The Rise of the Individual

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The transition from a condition of little autonomy to one that recognizes the individual is often gradual. This is evident in our own personal lives. When we were very young, our parents, in trying to guide us down the right path, pretty much dictated what we could and could not do and laid out all of our beliefs for us. As time passed and we worked our way from kindergarten to college, we were exposed to new ideas, providing us the motivation to seek more rights and allowing us to define and redefine ourselves as individuals.

This same ideology is true of societal transitions. By substituting Old Regime ideals for kindergarten and various revolutions for grades in school, this can be seen. In the early 1700s, the practices and ideals of European government, which came to be known as the Old Regime, offered society little individual freedom. Gradually, as Europeans witnessed the Scientific Revolution, the Age of Enlightenment, the French Revolution, and the reign of Napoleon, they were exposed to new ideas. The people of Europe took these ideas and incorporated them into society, ultimately leading to the birth of individualism.

The Old Regime was a time characterized by absolutism, both real and unreal, and an agrarian economy that grappled to produce enough to meet the needs of the general public. People felt they were powerless over nature. Because life was often "nasty, brutish, and short," family life centered on survival, and collective interest took priority over individual interest. Marriage, which took place at a young age, was normally the result of economic necessity rather than love, and after marriage, women became slaves to child bearing to ensure that they would have a male who lived until the age of inherit...

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...versity of Illinois Press, 1979), 92-96.

12. Rogers, Aspects of Western Civilization, 67.

13. Rogers, Aspects of Western Civilization, 64.

14. Kagan, The Western Heritage, 466.

15. Rogers, Aspects of Western Civilization, 105.

16. Kagan, The Western Heritage, 468.


Additional Source

Cooper, Barbara T., and Mary Donaldson-Evans. Modernity and the Revolution in Late Nineteenth-Century France. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1992.

This book includes historical essays about the ever-changing politics and society of nineteenth-century France. The essays were selected from papers presented at the fifteenth annual Colloquium in Nineteenth-Century French Studies, held at the University of New Hampshire in October 1989. They are relevant to the rise of the individual.
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