Today, I discuss what individualism is, why it’s important, what happens when it’s rejected, and its flaws.
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.
What Happens When We Reject Individualism?
Humans have always rejected the notion of individual sovereignty. Such a rejection is not irrational. Our ancestors have faced roaming bandits, aggressive neighboring nations, terrible weather conditions, famine, and other dangers. Such dangers are more manageable as a group than as an individual. Whining about individual liberties can feel self-centered and meaningless when faced with such hazards.
Conversely, when individuals own themselves and such ownership is not infringed upon, you have the bedrock for property rights, capitalism, high-trust societies, and peaceful coexistence. Only through individualism can we achieve a culture of responsible, happy, virtuous, and capable people who can make famines seem meaningless or defend themselves permanently against roaming bandits.
Time and again, collectivism, whether it be communism, racism, socialism, or nationalism, has proven flawless at torturing, diminishing, and killing innocent lives. For example, the horrors of the 20th century, from the genocide of the kulaks to the Holocaust, were all perpetrated on racism, nationalism, and a rejection of individualism. You cannot be an individualist and believe a race of people should be wiped out, or your more successful neighbors should be killed.
What Are The Flaws Of Individualism?
“Human beings are born with different capacities. If they are free, they are not equal. And if they are equal, they are not free” – Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
Of course, individualism is not perfect. Nothing is. Thus, individuality has its pitfalls.
Mainly, individualism without a solid foundation in virtue will lead to hedonism and self-worship. Because personal sovereignty is about the individual, one can easily take to self-worship. When we worship the individual too much, finding his vices, flaws, and iniquities as beautiful and righteous as his virtues, we end up with a terrifying reality. Here, individualism devolves into hedonism which can spell doom for the individual and society.
This major flaw is the reason I advocate for the community. We want a voluntary, virtuous community because we need others to highlight our hidden flaws and reduce the possibility of arrogance. Other ideas, such as religion, can provide moral and spiritual arguments for why an individual should pursue virtue and avoid vice. Especially the vices that are not “bad” per se but harm the spirit nonetheless.
Self-worship is the greatest pitfall of individualism, and we cannot pretend it doesn’t lead to horrific results. While I’ll argue until the day I die that self-worship is infinitely less dangerous than collectivism, I won’t act ignorant of individualism’s dangers.
Individualism is Compatible With Virtuous and Right-Thinking Beliefs
Individualism is at the core of most belief systems. Everything from Christianity to stoicism recognizes the individual as an independent, unique unit that is the primary driver of all actions. For example, for Christians, the individual is a unique being made by God. We are not repeatable, and our unique nature imbues us with dignity. Because of free will, we are responsible for our actions and are expected to follow right reason, virtue, and divine teaching.
In this example and many others, individualism is crucial to the belief system. You own yourself. You control your actions. Only you can pursue virtue. Because of these realities, we need a philosophy that centers you as the actor, the enemy, the goal, and the ally. You have to see yourself as all of these things.
As I’ve said before, individualism cannot stand alone. As a personal philosophy, individual sovereignty cannot tell you the best way to organize society, which economic system is the best, how science and research should be best utilized, and so forth. But individualism is the bedrock that informs what conclusions one draws or structures one builds. Individualism cannot encompass why capitalism is the best economic system. But we know capitalism is right because it does not contradict individualism.
As long as a philosophy doesn’t reject individual sovereignty like socialism or racism, you can use individualism to strengthen what you already have.
Become An Individual
Individualism is a critical philosophy. In our modern world, we have fought vehemently against the ideals of self-ownership, personal responsibility, and virtue. What are the results? Poverty, inflation, greed, sexual deviance, and a society painfully close to collapse. No one has any solutions to our social ills because all answers are centered on collectivized action and values.
But things only change when the individual changes. We cannot have a beautiful forest with dead trees. You cannot have a functioning society of broken, sad, and neurotic individuals. Each individual has to face his demons. Each individual has to take responsibility for himself. Each individual has to outline what purpose his life has and why. Each individual has to carry virtue and reject his vices. Each individual has to be the hero of his own story.
There are no other alternatives. There has never been, and there never will be.
“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
- When were you first exposed to individualism? What did people say about it? What do people say about it now?
- How long have you been reading this blog? What has been helpful? How often do you do the actionables, and have they been helpful for you?
- What is frustrating about the modern world? What do you wish were different? What could you do to escape the madness all around us?
- Read the articles below for more information about individualism:
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.