… is from page 156 of Helmut Schoeck’s essay “Individuality vs. Equality,” in Essays on Individuality, Felix Morley, ed. (Indianapolis: Liberty Press, 1977 ), pp. 145-175:
With very few exceptions, which were years of economic growth and innovation, the periods of human history have seen individuals labor under the controlling myth of a “whole society.” So we tend to forget that mankind’s emergence from stereotyped and stagnating ways of life, on low subsistence, has exclusively depended on the emergence of independent and enterprising individuals, in various fields of endeavor, who had enough resistence to escape from social controls which were usually imposed in the name and interest of “the whole society” or nation.
In light of Deirdre McCloskey’s thesis that the industrial revolution was sparked by the unusual amount of dignity that was first accorded merchants and economic innovators in the northwest corner of 18th-century Europe, how compelling is Schoeck’s claim? (My question is not, pardon the phrase, merely rhetorical. It is genuinely sincere and open.)