An unfinished blog post with a list of books worth reading:
The battle lines between individualism and collectivism were thus already drawn in the 1880s and the individualists had already lost, at least the intellectual battle if not the political/legal one. Note that the Republicans were already joining Democrats to destroy capitalism. How far back do I have to go to find someone who defends the Constitution and capitalism? The next stop for me was The Inner Civil War: Northern Intellectuals and the Crisis of the Union (H/T Chip Joyce through HBL). Enlightenment individualism and a respect for the rights of man played a large role in the early emancipation movement and civil war, but the entire enterprise was co-opted by nationalists, neo-aristocrats and other collectivists by the end. Much of them sounded like our neo-cons: war builds character, sacrifice, good of the nation, etc. By the end no one was discussing the rights of individual blacks. Of course the more individualistic, states-rights founders were significantly eclipsed (Jefferson especially).
The transcendentalists (Emerson, Thoreau, Whitman) abandoned their “individualism” and embraced nationalism by the end of the war. This is perhaps not surprising because their individualism was more Kantian than Lockean, i.e. more mystical than empirical. They believed in some kind of otherworldly oversoul that we’re mere shadows of. Emotions are the key to insight. Very platonic. They got their German philosophy from Carlyle’s translations of Kant. All of which means that by the early 19th century the enlightenment, rational defense of individualism and individual rights had already lost in intellectual circles.