Goal: The Importance of Individualism
Our world is obsessed with collective guilt and externalizing responsibility. In such a culture of hedonism, collectivism, and nihilism, the philosophy of individualism emerges as a vital counterpoint, championing the autonomy and value of the individual.
At its core, 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.
Beyond these political frameworks, individualism is deeply personal, advocating for self-improvement and individual responsibility. Self-ownership is about fostering self-improvement, advocating for personal responsibility, and pursuing virtue in our lives.
Today, we delve into the core principles of individualism, exploring its foundational tenets to understanding this philosophy. These tenets are not exhaustive but help form our philosophy’s axiomatic truths. By exploring these tenets, we will unravel how individualism serves as a moral compass and a practical guide for personal development and societal contribution.
Table of Contents
- The Five Tenets of Individualism
- 1) Self-Ownership and Responsibility
- 2) The Role of Physical Fitness
- 3) The importance of the Individual Over the Collective
- 4) The Pursuit of Virtue Against Hedonism and Nihilism: Rejecting Comfort and Hopelessness
- An Example Of Virtue Ethics
- 5) Defining and Achieving One’s Virtuous Self
- Ensuring Desires Align With Your Idealized Self
- 6) The Universal Appeal of Individualism
- Personal Reflection and Conclusion On The Tents of Individualism
- Actionables: Embodying The Tenets
- Reading List
The Five Tenets of Individualism
Having established the foundational principles of individualism, let’s begin with its first tenet: self-ownership and responsibility. This concept is the cornerstone of understanding how individual actions and decisions shape our lives.
1) Self-Ownership and Responsibility
“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
In the realm of self-ownership and responsibility, the individual is the master of his destiny, embodying the essence of individualism. You are responsible for your successes, failures, and vices. You are the one who determines what you do, where you go, and what you accomplish.
Collectivists believe passionately in externalizing responsibility. However, such a belief is impossible. Only the individual acts and thinks. There is no such thing as a collective brain.
For example, no one can learn how to be an electrician for you. An electrician can serve you, but to gain knowledge of electrical work, you have to sit, focus, and learn. For an action to mean something to the individual, it must be performed by the individual. Actions done externally for the individual are not his. Only he can learn his lessons, grow his muscles, fulfill his goals, and prove the worth of his life.
The reality of self-ownership, as no one has more power over you than yourself, is the most essential tenet of individualism.
Building on the idea of self-ownership, the next tenet explores another crucial aspect of individualism: the role of physical fitness. Just as we are responsible for our actions, we also bear the responsibility for our physical well-being, which is integral to our overall development.
2) The Role of Physical Fitness
Emphasizing the role of physical fitness in individualism, it becomes clear that maintaining health is crucial not just physically but also for personal and intellectual development.
We are physical beings. Our physical fitness: what we eat, how often we exercise, and how well we sleep are crucial to our development. If we eat poorly, our mind has terrible nutrients to feed on. If we don’t sleep, our intellectual abilities are stunted by fatigue. If we don’t exercise, we can’t develop the confidence our spiritual nature needs to take on a vice-ridden world.
Furthermore, physical fitness is a clear sign of your virtue. Exercise requires discipline, self-respect, focus, and determination. These are all elements an individual needs to pursue their best self.
Ignoring physical fitness is a fool’s game. The collectivist, the lover of ugliness and weakness, typically hates physical health and wellness. He prefers being lazy and ungrateful, as these traits require no effort and feel suitable to his hedonistic desires.
Having discussed the importance of physical fitness to personal development, it’s important to consider how individualism positions the individual in relation to the collective. This brings us to the third tenet, which emphasizes the supremacy of individual desires and values over collective demands.
3) The importance of the Individual Over the Collective
“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to reform (or pause and reflect).” – Mark Twain
This brings us to a pivotal aspect of individualism vs collectivism: the individual’s desires and values hold greater importance than the collective’s.
Firstly, the collective cannot exist without the individual. Because the individual creates the collective he resides in, he has more value and sway than the blob he is forced into. But most importantly, only the individual can act and think. The mob is simply individuals acting in one way. The collective is not a new, unique organism separate from its individuals. This means the collective inhabits no new moral category that allows it to supersede the moral responsibility of the individuals within it.
Secondly, a collective cannot be healthy if the individuals are unhealthy. We cannot have a beautiful forest with dead trees. A collective cannot be happy or function properly if the individuals within are unhealthy. You cannot approach individual concerns with collective solutions. Thus, the individual is, once again, more important.
Lastly, morality is not decided by numbers. Evil does not become good because the mob demands social change. Slavery is not moral because of the popular vote. Theft is not just because the majority demands it. If we leave things to the collective, we have mob rule where the many can abuse the few.
