The Stubbornly Rooted Doctrine of Reagan Individualism

Part II: Individualism vs. Community

Sam Chavez
Sam Chavez

Table of Contents

๐Ÿค“ Bite-Sized Knurd: The Reagan Eraโ€™s rugged individualism shifted the political landscape against the government causing the hollowing out of basic social investments that last to this day.

Read on for moreโ€ฆ

Last Weekโ€™s Recap: Exploring the Roots of Society

Individualism is stubbornly rooted in the United States. Itโ€™s been around since before the founding. Manifest Destiny, a perfect example, as European settlers destroyed the Native American societies that thrived on the land for centuries.

However, this week, we focus on more recent history to examine how individualism has shaped our modern view of government.

During the Reagan Era, the idea of individualism became a political doctrine.

Ronald Reagan fundamentally changed the Republican Party into a movement turning against government itself.

"Government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem." - Ronal Reagan

This, in turn, remade the political landscape, dramatically shifting the countryโ€™s political center to the right, leading us to where we are today. Former New Deal liberals advocating for a government that supports the basic needs of its citizens have become โ€œradical socialists.โ€

During a severe economic slump, Reagan exploited high inflation (sound familiar?) to reshape the government for corporations to make their own rules and to strip away decades-long social programs.

Reaganโ€™s view of individualism was based on myths perpetuated in the U.S. for centuries. His flawed interpretation of history brought us:

  • Unencumbered Capitalism: According to Reagan, the government was inefficient and ineffective so we should leave it all to corporations or the individual to solve. Deregulation became a rallying cry, which allowed corporations to set their own rules, exploit workers, and amass massive profits at the expense of consumers (aka people).
  • Championing the Myth of Meritocracy: ย The idea that success comes from individual skills and hard work ignores the inequalities baked in and the unfair advantage for some (typically wealthy white men). Reagan believed that "everyone can rise as far as his ability will take him." Yet, he ignored the governmentโ€™s Great Depression bailout that provided generational wealth for him to succeed.
  • Vilifying Public Assistance: Underneath meritocracy is the notion that poverty is your fault. Rooted in racism, Reagan bemoaned welfare queens who were supposedly lazy and mooched off the government. Ignoring the historical actions that maintain our rigid class system built anti-poor resentment allowing Republicans to slash the social safety net.
  • Ignoring Governmentโ€™s Role: The biggest flaw of Reaganโ€™s belief system was completely ignoring the role that government plays. As an example, he loved the Western Frontier rugged cowboysโ€™ stories but ignored the USโ€™ role in providing protection and building out necessary infrastructure to make it possible.

Reaganโ€™s vilification of the government became a self-fulfilling prophecy.

  1. Start by complaining that government is poorly run
  2. Making it easier to cut government funding
  3. Which creates a poorly run government

Reaganโ€™s Individualism doctrine has made government action much more difficult to this day.

Next Week: Todayโ€™s state of individualism

The Good Knurd:

Now's your chance to join in on the action! Thoughtful ways to influence change within yourself and your local community.

  • ๐Ÿค” Thought Starter: Think about your own path. What other direct or indirect influences helped get you where you are now? Did you have certain advantages/disadvantages? How has your own success shaped your worldview?
  • ๐Ÿซ‚ Community: ย Volunteer! Volunteering is one of my favorite ways to stay close to my community. Youโ€™re able to talk with those you wouldnโ€™t normally and see for yourself the myths that individualism perpetuates.

Weโ€™d love to hear your thoughts. Leave a comment to share your perspective.

Next Up

Todayโ€™s State of Individualism & itโ€™s Harms
๐Ÿค“ Bite-Sized Knurd: Our response to the pandemic and climate crisis can be directly tied to individualism. Individualism causes deeper inequality, perpetuates racism, and leads to unpreparedness. Read on for moreโ€ฆ
๐Ÿ—ผ๐Ÿ—ž: Newsletter

Sam Chavez

Sam is a writer, strategist, and curious human. She founded the roots of change agency in 2020. Sam is a queer, white, LatinX activist whoโ€™s passionate about a livable planet & equitable societies.


Navigating heart-first activism & storytelling. We explore the ๐ŸŒฑ roots of our world to support communicators, organizations, and activists ๐Ÿฅต to avoid burnout and ๐Ÿ“š tell empathetic stories that cultivate connections that ๐ŸŒ empower โœŠ๐Ÿฝ social change.

Learn more about the Roots of Change Agency.