This individuality, Bruce argues, suggests a latent spiritual strength, the likes of which the world has probably never seen. If you have not read the post, I strongly recommend you do. If you have, please take a moment to reread some of the key points Bruce made, which I have posted below:
Modern Man has one important superiority that may, in the end, prove crucial to his salvation and spiritual progression towards divinity.
That superiority is his sense of being an unique individual, who bears an ultimate responsibility for himself - as contrasted with being a person defined by a social role or social group (caste, class, profession etc).
Of course, this understanding is partial and distorted, and has been largely inverted in its significance (for example being diverted into the pseudo-identities of the hedonic sexual revolution; or diverted into the materialist and resentment politics of socialism, feminism, antiracism etc).
But (I believe) underlying such materialist distortions and inversions there is a solid but unconscious spiritual knowledge that we should only be satisfied when we are fulfilling our own and unique destiny.
These are brilliant observations. I firmly believe that what Bruce has expressed here is key to understanding our current circumstances and our spiritual possibilities moving forward.
By coincidence, I happened to finish reading Nikolai Berdyaev's Slavery and Freedom a day or two ago (at the expense of too many hours of missed sleep). When I read Bruce's post today, I was immediately reminded of a passage in Slavery and Freedom that outlines the value of the individual.
Nikolai Beryaev also insists the next spiritual progression would occur at the level of the individual, but Berdyaev draws a clear distinction between the individual and what he refers to as personality.
It is my hope that Berdyaev's ideas concerning the latent spiritual power of personality and the individual might add something useful to the topic Bruce addressed today. To avoid possible misinterpretations, I have chosen to forgo paraphrasing Berdyaev's ideas and have decided to publish an excerpt from Berdyaev's Slavery and Freedom instead. Bold has been added by me.
In order to understand what personality is, it is very important to establish the difference between personality and the individual. The French Thomists very justly insist upon this distinction, though they take a stand upon different philosophical ground from mine. The individual is a category of naturalism, biology, and sociology. The individual is indivisible in relation to some whole; he is an atom. He not only can be a member of a species or community, as well as part of the cosmos as a whole, but he is invariably thought of as part of a whole, and outside that whole he cannot be called an individual.
The individual is characterized alike, on the one hand as a subordinate part of the whole and on the other as a part which is self-affirming as an ego. Therefore, individualism, which is derived from the word individual, certainly does not signify independence in relation to the whole, that is to the cosmic biological and social process. It signifies only the isolation of the subordinate part in its feeble revolt against the whole.
The individual is closely linked with the material world; he is brought up to birth in a generic process. The individual is born of a mother and father; he has a biological origin, which is determined by family heredity and also by social heredity. There is no individual without the family and no family without the individual. The individual is found entirely within categories which distinguish what belongs to the species from what is of the individual.
The individual carries on a struggle for the existence of the family, the biological and social processes. Man certainly is an individual, but he is not only an individual. The individual is bound up with the material world, and is nourished by it; but he is not universal, as such, he has not a universal content.
Man is a microcosm, and a universe; but not of virtue of his being an individual. Man is also personality , the idea of man and his vocation in the world are bound up with his personality. And here everything is changed. Personality is not a naturalistic, but a spiritual category. Personality is not the indivisible or the atom in relation to any whole whatsoever, cosmic, family, or social.
Personality is freedom and independence of man in relation to nature, to society, and to the state; but not only is it not egoistic self-affirmation, it is the very opposite. Personalism does not mean, as individualism does, egocentric isolation. Personality in man is his independence in relation to the material world, which is the material for the work of the spirit. And at the same time, personality is a universe; it is filled with universal content. Personality is not born of the family and cosmic process, not born of a father and mother; it emanates from God; it makes its appearance from another world. It bears witness to the fact that man is the point of intersection between two worlds, that in him there takes place the conflict between spirit and nature, freedom and necessity, independence and dependence.
Espinas says that the real individual is a cell. But personality is most certainly not a cell and does not enter into organism as a part into a whole. It is the primary whole and unity, it is characterized by its relation to an other and to others, to the world, to society, to people, as a relation of creativeness, freedom, love, and not of determination.
Personality lies outside the co-relation of individually particular and that which is common to the species, outside the correlation of parts and whole, of organs and organism. Personality is not the living individual. Personality in man is not determined by heredity, the biological and the social; it is freedom in man, it is the possible victory over determination.
Everything that is personal in man is set in opposition to any kind of automatism, that automatism which plays such a part in human life, automatism both psychical and social. There are not two separate men, but one and the same man is both an individual and a personality. That is not two different beings, but two kinds of qualitativeness, two different forces in man. Péguy says that the individual is every man’s own bourgeois which he is called upon to conquer.
Man, as an individual, endures the experience of isolation, egocentrically engulfed in himself, and called upon to wage a tormenting struggle for life, as he defends himself against danger that lie in wait for him. He finds his way out of difficulties through conformism, through adaptation.
Man as a person, the same man, gains the mastery of the egocentric self-confinement, discloses a universe in himself, but insists upon his independence and dignity in relation to the surrounding world.
But it must always be remembered that our language often gets confused. We constantly make use of words which do not bear the meaning we assign to them. That which individual, individuality, denotes the unique within its kind, the original, distinguished from any other and from the rest, In this sense the individual is inherent in every person.
Personality has a higher degree of individuality than the individual. The individual also often denotes the irrational, in opposition to that which is common, to the universally binding, to the rational and normative. In this sense, personality is irrational; and the individual much more subject to binding law, since it is more determined.
It is interesting, in the history of the discovery of the meaning of personality, to notice that among the romantics individuality is distinguished from personality in our sense of the word. Among the romantics themselves individuality was clearly presented, but personality was often very weakly expressed.
The character of individuality is vital rather than spiritual and does not as yet indicate the victory of spirit and freedom. We see a reflection of a profound disintegration, of a dissociation of personality in the contemporary novel, for instance in Proust and among us, Andrei Byely.
Inward unity and integrality are inherent in personality; whereas the individual may be torn to pieces by the forces of the world. A person cannot be completely a citizen of the world and of the state, he is a citizen of the Kingdom of God.
For this reason personality is a revolutionary element in a profound sense of the word. This is bound up with the fact that man is a being who belongs not to one world, but to two.
Personalism is a dualistic not a monistic philosophy.