6.2.2 Freedom of the Individual

This ideology is the belief that freedom of the individual should be prioritised to maximise the acceptability of governance for everybody.

Individualists all want to make their own choices, but they vary in their views about the role of government – with those who are referred to as ‘libertarians’ wanting to have little or no government.

Individualists also want to have control over the money that they have earned.  They place a very strong emphasis on property rights, which underpin the success of capitalism by providing the motivation for the creation of wealth – as described earlier (3.2.1).  John Locke articulated a philosophical basis for property rights in his Second Treatise of Civil Government, which strongly influenced the design of the US Constitution.

Many pragmatic individualists recognise that rights and duties should be negotiated with the community, recognising that some agreements might be disadvantageous to them personally but be of benefit to the society in which they live – and might therefore be in their best interests in a wider sense.  As A.C. Grayling said, in a paper entitled Social evils and social good:

“‘cooperation and mutuality’ are not ‘conformity and uniformity’; individualism is the rejection of the latter, not the former.”

Individualists argue for minimising the role of the State, to prevent it from becoming bloated or oppressive, but many concede that government does play an important role.  As described later (9.2), it is desirable to reach a compromise between freedom of the individual and maximising the common good.

The range of individualist views is described in the following sub-sections:

●  They envisage different degrees to which the State can be rolled back in favour of maximising individual liberty (, with some favouring complete anarchy.

●  Lockean individualism is a workable compromise that is compatible with democracy ( It emphasises property rights and the need for government to be subject to the will of the people.

●  The most extreme form of individualism, libertarianism (, is a Utopian dream. It has serious drawbacks.  It is incompatible with democracy, for example, and it has no concept of the common good.



Next Section

This page is intended to form part of Edition 4 of the Patterns of Power series of books.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition04/622b.htm.