The limits to individualism are in one sense plain. We only need to contemplate the financial crisis to understand that the pursuit of maximum short-term profit, without proper regard to the communal good, is a mistake and leads to neither profit nor good. Yet, at a deeper level, the case against a purely individualistic or materialistic philosophy has to be made. Young people today have access to technology, to opportunity, to experiences good and bad on a scale my generation never knew and my father's generation would find fantastical, like something out of science fiction.
The danger is clear: that pursuit of pleasure becomes an end in itself. It is here that faith can step in, can show us a proper sense of duty to others, responsibility for the world around us, and can lead us to, as the Holy Father calls it, caritas in veritate.
After the experience of fascism, Soviet Communism or viewing life in North Korea or the cultural revolution in China, it is easier for us to grasp the dangers of a too-powerful state.
But I would argue that even the concept of community has its limitations. We use the word in two senses: one to distinguish it from government, to emphasise civic society if you like; the other sense is just to describe the general community of public opinion. In politics, of course, especially in a democracy, "the people" are the boss; public opinion is to be courted and if not surrendered to, as least managed.
It is here that Faith enlarges and enriches the idea of community. The recent Papal Encyclical is a remarkable document in many respects. It repays reading and re-reading. But one strand throughout it is a strong rejoinder to the notion of relativism, to the description of the human condition in society as just some amoral negotiation or set of compromises with modernity; or even just obedience to the majority opinion. Not that it is anti-technology or anti-modern; or indeed anti-democratic. But it widens and deepens the relationship between individuals and the community in which they live. It puts God's Truth at the centre of it. In one passage, it describes humanism devoid of faith as "inhuman humanism": "Without God, man neither knows which way to go, nor even understands who he is."
This is an extract from a speech given to the Communion and Liberation meeting in Rimini, Italy, last weekReuse content