Individualism is one of the most commonly used terms among libertarian circles. It is a principle within our circle that is often one of the most promoted and advocated for. We believe people should be free to live their own lives as they see fit. We believe that government should allow individuals to be themselves and live their own way as long as they’re not interfering with the rights of other human beings. And the way government allows that is by getting out of the way.
This of course is just a brief and general description of what we mean when we talk about individualism, but I don’t think many libertarians would have a problem with how I synopsized it.
There is, however, a stigma that can go along with the word individualism that I don’t think we should ignore. The stigma mostly comes from people on the outside, but I do think some within our circle have come to believe in, and even live out at times, as well.
The stigma is the belief that individualism has to also mean selfishness; that if someone believes in individualism, they also believe in putting themselves ahead of others and don’t care about the world and the people who live in it as a whole. They believe that since most libertarians look at the words “collective” and “collectivism” as bad words, then they must also not care about other individuals besides their individual self.
This is not what I consider individualism to be, though. And I sincerely hope that most other libertarians don’t look at it that way either. But I strongly believe that, if we don’t strive to make our individualism about other people, then we can easily fall into the trap of living out a self-centered, selfish, and individualistic lifestyle. But what does it mean to make our individualism about other people? On the surface, that phrase doesn’t make any sense. In fact, I realize it seems completely contradictory.
As a libertarian, it’s safe to assume that you see the world differently than how most of those around you see it, and you are most likely proud of that individualistic spirit you possess. It’s also likely that you don’t always look for solutions in the most common places nor do you solve problems in the ways that most other people do. This is all great and it’s something you should build upon; you should continue to be your own individual by adding to the world that different perspective you possess through your own personal view of the world.
So, what I mean when I say we should use our individualism for others is that we need to take the way we view issues – important issues within our world – differently and find ways we can help solve them. Libertarians are for less government which includes, but is not excluded to, cutting social welfare programs, no more government handouts, and ending programs that have been put in place under the premise of helping those in need. We don’t advocate for such things because we don’t care about people; we firmly believe that the free market, along with charity, will be more effective in helping these kinds of people. What we don’t fully realize, though, is that that’s us; we are the people who are supposed to be coming up with those free market solutions and providing that charity.
We, as libertarians, should not be simply looking people in the eye and telling them that we don’t believe that government help is the most effective and then walking away not providing for them in some way the help that they do need. I’m not saying that you have to open your own home in order to provide housing for a homeless person, but maybe you know someone that would. Or you know of a shelter that this homeless person doesn’t know about. Or maybe you even know someone who has always wanted to open their own shelter. Here is their first client.
I know I’m simplifying the process but having this kind of mindset is better than just walking away thinking that this person in need will eventually find the help that they need. You may in fact be right about them eventually finding it, but you’re not necessarily practicing what you preach when it comes to advocating for the free market as a better solution to government. It is almost certain that you possess some kind of individual skill that you can use to help make other people’s lives better. I firmly believe that libertarians are some of the most entrepreneurial people out there, and we should capitalize on that; and not just for our own gain, but also for the gain of others. Combine that individual skill along with your individualistic view of the world as a way to make the it a better place.
The individual skills we all possess are endless; your goal is to find yours. Writing, building, planning, teaching, coaching, organizing, cooking, hospitality, entertaining, and listening are only a handful of the many possibilities; and it’s likely that you possess more than one. We as individuals are able to bring so much to this world through the development of the skills and talents we’ve been blessed with, and this is the kind of individualism we should be promoting. Not the “every man for himself” kind that many people want to put on libertarians, but rather the kind that says “We’re one human being who’s using what we’ve got to work with to the best of our ability for the betterment of self and others.” Our goal should be to use our individualism as a way to help and serve the world around us.
* Mark Metz lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He has worked at a residential home for 7-12 year old behaviorally challenged boys for four years. He is a former conservative who has converted to libertarianism, and he is now looking to advance the ideas of liberty and freedom.
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