Individualism is on trial. Its proponents claim that it encourages social progress and generates economic opportunity. Its accusers contend that it breeds selfishness and economic injustice. But what does the evidence show?
In a most depressing episode of EconTalk posted on May 29, 2017, host Russ Roberts brought together columnist George Will, author P.J. O’Rourke, and David Boaz of Cato Institute, to discuss the State of Liberty. The conclusion was that Liberty is not doing well. It’s losing the argument. People seem to prefer high taxes, the Federal Reserve, the big government that those institutions fund, and the handouts and entitlements that big government provides.
Many decades before EconTalk, Henry Hazlitt authored an article and a collection of essays under the title, Is Politics Insoluble? His conclusion – after much erudite discussion of history, philosophy, civics and political science – was, in a word, Yes.
Why are we losing the argument for Liberty?
Why is politics insoluble, and why is Liberty losing the argument? It’s because we have lost all sense of individualism. America was conceived in liberty. Thomas Jefferson’s words in the Declaration of Independence draw on John Locke and the theory of natural rights – that the individual owns his or her own body (life), and is free to act to achieve their own goals (liberty), in the belief that doing so will improve their circumstances (the pursuit of happiness). This is individualism – individualism true, as F.A. Hayek put it.
Individualism is the answer
The individualist is not selfish, not isolated, not disconnected. The individualist understands that his or her role in society is connection and collaboration. They know that society advances when each of us helps others to improve their lives and to feel better about their own circumstances. That’s true in commerce, where free market exchanges take place only when the buyer feels good about their purchase, and the seller feels good about having made the transaction. It’s true in being a good neighbor. It’s true in education. It’s even true in blogging and journalism (although perhaps it gets a bit confused when the news is “fake”).
The individual’s relationship with society is reciprocal. The goal for the individual is win-win exchanges with other individuals.
In collectivism, everything’s politicized.
The opposite is true in collectivism. It rears its ugly head in American society today
especially in the form of politics. Politics is never good for individuals. It’s always about
groups, mostly special interest groups fighting for an unfair share of the pie of
government largesse, and aiming to defeat competing groups aiming for the same
outcome. Politics is win-lose. When there’s talk about government picking winners, it
must be remembered that they are also picking losers.
It seems like everything is politicized today: race, gender, class, country of origin, religion, schools, work, television programs and website content, facebook posts and tweets. It’s amazing how this nation of individuals has become so collectivist in its recent history.
Individualism makes politics irrelevant.
If we could return to the philosophy of Individualism, we could cure a lot of ills. Individualism is anti-politics. Individualism has no special interest groups. Individualism does not classify into race, class or creed. Individualism listens to ideas, not ideologies.
Politics may well be insoluble. A widespread resurgence of Individualism would make it
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