Anyone who has read more than one Louis L’Amour novel knows that there is only one plot, and that it always has the same set of sub themes. One of the sub themes is the hero’s recognition that the way of life of extreme individualism that makes room for him to be the hero and the villain to be the villain is coming to an end. The future belongs to the polis and the rule of law.
It might be good if more citizens recognized something else the hero comes to understand, and that is that those who insist on adhering to the cult of extreme individualism become little more than parasites living off the structure of society that provides him or her with the freedom, protection and resources needed to act as if one was truly the lone, self-sufficient individual. None of that is particularly harmful in and of itself. In fact it gives us interesting, romantic characters to enjoy, a picturesque life-style that can give us vicarious satisfaction, and sometimes the hero really does save the day. It also gives us villains of one sort or another.
But if the cult of individualism becomes too dominant there may not be enough left to hold a democratic society together. That is when it can be most easily manipulated by those who are not afraid to seize the reigns of power. Promising security from “enemies,” stripping away freedoms in the name of preserving them, and perverting justice in the name of justice is simple if you can convince all the complacent (or angry) individualists that they need not worry about such matters and can go about their own self-centered lives because the important things are being taken care of for them.
That is why politics is important. It is why every citizen needs to know how government works at every level and be willing to stay informed on issues, candidates and platforms. It is why we cannot afford to be misled by bumper sticker mentality or television personalities working off of Orwellian scripts. A democratic society requires community, and community requires an engaged electorate committed to the ideals of the common good. I’m not sure what the critical mass is for that. I know not everyone will participate, but these last eight years have frightened me with how easy it is for a few well organized people to corrode the underlying principles of American democracy while convincing a majority of those voting that they are the ones who can be relied on to protect them. And the majority of those voting have increasingly become a worrisome minority of those eligible to vote.