Placing personalism

According to personalism humans are relational, dignified, and engaged beings. The dignified and engaged human person comes into existence through relationships with others.

Personalism is thus on the one hand opposed to individualism which sees persons as independent from fellow humans – and on the other hand to collectivism which sees persons as subjected to society or community.

Personalism emphasizes the individual’s freedom and responsibility for his or her own life while simultaneously stressing how humans can practice this responsibility only in relation to others. Conversely, community may never take precedence over the individual.

Personalism is also opposed to a materialist anthropology, which claims that humans are reducible to something biological. Personalism holds that humans are spirit as well – not necessarily spirit in a religious sense, but as that which elevates humanity above nature (in the same sense that there used to be in some European languages a distinction between the natural sciences and the sciences of “spirit,” which were concerned with “higher things” or with “high culture,” conveying the notion that there is a something more to human existence, something accessible to the human intellect.)

Personalism opposed to individualism

Individualism and personalism agree on the inviolability of the human person. However, individualism, according to personalism, underestimates the relational character of humans. In personalist terms, human freedom does not consist in being free from others, but rather in freedom through others. Humans are set free in our obligation and service towards others.

According to personalism, individualism becomes tyrannical as its premises are those of the strongest.

Individualism, in organizing itself and society, proceeds from an attitude of isolation and defense, whereas society should, according to personalism, be organized from an open perspective, proceeding from free communities.

Personalism as opposed to existentialism

Existentialism views the surrounding world as meaningless and hostile, whereas personalism sees the world as fundamentally meaningful. The world and other humans become hostile and meaningless only if one takes away engagement and relationships.

Whereas for existentialism “the Other” is an enemy, something that hardens, objectifies, and takes possession, personalism sees other humans as friends, allies whose relational role sublimates and realizes the human person and creates communities.

For existentialism, the goal and the norm is freedom. For personalism, it is the good of individual, community, and society alike.

Personalism in opposition to marxism

Human alienation does not, as claimed by Marxism, occur in relation to an object, but rather a subject. Humans are not alienated from material production, but from human relationships and human community.

According to personalism, humans are spiritual creatures. Religion may therefore be the free breath of humanity and thus not necessarily a sedative opiate.

Any determinist theory of humanity, evolution, or history belittles the uniqueness and free, creative will of the person and the dynamics of community; the person can never be totalized according to any category.

Centralization alienates the citizen and robs persons and their communities of initiative, engagement, and responsibility. Power corrupts, and institutions are subject to the law of entropy. The state must therefore perpetually be minimized and only manage what cannot be managed at a lower level: The structures of society are to be subsidized down to the individual.