Table of Contents

  • Introduction: The Importance of Individualism in a Collectivist World
  • Challenges and Criticisms of Individualism in Society
  • How to Respond to Critiques and Criticisms of Individualism
    • Individualism Cannot Stand Alone
  • Debunking the Collectivist Narrative Against Individualism
    • Challenge the power structures they find themselves in
    • Find meaning outside of the collective
  • Why Attacks on Personal Freedom and Individualism Fail
  • Conclusion: Upholding Individualism for Personal Freedom
  • Actionables
    • Reading List

Introduction: The Importance of Individualism in a Collectivist World

“All rational action is in the first place individual action. Only the individual thinks. Only the individual reasons. Only the individual acts.” – Ludwig von Mises

Individualism is a social theory that places the individual’s rights, needs, and aspirations above those of the collective or the state. Politically, individualism finds its voice in movements like libertarianism and anarcho-capitalism, championing personal freedom and individual rights.

The philosophy of individualism emphasizes personal responsibility and the pursuit of virtue. Through virtue, you gain power as you learn to control yourself and your urges.

Despite its positives, individualism is constantly attacked across various political and social spectrums.

Today, I want to explore why various groups and institutions attack individualism. We start by outlining the realities and motivations behind these attacks. Next, I cover how to navigate good and bad faith critiques of individualism. Lastly, I challenge the collectivist narratives against individualism and how such critiques always fail, regardless of the critics’ good or bad intentions.

Defending Individualism: Challenges and Criticisms of Individualism in Society

become an individual | hand reaching to the sun

The individual has to fight to remain independent, virtuous, noble, and sane. The world pressures the individual to be lost and broken like everyone else.

Individualism frees the individual from the vices and wrongdoings of others. When the individual is virtuous, capable, and values himself, he does not have to abide by the mandates and dysfunctions of those around him. Personal freedom is why individualism will always be attacked.

Every collective, from churches to the government, no matter how noble or demonic, will despise a free and responsible individual. When a man can adequately judge for himself what is just and has the virtue to support his conclusions, institutions and collectives are rarely amused. Instead of listening to valid concerns or criticism from strong individuals, the collective usually attacks the individual and individualism to force silence and compliance.

Individualism does not promote mayhem, hedonism, or nihilism. When a responsible man highlights the government overspends or the actions of the clergy are not just, he seeks consistency in virtue. He wishes for his institution to benefit everyone instead of the vices of the weak individuals within the collective. However, weak individuals are not interested in moral clarity or consistency. Such clarity undermines their comforts, and we simply cannot have that.

We’ve explored why people attack individualism. Let’s investigate how people attack individualism.

How to Respond to Critiques and Criticisms of Individualism

As I have covered before, legitimate and illegitimate critiques of individualism exist. Illegitimate criticism aims to transfer wealth from responsible individuals to weak individuals. Legitimate critiques highlight the pitfalls of individualism, such as arrogance, nihilism, and hedonism.

The main point of critique against individualism is “greed.” The individualist will be described as selfish, self-centered, and niggardly. For example, a man who is economically literate and doesn’t want his resources spent on welfare programs is “selfish” even if such programs are abused and inefficient. Or, a woman who wants better behavior from her family, behavior she expects of everyone who interacts with her, is “unreasonable,” but the family’s abusive behavior is not.

All collectivist attacks against individualism sprout from this common idea: the desire to own and maintain one’s earned resources is evil. Even good-faith critiques rely heavily on this principle without describing why protecting your resources is bad.

Of course, the “selfish” label applies to individuals but not groups. The family is not unreasonable when verbally abusing its concerned family member. The government is not selfish when it takes resources from good people. To the collectivists, the collective cannot possess the evils a strong individual can.

Whenever you see critiques of individualism, simply acknowledge how these critiques will apply to the institutions or collectivists making the critique. Once you see the hypocrisy, you can comfortably ignore most of what you hear.

Individualism Cannot Stand Alone

However, honest criticism of individualism does reveal the pitfalls of our philosophy.

