The Myth of “Hyper-Rugged-Isolationist-Individualism”

by | May 30, 2023

Myth #1: Libertarians believe that each individual is an isolated, hermetically sealed atom, acting in a vacuum without influencing each other.

 

This is a common charge, but a highly puzzling one. In a lifetime of reading libertarian and classical-liberal literature, I have not come across a single theorist or writer who holds anything like this position.

 

The only possible exception is the fanatical Max Stirner, a mid-19th-century German individualist who, however, has had minimal influence upon libertarianism in his time and since. Moreover, Stirner’s explicit “might makes right” philosophy and his repudiation of all moral principles including individual rights as “spooks in the head,” scarcely qualifies him as a libertarian in any sense. Apart from Stirner, however, there is no body of opinion even remotely resembling this common indictment.

 

Libertarians are methodological and political individualists, to be sure. They believe that only individuals think, value, act, and choose. They believe that each individual has the right to own his own body, free of coercive interference. But no individualist denies that people are influencing each other all the time in their goals, values, pursuits, and occupations.

 

As F.A. Hayek pointed out in his notable article, “The Non Sequitur of the ‘Dependence Effect,'” [2] John Kenneth Galbraith’s assault upon free-market economics in his best-selling The Affluent Society rested on this proposition: economics assumes that every individual arrives at his scale of values totally on his own, without being subject to influence by anyone else. On the contrary, as Hayek replied, everyone knows that most people do not originate their own values, but are influenced to adopt them by other people.

 

No individualist or libertarian denies that people influence each other all the time, and surely there is nothing wrong with this inevitable process. What libertarians are opposed to is not voluntary persuasion, but the coercive imposition of values by the use of force and police power. Libertarians are in no way opposed to the voluntary cooperation and collaboration between individuals: only to the compulsory pseudo-“cooperation” imposed by the state.

– Murray N. Rothbard, Ph.D., Myth and Truth About Libertarianism

About Keith Knight

Keith Knight is Managing Editor at the Libertarian Institute, host of the Don't Tread on Anyone podcast and editor of The Voluntaryist Handbook: A Collection of Essays, Excerpts, and Quotes.

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