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Libertarians are often talking about freedom and liberty. Thomas Jefferson claimed in his magnum opus the Declaration of Independence that we all have a right to liberty. But freedom and liberty aren't a property of nature per se. For example, man isn't free from effects of the weather, or from feeling hungry, or from the dangers of walking close to a cliff, or from death. In other words, humans are not free from the laws of nature. Libertarians are using the terms freedom and liberty in the context of social relations (e.g., the ideal that one "should be" free from the initiation of force by another individual). Putting aside the "is-ought" problem, the claim is that, if one wants to achieve Jefferson's ideals such as the "pursuit of Happiness," one ought to recognize that each individual be free to pursue the values they choose. However, as Ayn Rand once said, "The concept "value" is not a primary; it presupposes an answer to the question: of value to whom and for what?"

We cannot deny that the choices individuals make are made in the context of external circumstances and within a social context. In other words, what we think and do is based partially upon what others think and do. To some degree, this is what collectivism is about. Collectivism is the the idea that a particular group or society at large is the standard of value. In the collectivist ideology, the individual is only important as a means to serve the larger group. Can we operate independently without concern for society or social relations? Aren't we more likely to achieve individual happiness by cooperating with others? Under what conditions does the society help or hinder our individual happiness? What is the purpose of arguing over which is more important - the individual or the collective? Is the argument a false dichotomy?

Mises - Human ActionFTA:

The notion of an individual, say the critics, is an empty abstraction. Real man is necessarily always a member of a social whole. It is even impossible to imagine the existence of a man separated from the rest of mankind and not connected with society. Man as man is the product of a social evolution. His most eminent feature, reason, could only emerge within the framework of social mutuality. There is no thinking which does not depend on the concepts and notions of language. But speech is manifestly a social phenomenon. Man is always the member of a collective. As the whole is both logically and temporally prior to its parts or members, the study of the individual is posterior to the study of society. The only adequate method for the scientific treatment of human problems is the method of universalism or collectivism...

Nobody ventures to deny that nations, states, municipalities, parties, religious communities, are real factors determining the course of human events. Methodological individualism, far from contesting the significance of such collective wholes, considers it as one of its main tasks to describe and to analyze their becoming and their disappearing, their changing structures, and their operation. And it chooses the only method fitted to solve this problem satisfactorily.

First we must realize that all actions are performed by individuals. A collective operates always through the intermediary of one or several individuals whose actions are related to the collective as the secondary source. It is the meaning which the acting individuals and all those who are touched by their action attribute to an action, that determines its character. It is the meaning that marks one action as the action of an individual and another action as the action of the state or of the municipality. The hangman, not the state, executes a criminal. It is the meaning of those concerned that discerns in the hangman's action an action of the state. A group of armed men occupies a place. It is the meaning of those concerned which imputes this occupation not to the officers and soldiers on the spot, but to their nation.

If we scrutinize the meaning of the various actions performed by individuals we must necessarily learn everything about the actions of collective wholes. For a social collective has no existence and reality outside of the individual members' actions. The life of a collective is lived in the actions of the individuals constituting its body. There is no social collective conceivable which is not operative in the actions of some individuals. The reality of a social integer consists in its directing and releasing definite actions on the part of individuals. Thus the way to a cognition of collective wholes is through an analysis of the individuals' actions.

As a thinking and acting being, man emerges from his prehuman existence already as a social being. The evolution of reason, language, and cooperation is the outcome of the same process; they were inseparably and necessarily linked together. But this process took place in individuals. It consisted in changes in the behavior of individuals. There is no other substance in which it occurred than the individuals. There is no substratum of society other than the actions of individuals...

Those who want to start the study of human action from the collective units encounter an insurmountable obstacle in the fact that an individual at the same time can belong and - with the exception of the most primitive tribesmen - 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 Ego is the unity of the acting being. It is unquestionably given and cannot be dissolved or conjured away by any reasoning or quibbling.

The We is always the result of a summing up which puts together two or more Egos. If somebody says I, no further questioning is necessary in order to establish the meaning. The same is valid with regard to the Thou and, provided the person in view is precisely indicated, with regard to the He. But if a man says We, further information is needed to denote who the Egos are who are comprised in this We. It is always single individuals who say We; even if they say it in chorus, it yet remains an utterance of single individuals.

The We cannot act otherwise than each of them acting on his own behalf. They can either all act together in accord, or one of them may act for them all. In the latter case the cooperation of the others consists in their bringing about the situation which makes one man's action effective for them too. Only in this sense does the officer of a social entity act for the whole; the individual members of the collective body either cause or allow a single man's action to concern them too.

The endeavors of psychology to dissolve the Ego and to unmask it as an illusion are idle. The praxeological Ego is beyond any doubts. No matter what a man was and what he may become later, in the very act of choosing and acting he is an Ego.

The Principle of Methodological Individualism


Original posting by Braincrave Second Life staff on Mar 21, 2011 at http://www.braincrave.com/viewblog.php?id=506

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