A Proper View Of Individualism

One of the misconceptions about libertarianism is that libertarians are only concerned with self-interest. Surely we libertarians don’t help counter this view when we utter bumper sticker slogans such as, “we just want to be left alone.” Of course, what we mean is that we don’t want to be coercively interfered with by the state or any other group or person that wants to steal from us or force us to conform to their standard of behavior. So long as we’re not harming anyone else or their property we want to be free to live our lives as we see fit.

That doesn’t mean we all want to live as hermits hoarding money for ourselves and denying help to those in need. Of course, it’s possible that some people might choose to live that way, but in general libertarians choose to participate in the same sorts of societal activities as everyone else. You’ll find libertarians in the workforce, at neighborhood cook-outs, at church, and at school plays. Some libertarians give money to the poor, some serve the homeless in soup kitchens. Some do none of those things. Some are active in politics, while others don’t want to have anything to do with voting or campaigning.

Imagine being told you can only choose one of three flavors of ice cream. You protest that’s it’s wrong to limit people to the three choices when there are thousands of potential choices available. Because of your principled stand you’re accused of hating ice cream. That’s a little like what it feels like to be told you must hate the poor because you believe it’s wrong for the state to steal money from your paycheck. Or if you believe it’s wrong for the state to steal money from single people to pay for the education of someone else’s child. Why, you must hate children and prefer they aren’t educated! That line of reasoning is silly.

The libertarian is an individualist in the sense that he believes that he owns his own body and the fruit of his labor, and the nonaggression principle informs him that it’s wrong to encourage the state to take money away from the unwilling to fund any number of pet projects.