Changing Patterns of Obligation and the Emergence of Individualism in American Political Thought

By Barkalow, Jordon B. | Political Research Quarterly, September 2004 | Go to article overview

Changing Patterns of Obligation and the Emergence of Individualism in American Political Thought


Barkalow, Jordon B., Political Research Quarterly


Students of American political thought have long noted changes in the goals pursued by colonial American communities. Relations between Americans and their communities, previously characterized by security and peaceful existence were transformed into relations grounded in economic well-being. This shift in focus had the effect of altering the relationship between individuals and their community. Obligating members to behave industriously has the effect of weakening the social, familial, religious, and political controls originally used to keep the "sinful" individual in check. These weakening ties were exacerbated by colonial developments in constitutional theory that contribute to the movement away from the religious origins of American political thought. This secularizing process paves the way for the introduction of individualism into American thinking prior to 1776.

The debate over the nature of the American founding has suffered from the pursuit of the wrong question. Instead of asking whether or not the true needs of the individual were met, scholars need to consider the question of what type of relationship between the individual and his or her community was favored and sought (Shain 1994: 13-14). In taking up this question, the analysis presented here shows that America's understanding of the relationship between the individual and the community changes between 1610 and 1787. The effect of this is to introduce individualism into America's public philosophy. The introduction of individualism, as shown here, is a natural consequence of the changing patterns of obligation and not the result of an elite conspiracy (Shain 1994).

The natural emergence of individualism in American political thought speaks to the debate over the nature of the American founding.1 Each of the intellectual traditions brought to bear on the study of the American founding provides a distinct understanding of the relationship between the individual and the community. The liberal perspective requires the liberation of the individual from restrictive social, familial, religious, and political controls. The republican perspective, in contrast, requires the total surrender of the individual and his or her private concerns to the interests and good of the political community.2 The Protestant perspective holds that it is the legitimate and necessary role of local religious, familial, social, and governmental forces to limit, reform, and shape the sinful individual (Shain 1994; P. Miller 1956: 143; Morgan 1963, 1965; Lutz 1988, 1992). The evidence presented here identifies a secular movement from a Protestant understanding of the relationship between the individual and the community to a liberal understanding where the individual is freed from restrictive communal restraints.

Identification of this secular movement and its implications fills a gap in the extant literature. A primary focus of this literature defends the "old and traditional view" that "the natural rights philosophy as articulated in the Declaration was indeed the understanding of political right on which the founding was conducted and which has served as the cornerstone of the American political tradition" (Zuckerl 1996: 269). The emphasis on natural right is part of a larger defense of liberalism where, Nathan Tarcov (1983) in particular, has argued that scholars need to reconsider Locke's political thought before abandoning the idea of a Lockean founding. Zuckert (1994, 1996, 2002), more than anybody else, has responded to this invitation in his critique of the republican synthesis. While his critique points to an understanding of the Founding grounded on this broader, deeper, and loftier liberalism, Zuckert does not provide a theoretical understanding of the developments facilitating the adoption of Lockean liberalism in America "proceeding and immediately following 1776" (Zuckert 1994: 299). This understanding is found here in the analysis of the political, social, and economic transformations of eighteenth-century America. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Changing Patterns of Obligation and the Emergence of Individualism in American Political Thought
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.