It did me little good to be holding the helm; no matter how strong my hands, the sudden and numerous waves were stronger still… Thus I never was truly my own master but was always ruled by circumstances. – Napoleon Bonaparte

1. Introduction

One of the most pervasive postulates of Western thought is the centrality of the individual. René Descartes, the “Father of Early Modern Philosophy,” starts his resuscitation of Western philosophy with one epistemic and ontological certainty: I think.i Sigmund Freud develops psychoanalysis by recognizing that the self is not fully transparent, but retains the central significance of the ego as mediator and curator of mental life. The centrality of the individual is not limited to a description of human nature; it is a basic postulate of normative theory. Individual choice is the locus of moral assessment and justification. Individuals make choices and are ascribed responsibility. Contract accounts posit individual consent as a basic criterion of justification for the state. The basis for generating and assessing the justness of principles for John Rawls depends on the cogitations of an individual, removed from the contingencies of social circumstance.ii Members of a society can only think morally if they can properly introspect and achieve reflective equilibrium, Rawls contends.iii The atomized individual is one who acts and chooses freely, despite social and material context.

Harkening to social contract tradition and birth of capitalism, the atomized individual is a concept that supposes that people act in an autonomous, rational fashion. This agent is treated as uniquely responsible for their actions and worthy of respect in virtue of the supposed fact that their behavior is not contingent on socialization. This humanist impulse serves to justify neoliberal postulates regarding private property and rights as freedom in the marketplace.iv Further, it serves to place conceptions of merit and blame on individuals rather than institutions. The atomized individual is also a political unit of analysis found in discussions of population and demographics. Social contract tradition maintains that this individual justifies the state in virtue of our consent to hypothetical contracts (e.g., Thomas Hobbes, Rawls). This postulate of individual atomization is often taken axiomatically. As Hobbes aptly stated, “The passions that incline men to peace are… And reason suggests convenient articles of peace upon which men may be drawn to agreement. These articles are they which otherwise called the laws of nature…”v

This tradition faces challenges from a perspective that views the atomized individual skeptically. Jennifer Spiegel discusses atomized individuals in the context of student protests in Montreal stating, “The individual had to be codeable as an atomized unit, an individual, or what [Gilles] Deleuze calls a ‘dividual’ able to be processed by various legal institutions.”vi Recent scholarship evidences this critical turn and is skeptical about the prospects of atomized individuality as an explanation of deviance and moral responsibility.vii Yet, despite this turn away from the atomized individual, it is still a prevalent postulate of contemporary thought. Indeed, this essay will show that the atomized individual is prevalent in recent political and critical theory, even among the ostensibly critical figures. Nonetheless, the function of this project is not to determine whether there is an atomized subject. Rather, the purpose is to negotiate the politically pernicious effects of individual atomization as it deters and demobilizes possibilities of collective resistance. By putting a number of critical figures in conversation, this paper develops the problematic of the atomized individual as well as its prevalence in contemporary critical thought.

The problem of the atomized subject will be developed via analyzing William Connolly and Frantz Fanon. Both scholars contend that the atomization of individuals serves to perpetuate dominant hegemonies. First, An analysis of William Connolly’s “Desire to Punish” will serve as a case study for this contention.viii Second, Fanon contends that the colonized are not politically efficacious as individuals, and this explains the prevalence of the atomized individual as an operant in Western thought. Third, Michel de Certeau and Louis Althusser are put into conversation insofar as they are both committed to the atomized individual.ix In the final analysis, Fanon is again utilized to provide historically and socially situated resources that allow for the possibility of resistance without positing an individual who is totally free from prevailing ideological forces.

This intervention facilitates understanding of the late-modern and critical turn. As intellectual forces for the analysis of regimes of power and practices of repression it is crucial to turn a critical lens on key figures within this tradition. This paper shows that even figures such as De Certeau and Althusser retain elements of the atomized individual or fail to push their premises to their logical conclusions. Further, this paper provides a way forward for those interested in the possibilities of resistance by showing how resistance need not emerge from nothing, but can be historically and culturally informed.

The insistence that the atomized individual persists in thinking, even in the critical fields, requires further motivation. What is problematic about thinking of one as the atomized individual? Of what consequence is this postulate of the ‘I’ apart from one’s circumstance? To better assess these questions, I turn to the resources of William Connolly and Franz Fanon. For illustrative purposes, I motivate the problematic by way of reference to Nietzsche, without straying far from twentieth century thought.

