In the American model at least, rugged individualism is not about autonomy as such but your freedom to decide for yourself to which communities you will belong. Historically, religious affiliation, trade or profession, etc., were in greater or lesser measure determined for you by circumstances. The classic example is religion. At the time of the American founding, religious membership in Europe was largely determined by the State. In the newly independent US, on the other hand, one could join a church, or not, as one saw fit.
In any case, if the different communities (religious or secular) are being crowed out of the Public Square, you might (in the short term anyway) be wealthier and have better health care. But what you don’t have, or in any case have less of, is the kind of social capital generated by robust volunteer associates. The simple reason for this is that these groups either don’t exist or, as is the case in Sweden, “are seen as dispensable in a country where individuals interact directly and regularly with a benign state. ”
In Sweden, individuality springs from the state. Without it, emancipation is not possible. Equality and freedom of choice is in itself made possible by a form of social engineering that the authors describe as “statist individualism,” under which high levels of state support serve to enhance, rather than challenge, citizens’ personal autonomy. More broadly, this typically Swedish approach to policy, informed in equal measure by optimism and paternalism, is animated by an institutionalized sense of national confidence in experts who use scientific methodology to improve society from one generation to the next. The overall effect of these ideas has been a weakening of many of the institutions that once mediated relations between state and citizen—including churches, charities and even families—since they are seen as dispensable in a country where individuals interact directly and regularly with a benign state.