6.2.2 Individualism

Individualists believe that freedom of the individual is of the highest importance: they want to make their own choices.  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.

The following sub-sections examine different degrees of individual liberty (6.2.2.1), the benefits of Lockean individualism (6.2.2.2), and the drawbacks of the most extreme form: libertarianism (6.2.2.3).

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This is a current page, updated since publication of Patterns of Power Edition 3a.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition03/622a.htm