2. The Individualized Problematic

Nietzsche recognizes one of the potential problems entailed in the concept of the atomized individual. He describes the beliefs of those meek individuals who seek to blame by claiming, “in fact, [they] do not defend any belief more passionately than that the strong are free to be weak, and the birds of prey are free to be lambs: in this way, they gain the right to make the birds of prey responsible for being birds of prey.”x By postulating individuals and their agency, blame can be freely ascribed. If it is simply a matter of choosing or not choosing to do something, moral failures are obvious evils. The bird of prey chooses to attack the lamb and this violence is an evil that is attributed to the bird’s individual choice. I call this ascription of blame to individuals due to their alleged free choice, the “problem of responsibility.” By disregarding the formative influences individuals undergo, the problem of responsibility serves to place the burden of blame on individuals rather than contingencies of context. A second problem regards the fomentation of effective political activity as isolated individuals. First, the relationship between blame ascription and the atomization of the individual will be considered in the works of William Connolly.

William Connolly contends that the desire to punish is motivated by a desire for revenge. Despite abysmal rates of recidivism, incarceration is at an all-time high.xi As Marc Mauer and Ryan S. King demonstrate, incarceration rates have increased five hundred percent between the 1970s and 2007.xii These rates reached their peak in 2008 and have only decreased moderately. Currently, the Bureau of Justice estimates that nearly one percent of the total United States population is incarcerated.xiii Nationally, recidivism stands at around seventy-one percent for violent offenders.xiv Thus, a considerable portion of the U.S. population cycles through the prison system. Of course, this phenomenon is especially prevalent among populations who were most adversely affected by the legacy of colonialism—indeed, incarceration rates themselves are probably one symptom of this legacy.xv Black men are five times more likely to be imprisoned than white men. Further, these rates are unique to the United States among affluent countries. xvi The conjunction of these facts presents a startling and unique problem. The cycle of incarceration is massive, unevenly applied, and ineffective. As such, an explanation of current models of penalization is in order.

What explains harsh sentencing and prison conditions despite the apparent inefficacy of sentencing felons to prisons? Connolly cites ascriptions of blame based on individual agency and responsibility to explain the desire to punish.xvii The problem of responsibility cultivates a culture in which moral shortcomings are individual failures. One deserves punishment precisely because they freely make immoral choices. Calls to be “hard on crime” persist despite the fact that “hard” sentences often only “harden” the criminal, because, after all, the criminal chose a hard life.

Further, the atomized individual is a basic unit of economic analysis. As individuals are presumed to act rationally, criminal behavior is no exception. xviii Neoliberal interpretations of criminality may lead to two results. First, sufficient disutility must be generated to deter ostensibly rational crime. If one is acting rationally by being a violent criminal, incentives must change to deter individual actors from violence. This explains emphasis on imprisonment as a determent; rational acts are contingent on the cost-benefit analysis. Second, privatized correctional facilities exist foremost (as any corporation does) to maximize profit. The ideological view that conforms to the position that hard sentences deter criminals also serves to promote profit in the context of individual corporations. Indeed, documented cases show a close connection between proscribing high levels of individual responsibility to young offenders, hard sentences, and profit. xix

Connolly reviews the case of Dontay Carter, a man accused of escaping prison and murdering a man in downtown Baltimore in 1993. The comments and questions directed towards Carter by prosecutors fixate on his personal choices. Connolly recites the opprobrium against Dontay as he is lambasted for “throwing his life away” and described as “a devil in Gucci a sweater” by prosecutors and the family of the victim.xx Little media coverage was given to Carter’s final statement upon sentencing that addressed the social and institutional structures that perpetuate racial violence. Connolly remarks on the operating procedure of the judicial system, “[t]he governing injunction; save the categories, waste those who disturb their stability.” xxi Rather than recognize the empirical evidence that suggests that social conditions explain much of our behavior and that “hard” sentences are poor deterrents, the judicial system perpetuates the belief in autonomous responsibility in order to persecute via prosecution. xxii Thus, the category of responsibility as individual choice is unaltered while the individuals who pose a challenge to our understanding of responsibility are institutionalized.

