Without individualism, freedom is unobtainable. And one major component of the individualist philosophy is the understanding that we are each solely responsible for our own lives. As William Ernest Henley wrote in his poem, Invictus:
“I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.”
And while this may sound quite Randian to some, it is through this focus on self-improvement and self-responsibility that we are better prepared to change the world with our ideological beliefs.
Govern Yourself or Be Governed
Larry Reed, president of the Foundation for Economic Education, once wrote:
“If you do not govern yourself, you will be governed.”
And Reed is absolutely right. Without the ability to govern ourselves, it leaves an opening for the government to swoop in and assume responsibility for our lives. This might be why so many individualists and liberty-minded people are also deeply interested in the field of self-improvement and personal growth: One of the best ways to teach others that government force is not needed is to show how self-sufficient we can be without it.
Self-improvement author, entrepreneur, and podcast host Tim Ferriss once commented on his surprise that many of his listeners lean in the “libertarian” direction. While Ferriss’ show does focus a lot on entrepreneurship and investment advice, much of it is catered towards personal growth. And for many self-described libertarians, mixing market advice with tools for individual growth is ideal because it allows for voluntary advancement.
By focusing inward and improving ourselves, we set an example that others will want to follow. This is an overarching theme of Ferriss’ show. And when we lead by example, rather than by force, we have a greater impact on the world around us. But if we fail to seek personal growth, or dismiss it as unimportant or secondary to advancing liberty, we not only do a great disservice to the freedom philosophy, but also to ourselves.
As Leonard Read once said:
“There is really nothing that can be done except by an individual. Only individuals can learn. Only individuals can think creatively. Only individuals can cooperate. Only individuals can combat statism.”
And while this quote is beautiful on its own, I would add, “only individuals can better their circumstances.” The state likes to see itself as a benevolent helicopter parent, always there to make sure its people stay on track. But as many millennials have learned, helicopter parenting doesn’t work because it does not allow the individual to truly grow. Instead, they grow out of fear of disobedience, not out of genuine self-growth. For real growth to occur, the change has to be the choice of the individual. No one else can make such a personal decision for others. This is why rehabilitation efforts often fail unless the decision to seek treatment is voluntary.
But individuals can most certainly not achieve great things on a grander scale unless they have first made the decision to look within and better themselves before attempting to combat a beast as ghastly as the state. One of the first steps towards genuine self-improvement is realizing that you must take responsibility for your own actions and understanding that no one else is to blame for your own lot in life. And while this may sound simple, it is something many of us are not doing on a regular basis.
Don’t Blame Others for Your Suffering
It is much easier to blame other people for our problems than it is to take personal responsibility and actually enact change in our own lives. But blaming other people for our lot in life makes us no better than the ideologues to whom we are opposed. Socialists, for example, frequently take refuge in their despair and misery, blaming capitalists and the wealthy for all of their problems in life.
If their neighbor is successful, these individuals immediately get angry and curse the heavens, blaming others for their own inability to succeed. But rarely do they look in the mirror and ask: “What could I be doing differently?” To even ask the question would be admitting that change was necessary. So instead, they stick to complaining about the treachery of inequality.
As I have written previously:
“According to their zero-sum Marxist mindset, the prosperity of others came at the expense of their own prospects. So they resented anyone more successful than themselves. And they became so preoccupied with dragging other people down that they had little energy left over for lifting themselves up.”
Once a person has determined that their problems are the result and the responsibility of other people, they are essentially throwing their hands up and admitting defeat. Or, put another way, they are refusing to be the masters of their own fate. This is the antithesis of individualism. And by blaming others, a person also stays completely stagnant in their own growth. No matter how badly you may want it, you cannot control the actions of others, so assigning blame and fault is a fruitless endeavor.
The true individualist understands this. He or she knows that even in the event that their neighbor had wronged them in some way, only the individual can better his own situation. If, to provide an extreme example, your neighbor had set your house on fire and then fled the scene, it would only worsen the situation to waste your time casting blame instead of doing all you could to extinguishing the flames.
This means taking responsibility for your own life, and in order to do this a person must stand back and take an honest look at their lives and pose the question, “what can I do to better my situation?” Therein lies the essence of self-improvement and self-government. Without the desire to better ourselves, our quest for self-governance will not be obtained. To create the world we want to live in, one where force is not relied upon to enact policy, we must show that we are capable of self-governance and be an example to others.