Individualism cannot stand alone. Individualism not rooted in some form of community or external responsibility easily lends itself to arrogance. Individuals who do not practice long-term thinking and self-control will wallow in hedonism. Individuals without spirituality and immaterial values will settle for nihilism.

The philosophy of individualism, like any man-made thing, is not perfect. However, it is a crucial cornerstone of any moral philosophy that wishes to maximize human flourishing, sanity, and meaning. Therefore, any shortcomings of individualism can be countered with the most significant argument for individualism: yourself. The individual and his ability to overcome his vices, pursue his virtuous ends, and attain happiness, prove the power of this philosophy. The more you focus on bettering yourself, the stronger the argument for individualism becomes.

Let’s take a moment to explore the criticisms of individualism deeply, why they naturally fail, and the purpose behind the attacks.

Debunking the Collectivist Narrative Against Individualism

“The smallest minority on earth is the individual. Those who deny individual rights cannot claim to be defenders of minorities.” – Ayn Rand

The primary reason individualism is attacked is that a strong, capable individual who has developed worth and understands that worth can do two things:

  1. Challenge the power structures they find themselves in. This challenge appears in many ways, whether physically distancing oneself or financially opting out of a corrupt system. For example, if you find your family abusive, you can leave the family if your virtuous actions and habits have given you the ability to save the resources necessary to go. Your family could keep you if they pursued virtue themselves. But if they choose not to, they can’t force you to stay because you are a strong enough individual.
  2. Find meaning outside of the collective. For example, people who prioritize blackness have no real sway over me. I don’t care for their opinion. Their emotional manipulations do not work because I bond with people of similar values, not skin color. Thus, my labor, productivity, and character are not theirs to control. I’m not a puppet for their agenda or values. My freedom creates bitterness in race hustlers. Thus, they attack my “perceived” independence and insult me because I have found value outside them.

The group threatens you with loneliness and abandonment if you don’t fall in line. Or, they may insult your ability to undermine what you can achieve. They may also accuse you of being selfish and shame you into falling in line. Very rarely will they argue your actions are not virtuous or are weakening yourself and abusing others. They never mention loyalty in the true sense or point to their noble behavior as something you should aspire to.

In various ways, critiques of individualism are often indirect and subtle but seek to accomplish the same goal: sever you from your best self and push you back into the collective.

Why Attacks on Personal Freedom and Individualism Fail

busy | many people walking on a street

This is your life. Do not lose it in the madness of the collectivists.

Collectivists’ attacks against individualism fail because they deny the fundamental reality you own yourself. You are the driving factor behind your successes and failures. You make the conscious decision to live life the way you want.

Most things, from your weight to your job, are entirely within your control. Because of this, appealing primarily to the collective and undermining the individual’s confidence and ability in himself is contrary to reality.

Conclusion: Upholding Individualism for Personal Freedom

“The greatest thing in the world is to know how to belong to oneself.” – Michel de Montaigne

“Collectivism,” as I’m describing, is the subjugation of individuals to the whims of the masses and institutions. Individualism is never at odds with people coming together voluntarily to achieve a common, virtuous goal. The group must elevate the individual, and the individual must elevate the group.

Many collectives, such as families and churches, can help improve the individual. Unfortunately, the collective will always attack individualism. There is more money and power in attacking the individual than in fixing institutions and strengthening weak people. As long as a man can stand on two feet, collectivists will always eagerly knock him down.

But don’t let this reality embitter you. Wherever you can, supplement your individualism with similar philosophies or religions, such as Stoicism or Catholicism. These ideas can enrich your individualism while preventing your decline into arrogance, hedonism, and nihilism.

Individualism is about responsibility, virtue, and competence. As you grow as an individualist, you will become a better person. Such improvement will allow you to live an extraordinary life where you achieve your virtuous ends and help others do the same.

Do not let the noise of the world discourage you. Become an Individual and improve yourself for the better.