Connolly urges us to recognize that desires are conditioned by the subject and a model that frames some ends as desirable.xxiii Carter attests to this when he speaks of his childhood in a juvenile correctional facility. He recalls, “I learned… it was a place where you fought almost every day because everybody trying to be tougher than the next person.”xxiv Indeed, even Carter’s desire for violent action was cultivated by a cultural context of revenge and by his childhood upbringing in which violence was a source of control, authority, legitimacy, and individual safety. When incited by the perceived injustice of his initial incarceration, his recourse was further violence. The best available explanation of his response is not that he wanted to be “a devil,” or “throw his life away” but that violence begets violence, especially when it is framed as a source of legitimacy. Thus, the atomization of individuals fosters a revenge culture that punishes individuals for their learned behaviors. Further, it perpetuates, as revenge is itself a motive for ongoing attempts to rectify perceived systemic persecution. Individuals get “back at the man” by attacking random individuals as perceived symbols of “the system.” While this account identifies the pernicious effects of atomized individualization, Connolly does not explicitly develop these considerations in the context of political mobilization. By considering Frantz Fanon, the problem of responsibility becomes of political import as it serves to isolate individuals from social means of resistance. xxv

Fanon views colonialism and decolonization as an existential struggle. The terms are absolute and cast in violence. An uprising and casting out of colonial forces is necessary in order for the colonized to be free from oppression. More accommodating approaches comprise the liberatory ends of the colonized. Means of accommodation and compromise are appeals to morality that intend to moderate the action of revolutionaries.xxvi The priest and ethics professor do not come to the direct aid of the oppressed, but only lament about the terms of freedom (violence), especially when the colonized seek to emancipate themselves. Thus, ideological entreats are seen as a rearguard action to secure the safety and status quo of colonizers. The individual is implored to be ethical or to stop their sinful ways, but doing so often undermines their interest. Fanon sees these appeals to the individual as ideological weapons. His most direct and trenchant indictment of individualism is offered in this context:

The native intellectual had learnt from his masters that the individual ought to express himself fully. The colonialist bourgeoisie had hammered into the native's mind the idea of a society of individuals where each person shuts himself up in his own subjectivity, and whose only wealth is individual thought. Now the native who has the opportunity to return to the people during the struggle for freedom will discover the falseness of this theory. The very forms of organization of the struggle will suggest to him a different vocabulary. Brother, sister, friend—these are words outlawed by the colonialist bourgeoisie, because for them my brother is my purse, my friend is part of my scheme for getting on. xxvii

Bourgeoisie ideology represents life as a zero-sum game in which atomized individuals compete among each other for relative advantage. Viewing one’s neighbor as an adversary for a job ensures that both parties become entrenched in a localized dual in which neither recognizes the broader social conditions that impose limited financial opportunities, or that financial opportunities are not synonymous with living well. Indeed, the tendency to use the contexts of liberation and emancipation for personal gain is attributed to the Western legacy of the bourgeoisie colonists.xxviii Natives who do not view themselves as members of a common struggle are subject to the ideology of individualization.xxix

One of the symptoms of this violent individualization is a retaliatory response by atomized individuals. Fanon contends that the inculcation of violence by oppressors conditions the colonized to respond violently. xxx The legacy of torture, rape, and slavery produces recognition in the local that reconciliation is not an option. The rearguard action of ideology is a means to perpetuate a social order. The cognizant native mocks these ideological apparatuses as such.xxxi The legacy of violence forms a resentment that is turned outward. The colonized adopt the totalizing methods of direct confrontation. One way for the colonist to negotiate this realization is by stimulating feudal, tribal, and familial divisions. Fanon writes, “Colonialism does not simply state the existence of tribes; it also reinforces it and separates them.”xxxii By instigating tribalism, two ends are achieved. First, the necessary “letting-of-blood” is attained. The cultural conditioning of violence induces the inevitable response of violence. As violence is ultimately unavoidable, the colonists redirect it in ways that do not challenge their hegemony.xxxiii A further result arises as the mutual weakening of resistance and deprivation of a unified and politically efficacious force. If the enemy is a fellow native, one cannot coordinate the material means or the ideological awareness necessary to usurp the dominant power structure. To explain the prevalence of violence towards one’s fellow native, Fanon engages in a genealogical account of violence towards fellow colonized people.

Fanon contends that violence towards one’s brethren is a type of internalization of resentment. He writes, “[b]y throwing himself with all his force into the vendetta, the native tries to persuade himself that colonialism does not exist, that everything is going on as before, that history continues.”xxxiv Applying his psychiatric expertise, Fanon suggests that the tendency to attack one’s brethren is a form of avoidance. Frustration regarding prevailing social conditions is warranted and a culture of violence stimulates the expression of aggression. The well-fed and well-fortified colonist towns cannot be attacked directly (yet) as they are too strong. So the alternative candidates for expressing these tendencies are fellow natives. Thus, the native displaced their frustration on a weaker target.xxxv

An intuitive response to Fanon’s challenge to atomized individualism is recourse to communitarian action. Rather than leave individuals to fight one another or to individually evict colonists, communities can rally to do so. Yet, Fanon views various forms of tribalism and feudalism as basic impediments to revolutionary aspirations. Thus, one of the first targets of revolutionary fervor will be the colonialist structures that promote distinction and difference. xxxvi These sources of division may be in the form of the bourgeois individualism or the tribal conflicts. Hostile energy expressed in tribalism and individualism is redirected for the common purpose of decolonization.

