Lewis Mumford

Individuation and Socialization

(1938)

 


Note

Mumford's thesis is that individuality rests on a basis of sociality in which rules of universal value and meaning allow for an infinite variety-singularity of personal and communitarian ways of being. The opposite of what is suggested and implemented by liberals and socialists who preach either a society run by some individuals or a society run by the state, two not very different scenarios.

Source: The Culture of Cities, Chapter VII : Social basis of the new social order : Individuation and Socialization.

 


 

What we have been discussing, in this new conception of architectural form, is in fact the concrete examples of sociality and individuality: both modes are undergoing radical changes. In the past, each of these attitudes stood for a whole threory of society: they came before us as social and political philosophies, clustered around the dogmas of private property and individual liberty that had taken shape in the eighteenth century. They were looked upon as alternatives. Individualism was a theory that believed in the existence of atomic individuals as a primary fact. It held that these individuals had an inherent right to possess property and enjoy personal protection under the laws; and that no laws abrogating that species of personal freedom founded upon private property were valid. Socialism, in all its diverse manifestations, regarded the community as a primary fact, and it treated the welfare of the community as more important than the claims of any atomic individual to special protection or sustenance.

In actual practice, both these doctrines, during the last century, presented a sinister aspect. Masquerading under the nobie slogan of the rights of man, pretending to continue its old war on despotic power, individualism established itself as the claim of small groups of privileged people to exploit the work of other men on the basis of a monopoly, partial or complete, of land, capital, credit, and the machinery of production. For the single despotism of the king, it substituted a multitude of petty, and not so petty, despots: industrialists, financiers, robber barons. "Socialism," on the other hand, has meant in practice the unlimited capacity of the government and the armed forces of the state to impose obedience and cooperation upon its subjects in times of war: pushed to its extreme, it becomes the state-deification of fascism and the unity of war-dictatorship. "Individualism" rested on the doctrine of the "free market" in which price exercises the functions of an almighty Providence: "socialism" rested on the doctrine of the closed frontier, in which every human activity within, thought itself, is subjected to state monopoly. The inequalities of the first and the uniformities of the second were equally oppressive to a good society.

In the senses in which individualism and socialism have gained currency, both are mythological distortions of the underlying facts of community life: the process of individuation and socialization. In actuality, these terms are alternatives only in the sense that north and south are alternatives. They indicate directions of motion, without giving any descriptive reference to the goal to be reached. No human society is conceivable in which, to some degree, both tendencies did not play an active part.

As concerns origins, the social theory is largely correct: society exists as a fact in nature, and without an underlying symbiosis no single member could survive. The more primitive the state of existence, the greater the influence of brute compulsion and irrational but coercive tabu. The separation of the individual from the generic is a social fact that occurs only in those socialized animals that have some extra-organic means of inheritance; otherwise individuality is a matter of accident and latent tendency. Only through a specific social heritage, beginning with the art of language, can individuation arise. The individual, left to himself, is not a source. Left to himself, indeed, he would starve, go mad.

As concerns emergents, however, the theory of individuation is a fact. When the apparatus of socialization becomes more adequate, through language, through the written word, through the division of labor, through the development of cities, special forms arise in the hitherto less differentiated mass. Each group, each community, each vocation, each habitat creates new patterns of individuality: by their interaction in the close medium of the city, they provide endless permutations and combinations in all its members. The common environment provides an underlying unity: the city itself may become the cohesive symbol of that unity: but within that common environment all the differentiations of a true culture arise with a wealth of example hitherto unexplored. Through intermixture of stocks and races in the city, the biological inheritance, in turn, combines with the equally complicated facts of social inheritance: these facts are individuated from moment to moment as personal experience. For practical purposes one often forgets the fact of individuation; but by intercourse with a de-individuated person, whose full human inheritance has been ideologically castrated, one realizes the difference between the deadened oneness of totalitarian doctrine and the vital and many faceted product of a genuine community, in which social conflicts and cultural intermixtures play an active part.

Both individuation and socialization must be respected in the design of ciities and their separate structures. Unfortunately, working under the false mythology of individualism, our modern capitalist societies have in the past assigned values to "individual effort" in precisely those departments where standardized practices and socialized controls are necessary. The right of an individual property owner to obtain by purchase or inheritance a parcel of land, and to use it entirely at his own pleasure under minor legal regulation, has been treated as sacrosanct; and the gains that have followed the collective procedures of science, the collective discoveries of technics, have been permitted to go, like ground rents, to lucky or rapacious individuals, when they should in fact have been kept in trust for the community. In a similar way, laissez-faire principles encouraged the individual prospecting for industrial sites, the individual parceling of ground, the individual owning and building of houses: although all of these are in essence collective functions which are preparatory to true individuation. Indeed, individuation cannot enter in a cultural sense until a good part of our activities are reduced to a mechanized or socialized routine: only by multiplying the functions of the spinal cord, making them automatic, can the higher functions of the brain be released. This is the essential truth underlying Aristotle's otherwise barbarous remark that a good polity must rest on slavery.

Under an equally mythological sort of socialization, whether undertaken in the interest of a ruling financial class or the power state, the reverse of this tendency has been practiced. The state attempts to impose uniformity and "socialization" in matters of education, intellectual culture, and political judgment where, within the common pattern of the civilization (which "enforces" itself) a wide span of individuations should be encouraged. Contrary to the prevailing doctrine, no special measures should be taken, other than the common processes of discovering and systematizing truth, to extirpate obsolete religions, discarded scientific doctrines, idiosyncrasies and aberrant beliefs: since it is sometimes by unexpected combinations in our social inheritance, or unorthodox re-interpretations of past beliefs, that important mutations are made. The tendencies making for human uniformity are indeed so deep, so abiding, that it is only by providing for free play in individuation that we can avoid the servile habits, the dangerous encystments, of past civilizations.

Every community must attempt in its structure to reconcile stability and adaptation, standardization and flexibility, socialization and individuation. None of these qualities is a terminal point or objective: they are directions of movement and change. Good planning is an attempt to keep the whole environment in a state of dynamic equilibrium, in which freedom does not mean empty chaos, and in which discipline does not mean an even more vacuous death.

The great aristocracies of the past knew that the labor of a thousand serfs, the accumulations of vast congeries of buildings, with all the necessary land for their support, might not be too extravagant a price to pay for the culture of a truly enlightened and disciplined individual: in the long run, the millions would profit. But because of the social inequality and the bitter injustice of these arrangements, such aristocracies but rarely produced a Plato. Today, with our vast accession of energies, with our abundant collective resources, we have the opportunity of upholding these principles, not for the sake of an oligarchy, but for the welfare of every member of the community. The base must be generic, equalized, standardized, communal: the emergent must be specific, unstandardized, individual, aristocratic: differentiated groups, differentiated individuals, differentiated regional and civic communities.

 


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