Several articles in this special issue on Europeans’ values have foregrounded an important factor influencing their development: individualization, in the sense of the pursuit of autonomy and of the valuing of individual choices, which is to be distinguished from individualism, which refers, rather, to a withdrawal into oneself, as Pierre Bréchon reminds us here. How, then, has the individualization of European societies evolved in recent decades and what does this mean in terms of the more general development of values in Europe?
After reminding readers of the indicators from the Values survey that enable us to gauge this process of individualization, Bréchon stresses the geographical differences involved. While the countries of Northern Europe and France display a high level of individualization, those of Eastern and Southern Europe are below average in this regard, some of them standing out with a particularly low level (Poland, Romania, Turkey etc.). He shows the major role of the religious dimension in this geography of individualization, with the Protestant countries being the most individualized and those of Orthodox or Muslim religion having the lowest degree of individualization.
Lastly, Bréchon analyses the other socio-demographic variables (age, income, level of education etc.) linked to individualization and stresses the high correlation between individualization and sociability: the most individualized societies are also the most trusting and tolerant in most areas, the most altruistic and the most politically active. In fact, the observed advance in individualization of European societies is not at all synonymous with individualistic withdrawal, but actually goes together with a greater respect for others and the development of a “shared sociability”.
Following this article, Pierre Bréchon, who coordinated this special dossier on Europeans’ values, lists the major lessons to be learned (in particular, the strengthening of the values of individualization, in parallel with the persistence of firm social bonds and a growing demand for collective regulation), stresses the continuing existence of differences between geographical and cultural zones, and offers some possible future perspectives.