As has been argued by reference to Fanon, the atomized individual produces a political impotence that serves to perpetuate dominant colonial power structures. The ineffectual individual response in turn induces a physically or psychologically aggressive demeanor in which the oppressed react with hostility to perceived threats. These perceived threats are often proximate threats such as rival community members. xxxvii As such, it seems that there are strong reasons for considering the atomized individual as an ideological apparatus .xxxviii

Connolly and Fanon provide the resources to reject the postulate of the atomized individual for its problematic ascriptions of responsibility and the pernicious influence it has on effective political mobilization and solidarity. One may be content concluding that the atomized individual is a relic. Contrary to this sanguine scene, prominent and oft-cited scholars retain axioms of the atomized individual in their thought. De Certeau and Althusser are two examples of this ongoing tendency, though they do not fully acknowledge it.

3. The Specter Returns: Latent Individualism in Althusser and De Certeau

Louis Althusser recognizes the role of the individual in Marxist thought. He construes individuals as “free-and-equal,” presenting market pressures and exploitation of labor as a consensual and mutually beneficial arrangement.xxxix Althusser’s insight is to recognize that ideological mechanisms play a predominant role in perpetuating the dominant modes of production. These mechanisms are not primarily overt expressions of power. As with Fanon, Althusser views moral and academic treatises skeptically as they serve to reinforce values that perpetuate current social and economic relations. Althusser writes, “[i]ndeed, we shall be showing that the vast majority of philosophies are forms of resignation or, to be more precise, forms of submission to the ‘ideas of the ruling class’ and thus to class rule.”xl Therefore the historical function of philosophy is as an ideological state apparatus (ISA), and it serves to passively reinforce prevailing social relations without direct use of force.xli The analysis of social institutions as ideological state apparatuses is extended to the family unit, church, and army.xlii Each is autonomous, yet they function to perpetuate the dominant mode of production via socialization. It is only in rare cases that the coercive powers of repressive apparatuses are necessary to shape public perceptions and activity. In most cases, the passive and multifarious mechanisms of ISAs are sufficient.

Despite remarks in the preface regarding the Marxist contention that capitalism differentiates and atomizes individuals, Althusser does not address this theme directly. He is content to think of individuals as such. One of his most well-known contributions provides evidence of Althusser’s retention of the atomized individual. The concept of interpellation denotes the relation that arises when a state or public entity acts upon subjects.xliii One’s status as a subject is established as a member of the state when a police officer exclaims “Hey you!” By recognizing this demand, I individuate myself as a subject, as subject to law, and subject to the concrete instantiation of power as represented by the officer. My identity is shaped in the context of this interaction, and others like it. Althusser writes, “We say that the category of the subject is constitutive of all ideology, but we also immediately add that the category of the subject is constitutive of every ideology only insofar as every ideology has the function (which defines it) of ‘constituting’ concrete subjects (such as you and me).”xliv Althusser contends that constructions of identities as individuals is constitutive of all ideology, all social order. Thus, while individual interpolation as subject may be a problematic imposition by the dominant order; it is not a unique fact. Every age and social order interpolates the preexisting individual. Yet, many social orders construe discrete humans as vessels towards the service of others or part of collectives (castes, families, tribes) first and foremost. xlv The individual as a basic unit is not as universal as Althusser suggests.

Althusser does not draw conclusions about the uniquely pernicious role of atomization in which individuals are interpolated as free subjects. He simply takes the fact of isolated individuals to be a given, and adds that social orders interpolate them. The pernicious value added by social orders is the various identities ascriptions (e.g., free-agent, serf, Christian, woman). He neglects the possibility of social orders in which subjects are not interpolated primarily as individuals. It seems that the individual as such remains a latent tabula rasa for Althusser. The individual is always present; it is just a matter of various identity structures being ascribed to the individual through interpolation. xlvi He does not recognize that there need not be a subject apart from identity ascriptions. Fanon, for example, envisions a revolutionary order in which subjects are foremost a part of communal emancipatory project. The revolutionarily mobilized natives view their activity as a collective action and demand. If a genuinely revolutionary movement obtains, conceiving of oneself as an individual revolutionary is beside the point. As with cohesive military units, the unit is itself the basic level of analysis. While this objection—that Althusser assumes a latent individual subject—may seem to be a minute matter, it has implications for the ways in which Althusser conceptualizes resistance to the dominant economic and social order.

