Today, I explore how well-intentioned people critique individualism through strawmen.

Table of Contents

  • What Is Individualism?
  • Why Do People Criticize Individualism?
    • What Is The Adjective Game?
  • What Do You Do When People Play The Adjective Game?
    • 1) Recognize what’s happening
    • 2) Reject the premise, stick to the principles
    • 3) Continue to pursue virtue
  • Always Defend Individualism
  • Actionables

What Is Individualism?

The word “We” is as lime poured over men, which sets and hardens to stone, and crushes all beneath it, and that which is white and that which is black are lost equally in the grey of it. It is the word by which the depraved steal the virtue of the good, by which the weak steal the might of the strong, by which the fools steal the wisdom of the sages.” – Ayn Rand

Individualism is a social theory that values the individual above the needs, wants, and desires of the collective and the state. Politically, it is expressed through libertarianism, minarchism, and anarcho-capitalism. Economically, it is expressed through capitalism.

Individualism is a personal philosophy about self-improvement through the rigorous pursuit of virtue. The uncompromising pursuit of virtue helps individuals improve their lives by overcoming their vices, helping their community, and accomplishing their goals.

We cannot have a beautiful forest with dead trees. If individuals are not competent, emotionally mature, physically capable, mentally sound, and virtuous, then you cannot have a society that possesses these positives.

Thus, all conversations about improving personal lives or society must be rooted in uplifting the individual.

Why Do People Criticize Individualism?

individualism happiness | man smiling

Individualism promotes stability, personal responsibility, universal ethics, and virtuous goals.

When looking at the criticism of individualism, we have to sort into two camps: the well-intentioned and the evil.

Well-intentioned critiques of individualism focus on the excessive aspects of self-ownership. When the individual is the focus, he can become arrogant. Once he becomes arrogant, he can see himself as the judge of reality. Anything he does is a moral good simply because he does it.

Of course, individualists and many other similar philosophies like objectivism and libertarianism account for these flaws. Such pitfalls are not ignored, and I have discussed them extensively. That being said, arrogance is infinitely less damaging to a society than collective greed, rioting, and government violence. All these things are aspects of collectivism and are not justified or supported by individualist thought.

However, most critics of individualism are evil. They hate that individuals can say “no” to the mob’s demands, the elites’ manipulations, and the state’s edicts. Additionally, such critics do not like the emphasis on self-ownership, personal responsibility, virtue, ethics, etc. They do not want to support a philosophy that rewards virtue and punishes vice.

Lastly, evil critics of individualism want people to depend on a centralized authority. Dependent people do what they’re told and accept abuse when it arises. They are more willing to be exploited and rarely offer a challenge against the ruling classes, mobs, and elites.

What Is The Adjective Game?

This post’s core idea is the “adjective game.” Most people, when criticizing individualism, cannot attack the philosophy directly; they always have to add an adjective. For example, “rugged” individualism, “liberal” individualism, “expressive” individualism, and so forth.

People do this because individualism itself, as it stands, is hard to refute. You do own yourself. You are the primary driver for your actions. We all respect and love private property (when it’s our property). Historically and traditionally, all societies that have embraced individualism achieve the highest standards of living and social peace.

Conversely, when we criticize individualism by denying the dignity and responsibility of each individual, all we can produce is a pile of dead bodies. When individuality is truly rejected, chaos reigns because if an individual is not responsible for his actions, then no one is.

Thus, we have to add adjectives when criticizing individualism. This allows the well-intentioned critics to avoid discussing a philosophy they can’t refute. And this allows evil people to play the coward and engage in a strawman, making thinking much more manageable.

What Do You Do When People Play The Adjective Game?

So we know that individualism is a moral good. We understand why people play the adjective game. But what should you do when encountering it? I suggest following three rules:

  1. Recognize what’s happening
  2. Reject the premise, stick to the principles
  3. Continue to pursue virtue

1) Recognize what’s happening

protest | against self-ownership

People don’t like self-ownership. We have to accept this reality and plan accordingly.

Always acknowledge what’s happening: people are making strawmen to attack individualism. If they wanted to critique individualism, they would call it individualism. You’ll never see me put an adjective in front of collectivism. I am critiquing the philosophy directly, not indirectly.

The adjectives let you know you are heading down an improper path. Understanding this reality gives you better focus when approaching the next two steps.

2) Reject the premise, stick to the principles

The reason I took time to separate critics of individualism is to inform your approach.

The well-intentioned critic needs reminding of his strawmen. Refocus him back to the principles of individualism: virtue, personal responsibility, and self-ownership. Have him tell you how these principles are net negatives for anyone, let alone society.

The collectivist’s arguments need to be rejected. Insult him, belittle his collectivist values, and move on. These people support ideas like racism (usually against the “privileged” groups), communism, big government, socialism, and every other collective -ism we all suffer through. Such a person is attacking individualism because you own yourself, and they can’t make you do what they please. Treat them as the enemy they are.

3) Continue to pursue virtue

The results speak for themselves.

I am a successful businessman with healthy children and a blissful marriage. I do not yell at or hit my children; despite my work, I have the time management skills to spend hours with them. I’m in great shape and know a substantive list of skills. I’m disciplined, charitable, and humble. I have rational pride.

These are all the results of my following the principles I outlined in individualism.

Am I perfect? No, I cannot achieve that. Have I done it all on my own? Absolutely not; many virtuous people have helped me. Do I believe I have all the answers? I never claimed to and have frequently pointed my readers to other resources.

But my life proves the power of self-ownership and shows that despite the adjectives others try to assign, it is a philosophy of community, virtue, and right living.

Always Defend Individualism

celebrate yourself

You own yourself. Nothing can remove that reality.

Individualism has to be attacked. I understand why: the idea that you own yourself and are responsible for your life is a terrifying reality.

But we must not run away from reality. Individualism is true; no amount of straw manning will change this.


“There can be no socialism without a state, and as long as there is a state there is socialism. The state, then, is the very institution that puts socialism into action; and as socialism rests on aggressive violence directed against innocent victims, aggressive violence is the nature of any state.” – Hans-Hermann Hoppe

  1. What is individualism to you? How was your opinion formed?
  2. What is one thing you can improve right now? What would happen if you made that improvement? What steps need to be made to fulfill this desire?
  3. Who are individualists that you know? What are they like? What do you like/dislike about them? How can you adapt what you like and reject what you don’t?

Please remember that it’s important to do the actionables. You’re not on this earth to simply read but to do. To become an individual, you must act more than you consume.

*Image credit to Unsplash.