Politics of Capitalism: Individualism

Capitalism is the social system of laissez-faire that regards the individual as a sovereign, independent being with an inalienable right to their own life.

  • The rational individual requires freedom from coercion
  • Individual rights are moral principles defining one’s freedom of action in a social context
  • A proper society subordinates force (might) to reason (right)
  • The purpose of government is to protect the individual’s right to life, by banning the initiation of physical force
  • Individualism regards the individual as a sovereign being; collectivism as a serf
  • The opposite of capitalism is statism

Previous: Ethics of Capitalism

“The only proper purpose of a government is to protect man’s rights, which means: to protect him from physical violence. A proper government is only a policeman, acting as an agent of man’s self-defense, and, as such, may resort to force only against those who start the use of force.” — Ayn Rand

 

How shall one live amongst other individuals in society? This question is fundamental to the branch of philosophy called politics. Politics being the application of ethics to social issues. What does the science of ethics have to say about this issue? Ethics tells us that politically, the individual must be left free to act rationally in the pursuit of their self-interest. The individual requires political freedom.

 

The rational individual requires freedom from coercion

There are only two ways individuals may deal with each other: by reason (i.e., speech, contract, persuasion) or by force (i.e., physical blows, compulsion, fraud). Only by the initiation of physical force (coercion) can one be: prevented from speaking, robbed, or murdered; that is, stopped from acting by one’s mind, rendering it useless as a means of survival.

In an ethical society, the individual requires only one thing from his neighbors (and they in turn equally of him): to be left free to think and free to act on that thinking. 

Given that reason is one’s only means of knowing reality, that reason is the attribute of the individual, and that one must use reason to produce the values one needs to survive, in a proper society the individual needs to be left free to think and free to act on that thinking. The individual needs freedom — from the initiation of physical force. Freedom, not to act by permission of another, but freedom to act by right.

The moral concept that identifies such freedom of action is the principle of individual rights.

 

Individual rights are moral principles defining one’s freedom of action in a social context

“A right,” according to philosopher Ayn Rand “is a moral principle defining an individual’s freedom of action in a social context.”

The concept of individual rights, observes Ayn Rand, “provides a logical transition from the principles guiding an individual’s actions to the principles guiding his relationship with others—the concept that preserves and protects individual morality in a social context—the link between the moral code of a man and the legal code of a society, between ethics and politics.”

The fundamental right is the right to life (the right to take those actions required by a rational being to live in society so long as one respects the equal right of others to do the same). All other rights (liberty, property, freedom of speech, etc.) are corollaries or applications of the right to life to varying contexts. 

The right to life states that you are sovereign, (your body is your property and belongs to you, i.e., you own yourself) and as such it is proper to take those actions (right to liberty) to legally acquire and use property (right to property) which is necessary to flourish (right to the pursuit of happiness), free from the physical compulsion by other individuals. 

 

A proper society subordinates force (might) to reason (right)

The use of force, in and of itself, is not evil; but, to initiate (start) force is evil, as force renders the individual’s mind useless as a means of survival. One morally has the right to use force to defend and retaliate against those who first start the use of force. 

However, this raises a problem: man’s state in nature, where all are allowed complete discretion in the use of force, according to the “laws of the jungle,” is anarchy — perpetual civil war and gang warfare. To place the retaliatory use of force under objective legal control, the individuals that make up society delegate to government, their right to defend and retaliate against those who initiate force.

 

The purpose of government is to protect the individual’s right to life, by banning the initiation of physical force

Under capitalism, the fundamental purpose of government is to protect individual rights. In practice, this means the government’s job is to defend and retaliate against those who initiate physical force, as the initiation of physical force is the only way one may physically prevent an individual from acting rationally in their self-interest.

Under capitalism, the government’s job is not to force people to act rationally (morally) and regulate their behavior but to use its monopoly on the use of physical force to protect and retaliate against those who start the use of force (and its corollary fraud).

 

Individualism regards the individual as a sovereign being; collectivism as a serf

Thanks to specialization under the division of labor, one can gain immense values by living with others in a proper society — namely knowledge and trade (in physical and spiritual values). Such a society operates under the moral doctrine of individualism — where each individual is regarded as an end in oneself, and not as a slave for the ends of others. Individualism does not mean living a “rugged life” on a desert island or as a “lone wolf” in the wilderness, but like its antithesis, collectivism, specifies the nature of the relationship of the individual to the rest of society.

Where collectivism holds that the life of the individual is only justified in service to the group; individualism regards the individual not as a slave, but as a sovereign being (as an end in oneself and not a means to the ends of others) that owns their own life. (Observe the powerful influence of ethics on politics: altruism, the ethics that upholds self-sacrifice as a noble ideal, leads to collectivism, the politics of sacrificing the individual to the group; rational egoism leads to individualism.)

 

Statism is the opposite of capitalism

Where a capitalist society regards the individual as a sovereign being, a statist society holds that the individual’s life belongs to the state, to be sacrificed (altruism) for the good of the collective (collectivism). Examples of statism include communism, tribalism, (unlimited), theocracy, monarchy, apartheid, (pure) democracy, socialism, nationalism, fascism (corporatism), and all the hyphenated versions of capitalism which are some form of “mixed economy” welfare statism. 

Where they may differ in appearance, all forms of statism adhere to the principle that the individual’s fundamental purpose is to be sacrificed for the good of the group. The only difference between the different forms of statism is to what extent and to which group the individual is sacrificed for, i.e., the commune, tribe, “the people,” majority, monarch, god, race, society, nation, “the poor,” etc.

***

Given the inherent dangers of the arbitrary use of force by the government poses to the freedom of the individual, every aspect of the use of force is regulated by an objective rule of law.

 

Next: Legal System of Capitalism: Rule of Objective Law >

Capitalism Visual Tour

For an in-depth presentation on the philosophical, ethical, political, legal, and economic foundations of capitalism take the Capitalism Visual Tour. The Capitalism Visual Tour is the most popular feature of this site. The rest of the capitalism site assumes you are familiar with the material provided in the tour.

Pin It on Pinterest