Althusser contends that the party leaders, aware of the exploitation endemic to capitalism must be precisely one step ahead of the proletariat in their march towards separation from the capitalist state.xlvii Problematically, the means by which this ideological separation occurs is not made evident. Althusser seems to believe that simple recognition of exploitation will motivate action. This is a contentious proposition on two grounds. First, it is not clear that recognition of facts is motivationally potent at all.xlviii Without some further normative input, one can see proletariat labor conditions, or other descriptive conditions, and feel no motivation force. Second, and relatedly, the motivational force necessary for separation—for standing one step ahead of the masses—must either come from the agent alone or from the agent as they are influenced by prevailing ISAs.

There is strong reason to contend that the supposed vanguards ahead of the masses are iterations of ideology. The indoctrination of ISAs is constant and pervasive. The family unit, schools, and the media are all taken to be perpetuating the dominant ideology. As Althusser contends, political subjects cannot escape its influence as it occurs even in utero.xlix Thus, it is not clear how the leaders of the proletariat could be free from the influences of ISAs. Revolutionary ardor may be a means to allow the state to use direct repressive force on a particularly recalcitrant population, for example.l These leaders think they are acting in the interests of the workers of the world, but they just make resistances more evident and thus easier to suppress. Althusser seems to believe that party leaders for social reform and revolution are somehow capable of defying the influence of ISAs in a way that no one else is.

The alternative is that revolutionary ardor would be a product of the autonomous initiative of leaders. Despite the ubiquitous pressures that condition subjects, these few stand apart from and resistant to ISAs. These individuals recognize the descriptive facts about labor conditions, and generate their own moral sentiments that guide them towards revolution. Yet, given what Althusser said regarding the ubiquity of ISAs, why would such autonomous action be possible? A telling passage suggests Althusser’s view. Althusser writes, “I ask the pardon of those teachers who, in dreadful conditions, attempt to turn the few weapons they can and in the history and learning they ‘teach’ against the ideology, the system and the practices in which they are trapped. They are a kind of hero.”li This individual, the lone and brave teacher, is heroically capable of teaching against the ideology that they have been raised under and teach within. Their pedagogical methods and content are formed by ISAs (within public schools and education programs at a university), yet they can stand opposed to this influence. Althusser provides no explanation for this possibility. These individuals stand alone and apart from the tide of ISAs. The alternative explanation for the possibility of such heroic action by leaders of the proletariat and teachers is their autonomous agency. ISAs abound but these individuals are unaffected.

They are atomized individuals, capable of restructuring their interpellation by state apparatuses in ways contrary to the ends of those very apparatuses. These are figures that do not learn their moral code from their upbringing, but generate their own. Thus, in the final analysis it seems that the atomized individual remains in even radical Marxists such as Althusser. An analysis of De Certeau suggests that this finding is not anomalous; rather the atomized individual is still a central tenet of much critical thought.

The fundamental distinction in De Certeau’s work is between the strategic and tactical behavior. Strategies are force-relationships that can be demarcated institutionally and spatially.lii These spaces are circumscribed as “proper” and also include conceptual spaces. De Certeau provides the examples of a proprietor, city, and scientific institution as entities that enact strategies. liii Each can demarcate, spatially or conceptually, what is their domain and what is legitimate within that domain. Thus, the terms of relations within these spaces are circumscribed by the purveyors of the dominant strategy. On the other hand, tactics occur between or within the spaces circumscribed by strategies. Tactics lack a proper place, so instead they rely on fortuitous moments to seize opportunities. Everyday practices are often tactical as they operate within strategic spaces. The housewife who makes a decision about what to buy is engaged in a tactical exercise. Though the spaces of legitimate activity are largely circumscribed, individuals can operate within those spaces at their own discretion. De Certeau takes special interest in la perreques as examples of tactical maneuvering. While officially working within the strategic space of one’s employers, individuals tactically shirk by appropriating their time towards their own ends. The man who writes a love letter while on the job acts tactically in a strategic environment.liv

Despite this apparently individualistic conception of people as capable of freely and spontaneously taking back their time for their own ends, De Certeau contends that “the examination of such practices does not imply a return to individuality.” lv De Certeau does not intend to overturn conceptions of individuals as primarily a product of their contexts, rather than creators. Indeed, it is clear that De Certeau’s model suggests a serious delimitation and structuring of tactics. After all, purchases in the supermarket are considered cases of tactics; the range of “choice” is circumscribed to decisions between brands of cereal. Tactics are reduced to the activities in the bathroom of a train—we are free to engage in an array of irrationalities in this space.lvi Alternatively, consider the act of wandering in New York City. De Certeau takes this activity, as a creative activity that variously defines spaces, constitutes the city, and configures meanings.lvii As De Certeau states in his preface, “within a grid of socio-economic constraints, these pursuits unfailingly establish relational tactics (a struggle for life), artistic creations (an aesthetic), and autonomous initiatives (an ethic).”lviii

