The idea of liberty, when taken to its extreme position of ultimate individualism, leads to serious problems in the formation of society, many of which are obvious when we look around us today in the world. Income inequality, unequal access to resources, the determination of rules and regulations by a powerful elite who have gathered to themselves the wealth of the world, all are signs of the failure of individualism when it goes unchecked.
The idea of socialism attempts to shift from the idea of liberty of the individual to the concept of equality within society. This may provide some kind of balancing effect for the extremes of individualism, but it remains hard, if not impossible, to fully implement in a world indoctrinated into the concept of individualism. Today we hear the voices of those in power in the government crying that their opponents are “socialists” which is intended to convey a strongly pejorative meaning. We hear people claiming to be “democratic socialists” who are hoping to convey a moderate position vis a vis the demands of liberty with the requirements of equality.
Sri Aurobindo observes: Democratic socialism “assures us that it will combine some kind of individual freedom, a limited but all the more true and rational freedom, with the rigours of the collectivist idea. But it is evidently these rigours to which things must tend if the collectivist idea is to prevail and not to stop short and falter in the middle of its course. If it proves itself thus wanting in logic and courage, it may very well be that it will speedily or in the end be destroyed by the foreign element it tolerates and perish without having sounded its own possibilities. … But even at its best the collectivist idea contains several fallacies inconsistent with the real facts of human life and nature. And just as the idea of individualistic democracy found itself before long in difficulties on that account because of the disparity between life’s facts and the mind’s idea, difficulties that have led up to its discredit and approaching overthrow, the idea of collectivist democracy too may well find itself before long in difficulties that must lead to its discredit and eventual replacement by a third stage of the inevitable progression. Liberty protected by a State in which all are politically equal, was the idea that individualistic democracy attempted to elaborate. Equality, social and political equality enforced through a perfect and careful order by a State which is the organised will of the whole community, is the idea on which socialistic democracy stakes its future. If that too fails to make good, the rational and democratic Idea may fall back upon a third form of society founding an essential rather than formal liberty and equality upon fraternal comradeship in a free community, the ideal of intellectual as of spiritual Anarchism.”
Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 19, The Curve of the Rational Age, pp. 201-202