I mean not only the anarchism of the market, but the ideal of an individual uncontrolled by any constraints of state authority....Individualist anarchism had two faces. For the rich and powerful it represents the superiority of profit over law and state. Not just because law and the state can be bought, but because even when they can't, they have no moral legitimacy compared to selfishness and profit. For those who have neither wealth nor power, it represents independence, and the little man's right to make himself respected and show what he can do. I don't think it was an accident that the ideal-typical cowboy hero of the classic invented west was a loner, not beholden to anyone; nor, I think, that money was not important for him. As Tom Mix put it: "I ride into a place owning my own horse, saddle and bridle. It isn't my quarrel, but I get into trouble doing the right thing for somebody else. When it's all ironed out, I never get any money reward."
In a way the loner lent himself to imaginary self-identification just because he was a loner. To be Gary Cooper at high noon or Sam Spade, you just have to imagine you are one man, whereas to be Don Corleone or Rico, let alone Hitler, you have to imagine a collective of people who follow and obey you, which is less plausible.
I don't know when Hobsbawm wrote this, but I wonder what he, as a Marxist, would make out of the apparent decline in popularity of the lone hero in American pop culture. Back in the golden age of TV westerns, one of the most common formulas was to have the lone hero ride into a new community every episode, set some injustice right or simply help a worthy person, and move on. The formula fit other genres, too. In our generation you hardly see it. Ours is the era of "shipping," A show without ongoing relationships would almost literally be a show about noting for many modern viewers. Most of us are so thoroughly connected to friends and family by our cellphones and like devices that the lone-ness (rather than loneliness) of the oldschool hero is empathically incomprehensible. It's no longer an appealing fantasy -- and since Hobsbawm links the appeal of the loner hero to an anarchic streak that provided emotional support to capitalism, may we not link the declining appeal of the loner hero to the declining appeal of Republicanism -- as perceived by many Republicans -- among younger people. Thoughtful Republicans have tried to trace this to an image of bigotry that the more libertarian among them consider dispensable, but what if the problem is deeper and more than ideological. What if one of the major capitalist innovations of our time --the promotion of social networks through portable communications devices -- has gravely undermined the individualist mentality on which capitalism has long appeared to depend? We shouldn't try to exaggerate this point; social networks don't make socialists in most cases. But what they may do is make the insistent rhetoric of individualism espoused by Republicans and libertarians less relevant and compelling to people who prize their connectedness above all. So long as political individualists still think of individualism (not to mention Americanism) in cowboy loner terms, they may as well be speaking a foreign language to greater numbers every year. If they keep that up, maybe they'll follow their old heroes into the sunset.