A surprisingly large part the history of ideologies is, in fact, about a†fight between the ideas that people do exist for the benefit of the societies or if societies do exist for the benefit of the people. There is a vast difference between these two conflicting ideas, but this extremely deep-seated conflict of ideas has been surprisingly little talked about lately.
It can be quite safely assumed that in societies like the ancient Egypt or Assyria the state came first. The inhabitants of these states were largely seen just as tools and resources of the state. In these societies, there was little room for individualism as we know it. This is true,†even if humans are†and always will be†individuals.

The base for modern individualism was laid out in Greece. Philosophers like Epicurus saw that the goal†in human life can also be to guarantee the maximum happiness of the individual members of the†society.
Of course, individualistic ideas have been floating in the minds of people as long as humanity has existed. However, in the Greece of antiquity these ideas were formulated and expressed for the first time as systematic ideas in the form of philosophy.

These ideas were not the ideas of majority even in individualistic Greece. The needs of the warring and struggling city-states normally overruled concern†for the well-being of the†individuals. However, Greece also saw the birth of an idea of a state where individual had no rights and the whole society was geared to maximize the well-being of the state.
This was place was naturally Sparta. It†has been†a†role model for†totalitarians ever since. This model contrasted in many ways with the individualism of Athens, even if also in Athens the needs of the state came first when going got tough.

Rome: Ruins of the Forum, Looking towards the Capitol (1742) by Canaletto. - Wikipedia

Rome was again a state that was geared to war and plunder, but there was a strong streak of individualism underneath. Greek ideas had a strong influence on Romans.
Also, the Greek individualism found a receptive audience there. These traditions naturally affected also the new Christian religion that emerged on the height of the Roman Empire.

Christianity is often falsely portrayed as the source of western individualism. This is grounded on the idea that this religion is in part based on the idea of an individual salvation. However, this idea did†soon become only window-dressing. It was used to hide the normal role of religion and most of all the religious organizations as tools of the state.
In reality, when individual Christian makes his individual decision†to†accept the Christian ideology, he automatically loses much of his ability to make individual decisions in †many facets of life. This happens, as the Christian religion is based on a total submission to all of the ideas that are included in this religion.

In reality, even the original "choice" of salvation is normally only an illusion. An overwhelming majority of Christians are taught the central ideas of this ideology even before they learn to read. In reality, they will never "choose" Christianity by themselves. This ideology†is forced on them by their family and society acting together.
Christianity is still able to feign individualism. This is because†most of†the original versions of Christianity really were individualistic ideologies that were often chosen to be followed by adult people.

However, the whole nature of the religion underwent an incredible transformation during the time this religion did become the state religion of the Imperial Rome in the fourth century. The religion of the slaves was transformed into a religion that also the slave-owners could well accept and adopt.
Christianity was, in fact, transformed into a tool of the Imperial Roman state. However, the original individualistic statements and ideas were not deleted, but they remained in the holy texts of the religion.

These ideas just had no effect on the practical policies of the religious organizations anymore that were forwarding this still quite new religion in the late Roman Empire. This dualism did make Christianity a perfect tool for all highly unjust and repressive medieval societies.
In theory, Christianity offered individualism. However, in practice it was a tool of the rulers and submission to this religion meant normally also total submission of the individual needs to the needs of the state.

During the rise of Renaissance, Age of Enlightenment and Reformation the old Greek individualistic ideas surfaced again. These ideas deeply changed the way how the eternal conflict between the state and the individual was seen. Most of all, the rise of modern humanism did bring about also the new rise of individualism.
However, a new enemy for western individualism also emerged in modern times with the rise of Communism. It did embrace the ideals of totalitarian Sparta and not of the individualistic Athens. At the same time the western, democratic socialism developed into opposite direction. Democratic, western socialism did later become a major opponent for the totalitarian communism.

In many modern†Western European†Christian Lutheran state†churches†the situation has been, however, even totally reversed during the last hundred years. The original individualistic message has been salvaged, and it has surfaced again. In fact, the needs of the all the time more secular states are not near to their hearts of†many Christians anymore.


Islam is a different story altogether in the story of an eternal battle between the needs of the individual and the state. In theory in Islam there is also the idea of individual choosing to be saved by this religion.

However, in practice the conversions to Islam are rare exceptions and the modern billion followers of this religion have been indoctrinated into accepting this religion in their early childhood. The name of the religion tells the real story; Islam means submission. The needs of religion and most of all the needs of the Islamic states do trump the needs of the individual on all imaginable levels.
The totalitarian nature of Islam made it a perfect tool for the medieval feudal rulers. This religion is still the best friend of all feudal rulers that still do exist in the lands with clear Islamic majority. Quite medieval feudal rule does still exist in the Islamic world, even if it has largely disappeared from the rest of the world.

Sadly, this religion has never undergone any kind of reformation. It was, after all, the Reformation†that†has made it possible in Christian world the advent of all new kind of humanistic and even individualistic Christianity.
In Islam, the effect of modern humanism is hardly discernible. This is true†even if†western†colonial masters did leave seed for it behind in some†Islamic countries.

Judaism has developed into a highly individualistic religion, even if it started out as an important tool of the rulers of Judea. The destruction of Jewish state and ensuing diaspora meant that Judaism was a religion of a (often oppressed) minority for nearly two millennia.
This odd little religion was perfected as a tool for maintaining a tight and strictly closed community of believers. However, the needs of state did play a smaller role than maybe any of the modern religions. This meant also that the individual has a lot of elbow-room, even if the needs of the Jewish community did always come first in Judaism.