Freeman

ARTICLE

Individualism

SEPTEMBER 01, 1981 by LUDWIG VON MISES

Society is nothing but the combination of individuals for cooperative effort. It exists nowhere else than in the actions of individual men. It is a delusion to search for it outside the actions of individuals.

All actions are performed by individuals. It is always the individual who thinks. Society does not think any more than it eats or drinks. Thinking is always an achievement of individuals. There is joint action but no joint thinking.

A collective operates always through the intermediary of one or several individuals whose actions are related to the collective as the secondary source. For a social collective has no existence and reality outside of the individual members’ actions.

The reason the market economy can operate without government orders telling everybody precisely what he should do and how he should do it is that it does not ask anybody to deviate from those lines of conduct which best serve his own interests. What integrates the individual’s actions into the whole of the social system of production is the pursuit of his own purposes.

In indulging his “acquisitiveness” each actor contributes his share to the best possible arrangement of production activities. Thus, within the sphere of private property and the laws protecting it against encroachments on the part of violent and fraudulent action, there is no antagonism between the interests of the individual and those of society.

Those who want to study human action from the collective units encounter an insurmountable obstacle in the fact that an individual at the same time can belong and really belongs to various collective entities. The problems raised by the multiplicity of coexisting social units and their mutual antagonisms can be solved only by methodological individualism.

The collaboration of collectivist creeds in their attempts to destroy freedom has brought about the mistaken belief that the issue in present-day political antagonisms is individualism versus collectivism. In fact it is a struggle between individualism on the one hand and a multitude of collectivist sects on the other. It is not a uniform Marxian sect that attacks capitalism, but a host of Marxian groups. These groups fight one another with the utmost brutality and inhumanity. A substitution of collectivism for liberalism would result in endless-bloody fighting.

Individualism is a philosophy of social cooperation and the progressive intensification of the social nexus. On the other hand, the application of the basic ideas of collectivism cannot result in anything but social disintegration and the perpetuation of armed conflict.

ASSOCIATED ISSUE

September 1981

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December 2014

Unfortunately, educating people about phenomena that are counterintuitive, not-so-easy to remember, and suggest our individual lack of human control (for starters) can seem like an uphill battle in the war of ideas. So we sally forth into a kind of wilderness, an economic fairyland. We are myth busters in a world where people crave myths more than reality. Why do they so readily embrace untruth? Primarily because the immediate costs of doing so are so low and the psychic benefits are so high.
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