Because the collective is dependent on the individual and its desires are only made from the individual desires of its members, a clear tenet of individualism is that the collective does not hold moral authority over the individual.
Recognizing the individual’s importance leads us naturally to the fourth tenet: the pursuit of virtue. This aspect of individualism challenges us to rise above hedonism and nihilism, advocating for a life of moral excellence and purpose.
4) The Pursuit of Virtue Against Hedonism and Nihilism: rejecting comfort and hopelessness
Virtue directs you toward the challenges that build your future. For example, frugality is the virtue of wise spending. As you age, you will benefit from increased wealth if you save your money, spend it well, and invest appropriately. Your family and community will also benefit from your financial control. You also benefit by having excess resources as you pursue your goals or enjoy your relaxing time.
Without the virtue of frugality, we are more likely to spend money on frivolous things, use our resources for shallow entertainment, and distract ourselves with pleasure.
Therefore, we fall into nihilism or hedonism when we lack virtue or a personification of the good in the form of God. Nihilism is the premise that life has no purpose. Hedonism is the desire to “enjoy” life through pleasure and consumerism.
Both are equally dangerous because overindulgence and hopelessness rob the individual of focus and resources. If you think life has no meaning or believe pleasure is the only meaning, you lose your rationale for suffering through hardships for your virtuous ends.
Life inevitably has suffering. Virtue gives that suffering purpose by recontextualizing what you are experiencing.
An Example Of Virtue Ethics
Let’s take frugality again. You are frugal with your resources because it is the good thing to do. How do you know it’s good? Because it challenges your desire to spend with reckless abandon. It is comforting to spend wildly without worrying about the consequences. But virtue is about moving past your comforts to serve higher purposes.
What are the higher purposes? Your future self, community, and family. People around you benefit from you not spending money wildly because you have the resources to help them when they need it. With more resources saved up, you also have the capital to move forward with your dreams and build the future you may want for yourself.
Yes, you suffer when you can’t spend poorly, but your suffering has a purpose. This purpose is rooted in virtue ethics. And that purpose serves your virtuous ends.
With hedonism, you’d spend money whenever you wanted to. With nihilism, you’d see no point in saving because life has no meaning. Why plan for a future that is nil?
Virtue ensures the individual does not waste his time, spend too frivolously, and give up too quickly. Only through virtue can we see what we ought to do so we are empowered to do what we want.
While pursuing virtue sets the direction, the next step is defining and achieving one’s virtuous self. This fifth tenet focuses on how individualism empowers us to shape our identity and life path in accordance with virtuous principles.
5) Defining and Achieving One’s Virtuous Self
The appeal to virtue ensures internal forces instead of external forces restrict individuals. External policing is notoriously counterproductive, and the most effective way of policing a society is through internal tyranny.
To be fair, many worldviews provide this internal policing, such as religion. However, what makes individualism unique is the focus on the individual’s desires that align with virtue.
Religion, government, family, and corporations tend to paint the individual as a number. The person is a singular unit that only exists to feed the collective they are a part of. He has no goals, dreams, or desires to be respected or pursued.
Defining and achieving one’s virtuous self is central to individualism, as each person’s unique desires and goals are paramount. If you want to be fit, only you can do the work necessary to build the muscles. If you’re going to learn a new skill, you have to study. If you want the experience of running a business, you must learn, adapt, and build.
Once again, virtue ethics prevents hedonism and nihilism. Just because you want to be fat and lazy doesn’t mean you should – you are opposing persistence and magnanimity. Just because you want to be a sex worker doesn’t mean it is a worthwhile goal – you are opposing loyalty and discipline.
We can pursue what matters to us once we operate within what is virtuous. We are all unique. Thus, we need a philosophy that highlights this reality and gives us the tools necessary to explore our inner desires safely and productively.
Ensuring Desires Align With Your Idealized Self
And these desires culminate into the idealized self. We all have a vision of our best selves. When we take the time to identify and define who this ideal self is, we can work towards this vision. You can ask others for input and insight, but only you know what this vision is, what it looks like, and how to achieve it. The church cannot tell you. Your friends cannot accomplish your goals. Your family cannot define who you ought to be.
Only individualism provides the proper tools and rationale for defining and pursuing your idealized self within the rational restraints of virtue ethics.
As we explore defining and achieving our ideal selves, it becomes clear why individualism holds a universal appeal. The sixth and final tenet underscores the inclusivity and adaptability of individualism, showing how it resonates across different contexts and backgrounds.
6) The Universal Appeal of Individualism
“The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.” – Friedrich Nietzsche
Lastly, the most significant tenet of individualism is its universalism. Individualism’s universal appeal lies in its inclusivity and adaptability, making it a philosophy accessible to all, regardless of background. There are no limits. You only have to forgo comfort to pursue your best self.
