Politics of Capitalism: Individualism

Politically, 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 (individualism).

“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 is the fundamental question of the branch of philosophy called politics.

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

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 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.) 

Individual rights are the means of subordinating force to reason

The application of individualism to society is made possible with the concept of individual rights. Individual rights are moral principles that define ones freedom of action in society. Or in philosopher Ayn Rand’s words, “Individual rights are the means of subordinating society to moral law,” i.e., of might to right. 

The right to life is the right to be left free to act rationally to support one’s life

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) from which all other legitimate rights (liberty, property, the pursuit of happiness, self-defense, freedom of speech, etc.) are logically derived. 

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, which means in practice: to defend and retaliate against those who initiate physical force, as the initiation of physical force is the only way one may stop an individual from acting rationally.  

The government’s job is not to regulate behavior but to protect against force

The government’s job 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). Contrast this to altruist-collectivist-statist societies where the rights of individuals are violated to regulate their behavior in service to the collective (collectivism).

The “laissez-faire” in capitalism does not mean anarchism but means that if an individual respects the rights of others, government’s policy will be “hand’s off”: to leave one free to pursue one’s affairs. 

The opposite of capitalism is statism

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 they all agree in principle that the individual’s purpose is to be sacrificed for the good of the group, with the difference being 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.

 

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