From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Individualism is a term used to describe a moral, political, or social outlook that stresses human independence and the importance of individual self-reliance and liberty. Individualists promote the exercise of individual goals and desires. They oppose most external interference with an individual's choices - whether by society, the state, or any other group or institution. Individualism is therefore opposed to holism, collectivism, communalism, statism, socialism, totalitarianism, and communitarianism, which stress that communal, group, societal, racial, or national goals should take priority over individual goals. Individualism is also opposed to the view that adherents to tradition, institutions of religion, or any other group or authority should be empowered to limit an individual's choice of actions when those actions do not violate the rights of other individuals.
Individualism has a controversial relationship with egoism (selfishness). While some individualists are egoists, they usually do not argue that selfishness is inherently good. Rather, some argue that individuals are not duty-bound to any socially-imposed morality and that individuals should be free to choose to be selfish (or to choose any other lifestyle) if they so desire. Others would argue that individualist goals are not selfish so long as they do not harm others. Others still, such as Ayn Rand, argue against "moral relativism" and claim selfishness to be a virtue.
Individualism as creative independent lifestyle
The anarchist writer and bohemian Oscar Wilde wrote in his famous essay The Soul of Man under Socialism that "Art is individualism, and individualism is a disturbing and disintegrating force. There lies its immense value. For what it seeks is to disturb monotony of type, slavery of custom, tyranny of habit, and the reduction of man to the level of a machine." For anarchist historian George Woodcock "Wilde's aim in The Soul of Man under Socialism is to seek the society most favorable to the artist...for Wilde art is the supreme end, containing within itself enlightenment and regeneration, to which all else in society must be subordinated...Wilde represents the anarchist as aesthete." The word individualism in this way has been used to denote a personality with a strong tendency towards self creation and experimentation as opposed to tradition or popular mass opinions and behaviors.
Anarchist writer Murray Bookchin describes a lot of individualist anarchism as people who "expressed their opposition in uniquely personal forms, especially in fiery tracts, outrageous behavior, and aberrant lifestyles in the cultural ghettos of fin de sicle New York, Paris, and London. As a credo, individualist anarchism remained largely a bohemian lifestyle, most conspicuous in its demands for sexual freedom ('free love') and enamored of innovations in art, behavior, and clothing."
In relation to this view of individuality, French Individualist anarchist Emile Armand advocates egoistical denial of social conventions and dogmas to live in accord to one's own ways and desires in daily life since he emphasized anarchism as a way of life and practice. In this way he manifests "So the anarchist individualist tends to reproduce himself, to perpetuate his spirit in other individuals who will share his views and who will make it possible for a state of affairs to be established from which authoritarianism has been banished. It is this desire, this will, not only to live, but also to reproduce oneself, which we shall call "activity".
In the book Imperfect garden : the legacy of humanism, humanist philosopher Tzvetan Todorov identifies individualism as an important current of socio-political thought within modernity and as examples of it he mentions Michel de Montaigne, François de La Rochefoucauld, Marquis de Sade, and Charles Baudelaire In La Rochefoucauld, he identifies a tendency similar to stoicism in which "the honest person works his being in the manner of an sculptor who searches the liberation of the forms which are inside a block of marble, to extract the truth of that matter." In Baudelaire he finds the dandy trait in which one searches to cultivate "the idea of beauty within oneself, of satisfying one´s passions of feeling and thinking."
The Russian-American poet Joseph Brodsky one manifested that "The surest defense against Evil is extreme individualism, originality of thinking, whimsicality, even—if you will—eccentricity. That is, something that can't be feigned, faked, imitated; something even a seasoned imposter couldn't be happy with."