The concept of individualism has gone through a fundamental change, according to distinguished political theorist Nadia Urbinati. In the nineteenth century, individualism was a philosophical and ethical perspective that permitted each person to respect and cooperate with others as equals in rights and dignity for the betterment of the community as a whole. Today, the individualist is a more self-interested entity whose maxim might best be expressed as “I don’t give a damn.” This contemporary form of individualism is possessive and conformist, litigious and docile, all too prone to manipulate norms and to submit to the tyrannical sway of private interests. As such, Urbinati believes, it represents the most radical risk that modern democracy currently faces.
This well-reasoned and thought-provoking polemic is an attempt to detect the “tyranny of the moderns,” with the ultimate aim of recovering the role of the individual citizen as a free and equal agent of democratic society. It explores the concept of communitarianism as a form of individualism applied to the group itself, and advances the idea that the rescue of true individualism from the current ideology is a basic condition for the defense of democratic citizenship.