Freedom and Individualism Notes


"If you are waiting for the government to change, or society to change, or for some program or movement to be successful to find freedom, you will never be free."

Freedom is only possible for independent individualists. Whatever others mean by freedom, true freedom pertains only to individuals, there is no such thing as "collective freedom," and only the independent are truly free—dependence is the opposite of freedom.

When Ayn Rand created her examples of what an independent individualist is, like Howard Roark and John Galt, those characters were ideals, and some have mistaken her ideals for the nature of independent individualism itself.

In my article, What Is an Individualist, I emphasized the fact that "Anyone Can Be an Individualist." [If you are not sure what an individualist is, I recommend reading that article.]

Individualism is not dependent on or determined by knowledge, or ability, or any particular occupation; it is determined by one thing alone, the degree of an individual's chosen independence.

"Degrees of ability vary, but the basic principle remains the same: the degree of a man's independence, initiative and personal love for his work determines his talent as a worker and his worth as a man." [For the New Intellectual,The Fountainhead, "The Soul Of An Individualist"]

In a letter to W.M. Curtiss, a fan, Ayn Rand explained this principle, using her archetype of the independent individualist, Howard Roark, as the example:

"But if you wonder how I look at Roark in relation to men as we see them around us—I'll say that any man who has an innate sense of independence and self-respect, and a spark of the creative mind, has that much of Roark in him. Any man can follow Roark's principles—if he has intelligence, integrity and courage. He may not have Roark's genius, but he can function in the same manner and live by the same morality—within the limits of his own ability. He must live by the same morality—the morality of individualism—if he wants to survive at all." [The Letters of Ayn Rand, We The Living to The Fountainhead (1931-1943), November 30, 1945]

While I am not an Objectivist, there is one view I share with Rand and am in complete agreement with—her emphasis on and understanding of individualism. It was very important to her, as it is to me, because it is the essence of being what a human being truly is, and the basis of all moral virtue.

I want to share some of Rand's thoughts on individualism that emphasizes that anyone can be an independent individualist, which means, anyone can be free.

How To Be An Individualist—Ayn Rand

These notes are from Rand's journals, and reveal her view of what individualism means in terms of any individual who chooses to live by the principles of individualism.

Man may be justly proud of his natural endowments (if they are there objectively, i.e., rationally), such as physical beauty, physical strength, a great mind, good health. But all of these are merely his material or his tools; his self-respect must be based, not on these attributes, but on what he does with them. His self-respect must be based on his actions—on that which proceeds from him. His survival depends on the proper kind of action. His appreciation of himself must be on the same principle.

If a man says: "But I realize that my natural endowments are mediocre, —shall I then suffer, be ashamed, have an inferiority complex?" The answer is: "In the basic, crucial sphere, the sphere of morality and action, it is not your endowments that matter, but what you do with them." It is here that all men are free and equal, regardless of natural gifts. You can be, in your own modest sphere, as good morally as the genius is in his—if you live by the same rules. Find your goal within yourself, in whatever work you are honestly capable of performing. Never make others your prime goal. Demand nothing from others as an unearned gift and grant them nothing unearned. Live by your own rational judgments. Be independent in whatever judgments you hold or actions you undertake, and do not venture beyond your own capacity, into spheres where you'll have to become a parasite and a second-hander. You'll be surprised how decent and wonderful a human being you'll become, and how much honest, legitimate human affection and appreciation you'll get from others.

As to material rewards, you'll get what you deserve, what you have produced. ... No, moral virtue is not its only reward. But it cannot give you rewards you have neither earned nor deserved. Moral virtue will give you just what you deserve—and this is quite a great deal. (Particularly if you choose to make it a great deal and exert the needed effort.) Moral virtue will give you justice. And more than that neither men nor nature can give you. [The Journals of Ayn Rand "Part 3 - Transition Between Novels, 8 - The Moral Basis Of Individualism]

The essential principles Rand outlines here are these:

  • An individualist's self-respect (what she would later call "self-esteem" and proper pride in one's virtue) is based on his actions, not what attributes he is born with—what he does, not what happens to him.

  • An individualist's moral virtue is determined by the principles that determine what he does, which are:

    • To discover one's goals and purposes within himself, which is any work one is honestly capable of performing.

    • To never make others, their opinion, approval or agreement, the basis of one's own goals and purposes.

    • To live by one's own rational judgments being independent in whatever judgments one holds or actions one undertakes.

    • To avoid the temptation to venture beyond one's own ability, requiring one to be a parasite and a second-hander.

  • An individualist's rewards, that is, his wealth and success, are exactly what his efforts earn and deserve, and he desires no more (or less) than that.

  • Moral virtue will give you justice, and nothing more is required in this world.
She mentions in her notes that one of the rewards of individual independence is the, "legitimate human affection and appreciation you'll get from others." If you are truly an independent individualist, that affection and appreciation will only come from other individualists, and should be neither looked for or desired from any others.

If you are an individualist I have described what you must expect from most others in this world in my article, "Hated—The Individualist In a Collectivist World."