Given his own acknowledgements about the sociality of humans and the near ubiquity of strategies, De Certeau has placed a large burden of proof upon himself to show how daily practices are genuinely tactical insofar as they serve to defy strategies and afford opportunities for enjoyment and self-expression. Problematically, tactical behavior is only plausible if De Certeau denies a key psychological premise. Namely, the premise that political subjects are conditioned by social context precludes the possibility of autonomous activity within strategies. If the terms of justification, acceptable conduct, and physical spaces have all been delimited and preconfigured by strategies, it is not clear how one can act apart from these institutional configurations. A prisoner may enjoy the confines of their cell, and even find entertaining activities which use the narrow walls and bars, but this enjoyment does not suggest any important accomplishment unless one also believes they are psychologically free. If the prisoner is represented as enjoying their stay, this merely seems like a positive construal, or worse, as evidence of the prisoner’s indoctrination. A dilemma again emerges. Either political subjects are truly free to engage in tactical enjoyments or they are merely suffering from a sort of false consciousness in which they take choosing between brands or the prisoner’s freedom within his cell as important tactical achievements. lix The latter interpretation reduces De Certeau’s study to a treatise that serves to legitimate social and economic structures. If De Certeau is to be understood as a critical theorist, we must also recognize his belief that political subjects are somehow free to enjoy themselves despite the ubiquity of strategies. Thus, the study of everyday practices and the value placed in tactical defiance is predicated on the assumption that individuals are capable of defying strategic social configurations which exist in order to condition our responses. But this further premise regarding the free capacity for creative resistance is a latent and undefended postulate.

4. Resources of Resistance

The problem has been made plain: theorists of resistance posit the capacity for resistance as deriving from individual agents, ex nihilo. Such atomization has the pernicious effects of justifying individual blame ascription rather than confronting institutional evils and undermining collective action by isolating persons. But given their own claims regarding the importance and omnipresence of indoctrinating forces, the potential for individual resistance is not plausibly motivated. By reviewing Fanon, I hope to provide one suggestion for how the discourse on resistance can move forward without supposing free and atomized individualism. Consider the Lumpenproletariat. In Fanon’s work, these are not the workers who will achieve class-consciousness, but those members of the colonized who have not been enveloped by the institutions of colonization. Indigenous members of tribes are one example. Fanon writes of the Lumpenproletariat as “one of the most spontaneous and the most radically revolutionary of the colonized forces.”lx This is a result of the fact that these individuals have not been coopted into the dominant mode of production. Relying on the land and their own social institutions, these individuals do not suffer from the false-consciousness of individualism, and they are not reliant on selling their labor to others for subsistence. They have independent mythos, vocabulary, and oral tradition that conceptualize life and social space in ways that are largely untouched by the colonizers. The ISAs of the church and nuclear family have not fully captivated these cultures.

While one cannot reasonably hope to return to an Emersonian state apart from society, it is possible that consciously or unconsciously, political subjects have retained a vocabulary and ideological apparatuses that are not exclusively the productive of neoliberal forces. Alternatively, a theorist interested in resistance can seek out such resources as a basis for explaining the possibility of genuine resistance. While indigenous ways of life are fast disappearing, there are still alternative sources of socialization available to us or latent within us; socialization inherited through generations that continue to provide inklings of alternative conceptions of social and economic relations. Thus, resistance need not be an individual and spontaneous task of willing oneself to resist. Resistance can be situated in socially inherited or learned practices and historically grounded. While this suggestion is tentative, it provides a way for theorists to retain the centrality of the human as a socially influenced individual, while also arguing for the possibility of resistance.

5. Conclusion

It is useful to specify what has not been done. First, it has not been argued that there are no individuals. The thesis of this paper is not metaphysical, but political.lxi Rather, the contention is that fixating on the individual is morally and politically misguided. Further, this misdirection is perpetuated by influential critical theorists. As such, this project has been primarily interpretive. By identifying latent assumptions the discourse regarding figures such as Althusser and De Certeau can be fruitfully reassessed. Yet, the construct of individualism need not be abandoned.

