Post-Modernism & individualism


In the last quarter of the twentieth century political, sexual, social and artistic ideologies began to be questioned, particularly the Modernism faith in the benefits of scientific progress and mass culture. This led to a series of shifts in Western philosophical thinking that came to be defined as Post-Modernism. 
The key ideas in Post-Modernist thinking are:
  • The only ‘truth’ is what you feel and experience, rather than any set of external ‘truth statements’
  • There is no ‘big story’ (also called a Meta-Narrative) that explains existence or gives it a purpose
  • The competing claims of different belief systems, if affirmed, are not accorded the status of absolute truth – they are only ‘true’ for the person who believes them
  • Therefore, there is nothing outside of human life that provides a set of values by which to live, no set of rules for living, no framework of ‘good’ or ‘bad’
  • We live in a world of images created by ourselves and those images do not provide any external explanation of what life is all about – they may well be dislocated from any context in ‘reality’
  • The world is a place in which humans are largely engaged in the business of exercising power over one another
  • The world is a violent place concerned with oppression and preservation of the self.


Post-Modernism is, in essence, an individualist philosophy. Individualists encourage the exercise of an individual's goals and desires and therefore value independence and self-reliance. They also argue that the interests of the individual are more important than those of the state or of any social group. They therefore oppose external interference by society or the government on the interests of the individual.
Post-Modernism has tended to be associated with unconventional artistic lifestyles where the emphasis is on self-creation and experimentation, as opposed to tradition or popular mass opinions and behaviour. It is also linked to a secular, humanist (as opposed to a faith-based) outlook on life.

The impact of Post-Modernism and individualism

During the last quarter of the twentieth century, Post-Modernist and individualist thinking had a profound impact on people who often had never heard of the terms or, if they had, could not define them. There was a growing reluctance to make a commitment to organisations and movements which might get in the way of the priorities of the individual:
  • Membership of mainstream political parties fell sharply
    • At the same time, the number of uncommitted voters, whose allegiance fluctuated from one election to another according to their individual preferences, grew. 
  • Mainstream religious observance declined
    • For people of faith, allegiance to traditional Christian denominations became looser, as believers sought out groups who provided a best fit with their own individual beliefs
    • Others favoured exploring their own interpretation of ‘spirituality’ as opposed to accepting the truth claims of orthodox religion.
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