Expressive Individualism Could be America’s Undoing

“…All the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes.

Judges 21:25 NLT

There is a strong consensus in America today that is embracing what is called “Expressive Individualism.”  This worldview states that people have the ‘right to pursue happiness’ however they choose, as long as others are not harmed. This idea takes evolution beyond mere empirical science and creates a kind of “societal evolution” via individual expression.

One Harvard professor in the 1960s published essays on religious individualism, spawning the modern thought that now sees everyone having unique feelings that should be expressed in authentic, self-fulfilling ways.

This defines Expressive Individualism.

On the surface, it doesn’t sound so bad… after all, we all want to be ourselves. However, when taken to its extreme, this worldview affects more than just an individual. As experienced in the U.S. Supreme Court case of Obergefell v. Hodges, this legal decision was based on expressive individualism, and it affects millions of people, with the long-term consequences yet to be fully realized.

This was the mindset of Supreme Court Justice Kennedy, who was the decisive vote in the same-sex marriage amendment to the Constitution.  “Dignity, in his hands, stands for the belief that self-expression and self-realization of personal desire are among the foremost values and ends that the law should serve,” said Dr. Virgen Guroian.[1]

Is that what our Founding Fathers meant when they wrote the laws of this country, specifically the ‘right to pursue happiness’? When reading the Declaration of Independence, the overall theme is the rights of the people to govern themselves as a free nation, not individual rights to self-express.

Has expressive individualism, in the name of ‘tolerance,’ created peace? Absolutely not. When examined in its entirety, it’s an illusion that tolerating all views of expressive individualism creates peace.

As the USA has experienced, views most definitely clash. There have been many violent outbursts lately, from those opposing the police to the presidency. Peace has not been attained.

Division in American politics reflects the greater cultural divide.

Expressive individualism is unable to provide meaningful social existence simply because it reduces the foundation of moral claims to the subjective feelings of individual emotions, making the development of common moral understandings difficult, if not impossible.

In contrast, the Christian faith espouses that to remain a free society, people need to submit to God’s moral laws. Even many secularists recognize any reasonable and practical society must have a set of common moral understandings, and when those can no longer be attained, society steps on the edge of a chasm the depth of which only God knows.

The fact is that humanity’s nature, at its core, is sinful. Without laws and restraints on people’s behavior, civilization will self-destruct. This is the role of government—to protect society.

It seems humanity is constantly trying to find the perfect utopian governing system, one in which everyone gets along and peace triumphs. As shown, expressive individualism has not provided this utopian existence, nor should it. It should not be part of how the United States governing system operates.

A public focus on a commitment to the common good with a shared moral structure, as opposed to the excesses of expressive individualism, is where efforts should be focused. Without it, anger, riots, chaos and confusion will continue.

The long-term consequences of expressive individualism have yet to be entirely felt. Things take time to fully play out. Recall, for example, that it’s taken years for the entire effect of the ‘60s sexual revolution to rear its head by an enormous increase in STDs, unwanted pregnancies, and broken marriages. What will be the long-term consequences of today’s cultural divide?      

Expressive individualism is impractical, unfeasible and non-livable. It cannot commit itself to the common good because its ethics hold that the supreme value is the ‘creative self.’ This view is rooted in selfishness. How does that hold any semblance of morality for the common good?

It’s time that our governing powers stop basing legal decisions on expressive individualism and get back to what the Founding Fathers meant when they said we have the “right to the pursuit of happiness” as a society, not as one’s personal expression of choice. If not, then it is my concern that the United States will ‘express itself’ away into something so unrecognizable that it will be more like the DSA – Divided States of America.

But God is in the redemption business! We are not called to sit back and watch things divide. We are called to unite! Let us pray and work towards reconciliation. “Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.’ ” (Matt. 19:26.)



  1. Stephen De La Vega July 8, 2020
    • LisaQAuthor July 8, 2020
  2. Connie Barstad July 8, 2020