Appeal to the individual is an irreducible feature of contemporary thought. Denying the centrality of the individual as the locus of decision-making is to deny what seems most evident in our lives: we make decisions. This phenomenological axiom cannot be easily dismissed. The important further step is to recognize that these decisions always arise in the context of prevailing social, psychological, biological, and physical facts. Thus, the dialectic move is to set-aside questions of blame. The important normative question is not, why would you do that? These questions can be readily answered by the special sciences. The important moral questions regard modes of life, models, and systems that foster certain tendencies rather than others. Thus, moral thinking should focus on the institutional and social level.

A further conclusion regards the faculties of the individual. If it is possible to resist systems of oppression, this must be defended by appeal to additional considerations. Maybe, as Fanon contends, there are pockets of resistance to be found in the rural peasantry that have not been subsumed under capitalist false consciousness. Alternatively, one may posit some basic human moral sentiments are tendencies that will lead to the rejection of oppressive hegemony.lxii The essential discursive advancement that must be made is that possibilities of resistance can only be substantiated in some existing, material grounds. This recognition serves to enhance theory construction for the numerous scholars interested in liberation, emancipation, and resistance. They must find the resources in prevailing facts. This need not require structural changes. The critical step is to argue for this position, rather than assume it. These findings are not restricted to the advancement of academic discourse.

The problem of responsibility suggests that blame ascriptions should be recast. Social contexts are a precondition for the emergence of all individual persons. At least, recognition of the problem of responsibility should lead to serious reconsideration of the motives that justify penal practices. Some (e.g., Igor Primoratz) contend that retributive justice is its own reward, but many believe that harsh punishments are important deterrents or protect the public.lxiii With these myths set aside, the collective desire to punish can be reassessed. Retributive punishments are propagated because individuals are deemed blameworthy.

A second finding is more clearly motivated by the preceding analysis. Political action is a social project. Fanon explained that colonists foment divisions (whether into atomized individuals or tribal units) in order to undermine effective political action. Appealing to heroic individuals for resistance relies on individuals to willfully upturn their life-world. Althusser and De Certeau leave hope for individual resistance, but they provide no clear reason for believing this individual resistance is possible. As such, scholars should be skeptical of individual tactical resistance. One clear target of this analysis is localized “political activity.” For example, “voting with your dollar” engages in activities that are constitutive of neo-liberal practices. Further, these choices are circumscribed in modes of production that negate all significant choice. The type of jeans that one buys does little to influence the means by which jeans are produced in a globalized economy. As such, historically and socially grounded forms of resistance should be developed.


i Descartes’ Meditations on First Philosophy isolates the individual and maintains that certain sorts of self-knowledge are infallible.

ii John Rawls,  A Theory of Justice (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2009).

iii Ibid., 42-44.

iv Robert Nozick’s Anarchy, State and Utopia is a case study in this line of political philosophy.

v Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan: with selected variants from the Latin edition of 1668, Editor Edwin Curley (New York: Hackett Publishing, 1994).

vi Jennifer B. Spiegel, "Masked Protest in the Age of Austerity: State Violence, Anonymous Bodies, and Resistance In the Red,” Critical Inquiry 41, no. 4 (2015): 791.

vii Judith Butler, Giving an Account of Oneself (New York: Fordham University Press, 2005); Simon Critchley, Infinitely Demanding: Ethics of Commitment, Politics of Resistance (London: Verso, 2012).

viii William E. Connolly, The Ethos of Pluralization (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1995).

ix Louis Althusser, "Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (Notes Towards an Investigation)," in The Anthropology of the State: A reader, Aradhana Sharma and Akhil Gupta, eds. (New York: Wiley-Blackwell, 2006), 86-111.

x It is interesting to note that Nietzsche both recognizes the atomized individual and that ascriptions of blame are generated from this conception of the individual. Two considerations can make sense of this. First, he locates responsibility to a free will, not just willing as such. If the strong are free to be weak, then they can be held accountable for choosing to impose their strength. Second, Nietzsche is dismissive of ascriptions of blame as symptomatic of slave morality. The weak and persecuted blame the strong simply to conquer or are conquered. Thus, he can consistently recognize both propositions as he views blame ascriptions as little more than evincing by the weak. He does not believe the indictments of slave morality hold any moral authority. Friedrich, Nietzsche,  On the Genealogy of Morals and Ecce Homo (New York: Vintage, 2010).

xi Indeed, incarceration rates are dramatically higher now than when Connolly wrote “Desire and Punish.”

xii Marc Mauer and Ryan S. King, Uneven Justice: State Rates of Incarceration by Race and Ethnicity (Washington, DC: Sentencing Project, 2007), x.

xiii Adam Liptak, "1 in 100 U.S. Adults Behind Bars, New Study Says," New York Times, February 28, 2008.

