What do libertarians think about the statement, ‘Individualism is a stupid idea because humans are social animals’?

…as answered on Quora….

There are many definitions of “individualism” — what Alexis de Tocqueville meant by it is radically different from what Wordsworth Donisthorpe meant by it. I have written about Tocqueville’s word choice elsewhere. Here I will discuss something very much like Donisthorpe’s usage in Individualism: A System of Politics (1889), H. L. Mencken’s in Men versus The Man (1911) and F. A. Hayek’s in Individualism and Economic Order (1948).

This libertarian judges the queried statement [“individualism is a stupid idea because humans are social animals”] to be silly and unlearned.


Because individualism is a doctrine of sociality.

Individualists make the fairly obvious point that it is only by protecting individual personsalong with their justly acquired property that robust sociality can evolve. Individualists look upon our social natures as best maturing when as many relations are voluntary as possible, and when people are judged according to the same standard applied up and down the institutional, class, and tribal order. Persons are not to be given special license because of some specific social connection, but, instead, defended according to basic rights that all may have so long as they reciprocate.

Individualism is a doctrine of free association and voluntary community.

Sure, we are social animals. But from this it does not follow that a “socialism” that coerces compliance and corrals people into groups and regulates them by means of “the public ownership of the means of production” is in any way an expression of humane sociability. This sort of collectivism is a deeply anti-social doctrine. And if you doubt, study the mores of Soviet subjects, or read Orwell’s 1984 — no great society there, no triumph of “social man.”

It is individualism that defends our social natures from the con artistry of any number of collectivisms. To buy the idea that individualism (understood as a rule-of-law standard based on a division of responsibility) is corrosive (by its very name?) of society is to misunderstand society itself. And perhaps to have a very, very low opinion of humanity.

Folks who hold to this notion are easily taken in by simplistic word association. This individualist sees the queried statement as a typical example of ideological trickery, as sophistry, as base rhetoric, as ugly propaganda. It is the kind of thing unscrupulous people say to fool the distracted, the inattentive and the not very bright.

Don’t be conned.