Actionables

  1. Individualism: What are your thoughts about individualism? What was your first exposure to it? Has your views of it changed after reading this blog? Do you consider yourself an individualist or not? Why?
  2. Attacks On Individualism: Within your life, where have you seen and experienced attacks on individualism? What was the critic trying to prove? What were their motives? How did such critiques influence your mindset on individualism?
  3. Self-Assessment of Values: Take a moment to list your top five personal values. How do these values align with individualistic principles? Are there conflicts with collectivist expectations in your community or workplace?
  4. Daily Decisions: Reflect on a recent decision you made primarily for personal benefit. Did this decision conflict with group norms or expectations? How did you handle any ensuing tension?
  5. Influence and Independence: Identify a situation where peer or societal pressure influenced your decision. How could an individualistic approach have altered the outcome? Would this change have been more aligned with your personal goals and values?
  6. Setting Personal Goals: Three goals focus solely on your development and fulfillment (e.g., learning a new skill, improving physical health, or investing in a hobby). Plan actionable steps to achieve these goals independently of external opinions or pressures.
  7. Boundary Setting: Practice setting and maintaining boundaries that protect your space and time. This could be as simple as saying “no” to additional responsibilities that don’t align with your priorities or goals.
  8. Critical Consumption: Whenever you consume media or engage in discussions, critically analyze the information and arguments presented, especially regarding individual vs. collective benefits. Write a brief reflection on how your individualistic viewpoint affects your perception of the issue.
  9. Volunteering Choices: Choose a volunteer activity that resonates with your values, not just one popular or expected within your social circle. Reflect on how this choice benefits you personally as well as the community.
  10. Dialogue with Diverse Perspectives: Initiate conversations with individuals with different views about individualism and collectivism. Aim to understand their perspectives without trying to change them, and reflect on what insights you can gain about your beliefs.
  11. Career Path Reflection: Consider your current career or future career aspirations. How well do they align with your values and the concept of individualism? If necessary, Plan steps to align your career with these ideals.
  12. Financial Independence: Create a plan for financial independence, a significant aspect of individualism. This could involve setting up a savings plan, investing, or starting a side project that could become a source of income.

Reading List

  1. “Atlas Shrugged” by Ayn Rand – This novel is one of Rand’s masterpieces, offering a narrative that explores the consequences of societal collapse driven by the government’s overreach into individual achievements. The book is a cornerstone of Objectivist philosophy, which emphasizes rational self-interest and the moral purpose of one’s life.
  2. “The Fountainhead” by Ayn Rand – Another significant novel by Rand, it focuses on an individualistic young architect who chooses to struggle in obscurity rather than compromise his artistic and personal vision, making a strong case for individual creativity against societal pressures.
  3. “Human Action” by Ludwig von Mises – This book is a comprehensive treatise on economics from a libertarian standpoint, discussing how individual choices, driven by personal desires and rational planning, govern economic activity.
  4. “The Road to Serfdom” by Friedrich Hayek – Hayek argues against the dangers of governmental control over economic decisions, warning that such central planning leads inevitably to tyranny. It’s a critical read for understanding the impact of collectivism on individual freedoms.
  5. “Anarchy, State, and Utopia” by Robert Nozick – A seminal work in political philosophy, Nozick’s book defends the minimal state and individual rights against more extensive state roles. It’s particularly influential in libertarian circles.
  6. “The Virtue of Selfishness” by Ayn Rand – This collection of essays extends Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism, elaborating on why rational self-interest is a moral imperative and how it relates to individual rights.
  7. “Capitalism and Freedom” by Milton Friedman – Friedman discusses the intrinsic link between economic freedom and political freedom, emphasizing the role of capitalist economics in preserving individual liberties.
  8. “Democracy: The God That Failed” by Hans-Hermann Hoppe – In this book, Hoppe critiques democracy from a libertarian perspective and discusses the potential of a society structured around natural order and individualism.

Please remember 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.

Refer to the linked articles and studies throughout this post for detailed evidence and case studies supporting these views.

*Image credit to Unsplash.