Front Page Titles (by Subject) Autonomy vs. Cooperation - Literature of Liberty, April/June 1978, vol. 1, No. 2
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Autonomy vs. Cooperation - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, April/June 1978, vol. 1, No. 2 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
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Autonomy vs. Cooperation
“Psychology and the American Ideal.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 35 (1977): 767–782.
The predominant theme that describes the American cultural ethos is an extreme form of autonomy: “self-contained individualism.” The problem, it is argued, is that a person living according to the ideal of individual self-sufficiency will suffer isolation and alienation. The self-contained person may be viewed as a narcissist who neither desires nor requires others for his or her completion and life; the self-contained person is or hopes to be sufficient unto himself. With the aim to need or want no one, self-containment is the extreme expression of independence. It is the polar opposite of the concept of interdependence. Self-contained individuals, it is claimed, require strong externally imposed limits “to control their appetites.” It seems that the contemporary psychological ideal of autonomy entails fighting against all forms of cooperative group activity.
The political implications of such individualism may be sketched. Authoritarian systems of control and government would seem most likely if we realize the ideal of self-contained individualism. What other alternative is therefore governing a group of “excessive individualists”? How can a democratic government survive if rugged individualists feel that collective interests and the recognition of vital interdependence are overly constraining?
Contemporary psychology appears to play an important role in perpetuating an individualistic, self-contained perspective and in downplaying the role of interdependent values. Some psychologists have argued that there is no need to oppose egoism (i.e., individualism) and human interdependence. But others set egoism against altruism to make it seem that altruistic values and culture are the enemies of the individual. J.H. Bryan in an article, “Why Children Help: A Review” [Journal of Social Issues 28 (1972): 87–104] goes so far as to lambast the excessive costs of altruism or helping behavior and to oppose prosocial acts and individual freedom:
A helpful person may well be intrusive (e.g., invade our privacy), moralistic (e.g., prevent us from “doing our thing”), or simply conforming to the status quo of proprieties...a helpful person with all his “good” intentions may well violate a variety of personal freedoms that we cherish. (pp. 101–102)
But egoism and altruism are opposite concepts only within the context of self-contained individualism. The ideal of an interdependent system is not the isolated individual who achieves completion and synthesis within himself; the ideal is rather to achieve one's personal function in harmony with others.
The contrast between individualism and interdependence is illustrated in the current theory of personality, androgyny. Androgyny would resolve the polarities of masculinity and femininity in an ideal individual synthesis: each individual would integrate masculine and feminine qualities. This synthesis is an ideal only for a self-contained culture. A collectivist social system, of high cooperation, would prefer a sexually differentiated individual, thus androgyny would be unsuitable.
The individual is not necessarily the possessor of all of a culture's valued qualities; collective cooperation among persons lacking in some qualities does not have to thwart individual self-realization.
Although Kohlberg and Piaget have underlined the importance of autonomous and independent thinking as well as the ideal of a person transcending his collectivity and culture, such an independent view of moral development might harm social cohesion.