xiv Matthew R. Durose, Alexia D. Cooper, and Howard N. Snyder, "Recidivism of Prisoners Released in 30 States in 2005: Patterns from 2005 to 2010, "Washington, DC: Bureau of Justice Statistics (2014).

xv Bruce Western and Christopher Wildeman, "The Black Family and Mass Incarceration,"  The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 621, no. 1 (2009): 221-242.

xvi "Highest to Lowest - Prison Population Total," Highest to Lowest, 2014, Accessed July 31, 2015.

xvii Connolly, The Ethos of Pluralization, 39.

xviii Indeed, the entire school of Rational Choice Theory within criminology adheres to this premise. (See: Simpson, Sally, ed. Of crime and criminality: the use of theory in everyday life. Sage Publications, 2000).

xix Jon Hurdle and Sabrina Tavernise, "Former Judge Is on Trial in 'Cash for Kids’ Scheme," New York Times, February 8, 2011, Accessed July 31, 2015.

xx Connolly, The Ethos of Pluralization , 44.

xxi Ibid., 46.

xxii The ideology of atomized individualization has important ramification for the relationship between the privatization of prisoners and incarceration rates. Neo-liberal values seem to correspond with the individualized conceptions of the agent as rational and autonomous as well as the tendency to privatize public institutions.

xxiii Connolly’s conception of a model is not elucidated, yet it is clear that socio-cultural factors frame the ways in which we view our goals and human relations.

xxiv Hurdle and Tavernise, “Former Judge Is on Trial in ‘Cash for Kids’ Scheme,” 59.

xxv Frantz Fanon,  The Wretched of the Earth, Vol. 149 (New York: Grove Press, 1965).

xxvi Ibid., 44.

xxvii Ibid, 45.

xxviii Ibid., 48.

xxix This can be related back to the problem of responsibility as corrupt despots are blamed for their self-seeking ways. In attributing such blame, commentators fail to consider where the tendency to seek personal financial fortune was learned.

xxx Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, 40.

xxxi Ibid.

xxxii Ibid., 94.

xxxiii Ibid., 54.

xxxiv Ibid.

xxxv Three comments are in order. First, aggression displacement is a well-documented phenomenon, and has received ongoing empirical testing (See: Marcus-Newhall, Amy, William C. Pedersen, Mike Carlson, and Norman Miller. "Displaced aggression is alive and well: a meta-analytic review."  Journal of personality and social psychology 78, no. 4 (2000): 670). It is not merely a bygone Freudian postulate. Second, it is interesting to note that this displacement perpetuates the cycle of violence that Fanon describes. The next generation is raised in a context of violence, but now the perpetrators are their ostensive brethren. This serves to further bifurcate natives and undermine prospects of solidarity. Third, this genealogical account has interesting parallels with Nietzsche’s work.

xxxvi Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, 96.

xxxvii Indeed, this is a narrative that conforms to the North American experience of violence associated with ongoing decolonization and neocolonialism in urban areas.

xxxviii Louis Althusser employs the terminology of ideological state apparatus which will be addressed in the following section. Althusser, Louis.  On the reproduction of capitalism: Ideology and ideological state apparatuses. Verso Books, 2014.

xxxix Ibid., preface xxviii

xl Ibid., 192

xli Ibid., 192

xlii Ibid., 194

xliii Ibid., 241

xliv Ibid., 241

xlv Of course, the individual is also evident in manifestations of caste systems, human-chattel, diplomatic trading of children, etc.


xlvii Ibid., 179

xlviii Michael Smith contends that Hume first observed that facts alone are not motivationally efficacious. Michael Smith, “The Human Theory of Motivation,” Mind 96 (1987): 36-61.

xlix Ibid., 242

l Fanon recounts the fomentation of Disinherited Madagascans for just these sorts of ends. Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, 115.

li Althusser, Louis. "Ideology and ideological state apparatuses (notes towards an investigation)." The anthropology of the state: A reader (2006): 86-111. Pg 311

lii Michel De Certeau,  The Practice of Everyday Life: Living and Cooking, Vol. 2 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998.

liii Ibid., xix.

liv Ibid., xix.

lv Ibid., xi.

lvi Ibid., 111.

lvii Ibid., 111.

lviii Ibid,. ix.

lix Indeed, figures such as Althusser and Marx might wonder whether De Certeau is serving a priestly role by justifying dominant economic relations with emphasis on tactical “freedoms.”

lx Ibid., 129

lxi This is an adaptation of a Rawlsian phrase.

lxii Though one may have Foucauldian reasons for reticence here.

lxiii Igor Primoratz,  Justifying Legal Punishment (Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1989).