Thursday, August 28, 2008

Atomic Individualism

Libertarians defend "atomic individualism," or simply "individualism," however, there is a lot of disagreement over exactly what that means. First of all, I am not a recluse or a hermit! I don't live out on a mountain top or a desert island. I have many friends and I associate myself many different communities. Individualism is often misguidedly contrasted with communitarianism. I'll admit that there is a tension between the two, but I don't think they are necessarily mutually exclusive. Communitarians argue that human beings are inexorably social animals and that what we call our "individuality" is invariably shaped by our social relationships. Although, our identity is often shaped by our association with these communities, I still believe that we are individuals with our own unique faces, genetic codes, experiences, and personalities. I am not just an American, an Ohioian, or a Cincinnatian. Although my association with communities shapes my identity, it does not completely explain who I am. I am an individual that chooses to associate with some communities and chooses not to associate with others. Therefore, I am responsible for the communities that I choose to associate with. I also shape and reshape the communities that I associate with. If I decided that I no longer wished to be an American citizen, I could move to Canada. (I would never do that for a variety of reasons!) If Canada decided to build a wall along the border with armed guards, that would certainly influence my decision. However, if I were kidnapped, bound and gagged, and taken to Canada against my own free will that would violate the non-aggression axiom. In other words, if you are a libertarian you will defend voluntary community and reject involuntary community. The best thing about my concept of voluntary community is that provides a mechanism by which some communities become extinct. The number of Ku Klux Klan members has been in decline for a long time. Someday these organizations will become extinct. If you want to join the KKK, I certainly will not violate the non-aggression axiom to prevent you from joining. But I will certainly try to persuade you to not do it. If you join, hopefully you and your friends will not violate the non-aggression axiom. But in the final analysis, communities like that only exist because individuals choose to join them. Finally, think communities survive to the extent that they allow their members to be themselves. Toyota discovered this a long time ago! They learned to listen to what the workers on the assembly lines have to say about how to make good cars.

Freedom's Philosopher

1 comment:

Ray Holbrook said...

"Toyota discovered this a long time ago! They learned to listen to what the workers on the assembly lines have to say about how to make good cars." Why the afterthough? Better without it. You stated it well enough - just end it. An admirer.