No matter your intelligence, race, gender, sexuality, religion, or what have you, you can be an individualist. An individualist pursues their most virtuous self and is not keen on infringing on the rights of others to do the same. The individualist makes room for disagreeing opinions, but only if those opinions are also rooted in virtue. Individualism is not flawless, but we can accomplish great things using virtue ethics and other tenets to guide better behavior.
Although individualism is universal, people have to choose to be individualists. If people hate personal responsibility, then that’s their choice. Do not feel discouraged if people don’t want to be individualists. Sometimes, viewing it as a tool for helping you improve is healthier than hoping others will do the same.
Personal Reflection and Conclusion On The Tents of Individualism
When I was younger, I could not see the value of collectivism. I never sectioned myself off from the world by “being black.” These identity categories never provided solace to the dreams I had or desires I wanted to accomplish.
Additionally, I’ve struggled with many addictions. The leading narratives provided by churches or the government did not ease my pain.
Embracing individualism’s principles, particularly self-ownership and personal responsibility, has significantly improved my life. If I follow the path of collectivists, and externalized my responsibility, I would be weak, frail, and fragile. Instead of simply telling my stories, I would whine about the lack of black creators. I would complain that I don’t have enough time to go to the gym instead of simply building my own. I would complain that I can’t afford children instead of setting a budget and finding a good woman to start a family with.
The individual acts. He is the one who thinks. You can follow collectivism all you want, but you will never achieve half of what you could achieve by simply accepting your fate.
Actionables: Embodying The Tenets
In weaving together these tenets, we see a comprehensive picture of individualism as a philosophy and a practical guide for living. I urge you to reflect on how these principles interconnect and how they can be applied to your personal journey toward individual growth and responsibility
- Individualism Over Your Life: What has been your experience with individualism? Good or bad? What has shaped your perspective, and how do you feel about it now? What aspect of individualism do you find most challenging and why? How has your understanding of individualism changed after reading this post?
- Tenet List: Do you agree with my tenets? Do you think the list is too short or not long enough? What would you add? What would you remove? Which do you agree with the most? Which do you disagree with the most?
- Self-Ownership and Responsibility: Reflect on a recent decision you made. How did you exercise self-ownership in this situation? How would the situation have been worsened or improved if you had forgone personal responsibility?
- Failure Or Success: Identify a personal success or failure. How do you see your role and responsibility in this outcome? What would have changed if you had reduced your responsibility in this given situation?
- Physical Fitness: Assess your current physical fitness routine. How does it reflect your commitment to personal development? Think of one physical activity you can start or improve upon to enhance your overall well-being. What are your fitness goals? How will your life improve if you pursue and reach those goals?
- Individual Over Collective: Recall a time when your individual perspective differed from a group’s. How did you handle this situation? How were you treated by others?
- Hedonism and Nihilism: Identify a virtue you believe is crucial in your life. How do you actively pursue it? Is it difficult to pursue? Reflect on a hedonistic or nihilistic tendency you’ve observed in society or yourself. How do you counteract it?
- Virtuous Self: Envision your ideal self. What are the key virtues or qualities you see? Set a short-term goal that aligns with your vision of your virtuous self.
- “Democracy in America” by Alexis de Tocqueville:
- Tocqueville’s work is a profound early analysis of American society, particularly noting the strong sense of individualism in the United States compared to Europe. It provides insightful observations on how individualism interacts with democratic institutions and social life.
- “The Ethics of Liberty” by Murray N. Rothbard:
- Rothbard’s book is a significant text in the libertarian tradition. It lays out a thorough defense of individualism from a natural rights perspective, discussing property rights, personal freedom, and the role of the state.
- “Individualism: True and False” by Friedrich Hayek:
- In this essay, Hayek distinguishes between what he sees as “true” and “false” individualism, advocating for a form of individualism grounded in respect for the spontaneous order of free society, as opposed to rationalistic design.
- “The Road to Serfdom” by Friedrich Hayek:
- Another work by Hayek, this book is critical of collectivist thought and argues that abandoning individualism and freedom leads to tyranny and oppression. It’s a key text in understanding the political and economic implications of individualism.
- “Walden” by Henry David Thoreau:
- Thoreau’s “Walden” is an essential read for understanding a more personal and philosophical side of individualism. It reflects on simple living in natural surroundings and emphasizes self-reliance and individual introspection.
- “The Virtue of Selfishness” by Ayn Rand:
- This collection of essays expands on Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism, emphasizing ethical egoism and rational self-interest as the core of individualism.
- “Self-Reliance” by Ralph Waldo Emerson:
- Emerson’s essay is a cornerstone of American transcendentalism and emphasizes the importance of individual intuition and judgment, encouraging people to trust in their inner self and their own uniqueness.
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.