The Faith of a Liberal: Selected Essays

By Morris R. Cohen | Go to book overview

5
THE INTELLECTUAL BASIS OF INDIVIDUALISM

IT IS, I think, unfortunate that critics of the modern doctrine of individualism have paid so little attention to its intellectual origins.

To the historian of ideas, the modern doctrine of individualism is the product of three great intellectual movements: the Reformation, modern philosophy (including psychology), and modern economic theory.

(1) The Reformation. On its material side the Protestant Reformation in England, France, and Germany was predominantly a movement on the part of the commercial interests who, with the national monarchs, fought against the Church, which as an international power sided against national kings and as a landed power fought with the landed nobles against the commercial interests. As to the religious content, the Protestants believed, first of all, in salvation by faith rather than by the instrumentality of the sacraments of the church. The church is conceived as the body of the faithful, the individual believers, rather than the hierarchy. Each individual soul comes into contact with God directly through faith. And this conception of the dignity of the individual soul continues throughout modern literature as well as theological and political thought. The Protestants themselves, to be sure, may have allowed very little

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The major part of this paper was published in the L.I.D. (League for Industrial Democracy) Monthly, Vol. 10, No. 6, p. 3 ( March 1932).

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