Individuality in a Political System

Osinachi Osuagwu–Period 1

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference[1]”.

This line of poetry comes from one of the most iconic poems in American literature, “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost. In the poem, a person is stuck between two paths, contemplating which one to take. Eventually, he decides to take “the road less travelled by,” which has made all the difference [2]. In a macroeconomics class, this poem is seen as a way to explain opportunity cost; to take advantage of one choice, you must give up another choice. The narrator forgoes going down one path to pursue the other path. However, this poem is also seen as a metaphor for the importance of being an individual. The narrator is stuck between two paths: one path that has been worn down, presumably from many people before him taking that path, and another path that looks as if it has barely been touched. In the end, the narrator decides to take the path that very few people traveled, saying that this path has made all the difference. “The Road Not Taken” shows us that stepping out of our comfort zone and being an individual is what makes life full and rich.

Many people in our society value individuality. They express the importance of not following the crowd and being true to who you are as a person. However, when someone outwardly expresses their individuality, some people tend to react negatively. These people then go on to call this person weird or crazy. They even go so far as to bully and belittle this person for daring to go against the norm. Even though many people in our society value individuality, there will always be other people who look down on those that don’t conform to society’s standards.

Despite the possible setbacks listed above, there is a certain power in being an individual. When someone embraces their individuality, they are not easily influenced by social norms and what other people say. They will not follow the conventional way of thinking and acting if it goes against their personal beliefs. Instead, they will stand up for what they believe is right and won’t care what others think of them. These types of people are comfortable and confident in themselves, which inspires others to be comfortable and confident as well. In the end, being an individual means possessing the self-awareness to know that you are capable of leaving a mark on the world.

It is important to embrace individuality and uniqueness, but this type of thinking bears the question: is it possible to be an individual in a political system? To go even further: is individuality even a necessary part of society? To answer these questions, we must look at some political philosophies posed by different philosophers throughout history.

The first political philosophy we will look at is the one posed by Adam Smith in The Wealth of Nations. In Book I Chapter 1, Smith states the importance of the division of labor, saying that the division of labor results in “a proportionable increase of the productive powers of labor” [3]. Since each person only has to work on one part of the product instead of making the product as a whole, the process becomes more efficient, thus increasing the number of products produced.

The division of labor has its positives; the more efficient a process is, the more products you will make, thus increasing profits. However, it does not support the concept of individuality. Instead of having the chance to put their unique talents to use, the worker is reduced to that one job they have to do over and over again, day in and day out. The worker does not have the chance to grow in their work, making them stagnate and become less of an individual. Smith’s political philosophy may not mesh well with the concept of individuality, but how do other political philosophies hold up in comparison to The Wealth of Nations?

The next political philosophy we will look at is one proposed by Aristotle in The Politics. In The Politics, Aristotle “describes the role that politics and the political community must play in bringing about the virtuous life in the citizenry” [4]. One of the main points that Aristotle makes in The Politics is that man is a political animal, the kind of animal that cannot fulfill their nature without a political system. He even goes on to say that a man without a state is “either a bad man or above humanity… [who] may be compared to an isolated piece at draughts” [5]. Aristotle states that people cannot fully be human without the state because the state helps us fulfill our nature, our nature being to develop our life in accordance to reason and live a good life.

From his writings, it may seem that Aristotle would denounce the concept of individuality. However, this is not the case. In Book I Chapter 8, Aristotle acknowledges the importance of well-functioning households, which are required for a well-functioning city.

In Book III Chapter 1, Aristotle then goes on to say that the state is “composite, like any other whole made up of many parts; these are the citizens, who compose it” [6]. Aristotle acknowledges that the state is made up of individual parts, each one being important in the overall function of the state. With each person’s individual, unique traits, they come together to improve the state as a whole. “And therefore, men… desire to live together…as they severally attain to any measure of well-being” [7]. Aristotle knows that individuals with unique traits are what keep our state alive and prosperous. Thus, it is very likely that Aristotle would embrace the concept of individuality.

The final political philosophy we will look at is the one posed by Karl Marx in The Communist Manifesto. In The Communist Manifesto, Marx states that “the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles” [8]. Marx then goes on to state that eventually, the current political system will no longer be compatible with the forces of production. This will result in the proletariats revolting and rising to power as the ruling class, resulting in communism. According to Marx, the current ruling class, the bourgeoisie, sees the proletariat as nothing but cheap labor, which leads to the notion that they are easily replaceable. This results in the bourgeoisie replacing the proletariat workers with machines with no qualms whatsoever. Marx then goes on to state that with the division of labor, “the work of the proletarians [lose] all individual character, and, consequently, all charm for the workman” [9]. This line of thinking directly goes against the positives of the division of labor stated in The Wealth of Nations.

Marx acknowledges that the proletariats have one thing in common: they need to sell their labor in order to live. They may come from various backgrounds with different skills and abilities, but in the end, the proletariats are all part of the same group. To come into power, the individuals in the proletariat must work together to achieve revolution and become the ruling class. Marx also acknowledges that dividing labor only results in a worker becoming nothing more than “an appendage of the machine” [10]. Similar to what Aristotle stated in The Politics, the individuals in the proletariat must come together to achieve a common goal: to become the ruling class.

So to answer the previous questions: yes, it is possible to be an individual in a political system. In fact, a political system would not even function without the concept of individuality. Citizens need the opportunity to grow and change in their work so as to maintain their individuality. The citizens also use their unique skills and abilities to contribute to the betterment of their society.  We are not mere machines; we are unique people with the ability to make a mark on the world. In this increasingly complex day and age, it is important for us to embrace each other’s individuality and acknowledge that our unique skills and ideas are what makes society move forward to a better and bright future.


Bibliography

Aristotle. The Politics. Bernardo Aparicio, 2015.

Marx, Karl, and Friedrich Engels. Manifesto of the Communist Party. Bernardo Aparicio, 2015.

Clayton, Edward. “Aristotle: Politics.” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Accessed April 4, 2015. <http://www.iep.utm.edu/aris-pol/>.

Smith, Adam. Selections from The Wealth of Nations, Bernardo Aparicio, 2015.

Fig. 1. Individuality. Available from: WordPress, https://missiongalacticfreedom.files.wordpress.com/2014/03/individuality.jpg?w=510 (Accessed April 7, 2015).


Footnotes

  1. Robert Frost, “The Road Not Taken.”
  2. Ibid.
  3. Adam Smith, Selections from The Wealth of Nations (Bernardo Aparicio, 2015), 3.
  4. Edward Clayton, “Aristotle: Politics,” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, accessed April 4, 2015, http://www.iep.utm.edu/aris-pol/.
  5. Aristotle, The Politics (Bernardo Aparicio, 2015), 2.
  6. Ibid., 7.
  7. Ibid., 8.
  8. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Manifesto of the Communist Party (Bernardo Aparicio, 2015), 1.
  9. Ibid., 5.
  10. Ibid.
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One thought on “Individuality in a Political System

  1. “The narrator is stuck between two paths: one path that has been worn down, presumably from many people before him taking that path, and another path that looks as if it has barely been touched.” This contradicts the words of the poet, who tells us that “as for that [as for it being more travelled] the passing there had worn them really about the same.” It is imperative that you stick close to the text if you want to interpret it correctly. This affects the meaning of the poem considerably, as we discussed in class.

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