Causes and Rationale for the Individualistic Phase of Societal Development

At some point in the development of society, the conventional phase becomes empty of meaning to certain individuals, who see in it dead rituals and meaningless traditions that do not seem to be linked to any living truth.  These individuals challenge the conventional framework and seek to rekindle a living spirit in their lives.  They seek answers that provide significance to them and they tend at this point to turn away from the conventions of political and economic systems, religious institutions and habitual cultural actions.  As more people opt out of the norms of the society, we eventually see a breakdown of the convention and the development of what may be called the individualistic phase of societal development.

Sri Aurobindo notes:  “An individualistic age of human society comes as a result of the corruption and failure of the conventional, as a revolt against the reign of the petrified typal figure.  Before it can be born it is necessary that the old truths shall have been lost in the soul and practice of the race and that even the conventions which ape and replace them shall have become devoid of real sense and intelligence; stripped of all practical justification, they exist only mechanically by fixed idea, by the force of custom, by attachment to the form.  It is then that men in spite of the natural conservatism of the social mind are compelled at last to perceive that the Truth is dead in them and that they are living by a lie.  The individualism of the new age is an attempt to get back from conventionalism of belief and practice to some solid bed-rock, no matter what, of real and tangible Truth.  And it is necessarily individualistic, because all the old general standards have become bankrupt and can no longer give any inner help; it is therefore the individual who has to become a discoverer, a pioneer, and to search out by his individual reason, intuition, idealism, desire, claim upon life or whatever other light he finds in himself the true law of the world and of his own being.  By that, when he has found or thinks he has found it, he will strive to rebase on a firm foundation and remould in a more vital even if a poorer form religion, society, ethics, political institutions, his relations with his fellows, his strivings for his own perfection and his labour for mankind.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 2, the Age of Individualism and Reason, pg. 15