Given the weight and universality of the task of spiritual self-education, it should not be difficult to see that each of us will, sooner or later, need assistance from the outside. We are responsible for ourselves first and foremost, but at some point, our blindness or weakness in the face of passions will stop us short, and without aid we will stall and regress.
To say it another way, the powers of the individual are primary in this process but never sufficient. “It is not good for man to be alone” because he cannot become all that he must be if left entirely to his own devices. He is fallen. His will tends toward weakness. This is the concept of concupiscence, without which no adequate social teaching, no valid anthropology, can be developed. Without the notion of concupiscence society will tend toward a fantastical overestimation of the powers of the individual.
In view of the weakness of the individual will, especially in the early years of childhood development, it is impossible to imagine anyone making great moral progress in complete isolation. We do not civilize ourselves, rather we participate in our own civilization.
Only a very naïve anthropology, such as that of Rousseau, could teach that individual effort can suffice and that it is never necessary to subject a will to pressures of inducement originating in other wills.
Again, we need only refer to the state of childhood to see that external assistance is not simply an exception but is in fact the rule for human moral development, and that the task becomes predominantly ‘individual’ only very late in the game. We might say that moral education is only individualistic after graduation and therefore after all the groundwork has already been laid and the structure mostly in place. And it never becomes purely and individual affair. People continuously educate one another, with or without knowing it, with or without the consent of either the educated or the educator.
Who would deny that a child lacks the fundamental skill of self-restraint? In the interest of individualism, should this child be left to his own devices? This would be the abolition of parenthood.
The same holds true for persons of any age, especially in cases of demonstrated weakness of character, when his or her actions beg for assistance. Who would argue that the drug addict ought not to experience any negative pressures from without, or that a person who cannot keep from stealing should not have to live in fear of punishment, when this punishment is in place for their own benefit (among other reasons), to help them build up the power of self-restraint, which is the only thing that can save them from themselves in the long run?
The lives of many people cry out for aid, and the crime of naïve and individualistic moral theories is that in practice they produce heartlessness, condemning each to his own weakness. Who would not reach out and seize the hand of a person in despair who was about to swallow poison or throw themselves in front of traffic? We do not even need to address the risks faced by the intervening person, even though they are real, since the philosophy we oppose does not hate intervention on grounds that it is risky but because it is unjust, suggesting that such persons ought to be left alone to fight their own battles, regardless of how clearly and decisively they have been defeated!
The fact is that most people, in some way, shape, or form, are not up to the task of self-inducement in the total absence of supportive external inducement. At that point—when my own powers fail or my blindness intervenes—the only hope for progress in moral development is to subject ourselves to pressures originating in others, both in the extreme and in daily routine, via social norms and legal prohibitions.