preferable conceptualization to absorption of the individual in the group (or “social holism”)? Discussions on the nature of human groups did not begin with Popper's argument that holism must lead to totalitarianism and that liberal democracy ultimately rests upon methodological individualism; similar discussions were a central acivity of medieval thought. Also, did the early medieval man lack a sense of individualism until the thirteenth century or even later? The author addresses these questions together with the differences between legal and empirical styles of political thinking.
In the Middle Ages, lively and diverse debates centered on the relationship between the whole and the parts in society. Just as today, rival positions ranged from holism to individualism. Although it is conventional to suppose a contrast between a primitive holism of those earlier times and a more self-aware individualism of our day, much evidence suggests that ordinary people in these earlier periods were often individualistic. Independence of mind and liberation from the social whole are always rare and may be evenly distributed in most ages.
The Middle Ages also made a connection between social philosophy and moral constitutional norms, but in large measure the reverse of our modern fashion. Atomism and individualism in this earlier period marched with monarchy, whereas methodological holism (cf. the Conciliarists) was the prop of popular sovereignty. These connections may be more accidental than necessary. One can argue for popular sovereignty just as easily from a holist as from an individualist position.
Political thinkers of the Middle Ages not only used jurisprudence to express their ideas but also followed the lawyers' concept of fictio in constructing a unique language for politics. The theory of the social contract itself may be seen as a logical development of an artificial and reified mode of legal reasoning.
The author traces the linguistic, philosophical, religious, constitutional, and legal transformations and evolution of the concepts of group and individual through the various political and religious-philosophical studies and debates of the Middle Ages and after-wards. These diverse domains cross-fertilized each other in developing the history of these ideas.
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Since 1976, the Center for Libertarian Studies has encouraged and supported promising young scholars who arc able to develop and articulate the case for the free-enterprise system and whose work demonstrates the crucial link between economic freedom and individual liberty. Through this sponsorship, the Center is building a greater appreciation for the ideas of liberty within academia and the intellectual community.
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THE LUDWIG VON MISES FELLOWSHIPS IN THE HUMANITIES AND SOCIAL SCIENCES
In view of Mises' prolific writings on economic theory, political philosophy and the methodology of the social sciences, the fellowship program will be similarly broad in scope and will include the following disciplines:
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