Individualism, in its broadest sense, refers to the Philosophy positing the primacy of the self in all facets of human life. The principal error of Individualism is that the self is exalted over God. In Christianity, God is the Lord and man is His servant. God is exalted, man is humbled. Individualism’s social error is that within the system one’s neighbor is eclipsed for the sake of the self. The other, that is, one’s neighbor is viewed within Individualism as someone, principally, which the individual is to benefit from, not someone to serve. The other is viewed as something to be manipulated for the sake of self, not someone to be respected for the sake of God. Individualism denies the subjectivity of the other and makes the other an object. Whereas Collectivism forces me to deny the individuality of my comrade, Individualism forces me to deny his common grace. This view of God and the other is contrary to the Kuyperian notion of rights and duties. Within Kuyperianism the self has a right of freedom from infringement, yes, but also a duty to neighbor and nation. Exactly how this ethic plays out on this ground is relative to context, but this much is certain: the Individualist notion of the self as ultimate is anti-Christian. In exalting the self, Individualism eclipses God and the other. Inherent to the Christian system is mutual interdependence regarding the self and the other, both being dependent on God. God alone is the Lord over all who is the ultimate owner of the self. His rights, therefore, are ultimate.
Individualism’s political correlate is Secular Libertarianism [1, this is an important footnote wherein Secular Libertarianism and Christian Libertarianism are distinguished]. Secular Libertarianism begins with the principle of individual ownership: the individual owns his body and his property. As an outflow of the individual’s right to self and property is his right to freedom from interference from other people (what some call negative rights). Thus, the initiation of force against his person or his property violates this principle of ownership central to the Libertarian system. This principle, considered more abstractly, is referred to as the principle of non-aggression. Consistently applied, Secular Libertarianism posits an entire system of government wherein the state consists, righteously, only by the free-consent of the persons governed (Volunteerism). If individuals were forced to assimilate under a collective, said collective would violate their individual rights to their person and property, according to Libertarians. Libertarians are thus, for the most part, anti-war (seeing this as an act of unnecessary aggression), anti-taxation (seeing this as theft), and pro-choice (seeing the fetus as the property of the mother).
In all of this, one can hardly deny secular Libertarianism a form of virtue; God has given rights to individuals. We all want to be free from aggression from the other. We have all seen the evils of a power hungry, war-mongering government. We all want to have the freedom to express our own inherent gifts and passions. There is much to gain here. Libertarians argue that the free-market system (Individualism’s economic correlate) is not only the most natural fiscal system (see Von Mises on Human Action), but also the most profitable (see Milton Friedman’s lectures Free to Choose). In addition to this, Randian Libertarians argue, from a more intuitive perspective, that Libertarianism is the greatest system for the individual to actualize his own inherent potentiality. Within Libertarianism the self is given the chance to realize its own potential. Admittedly, if anyone gives Libertarianism’s philosophers serious thought, one is forced, rationally, to admit of a form of virtue tied to their doctrines of freedom, rights, non-aggression, market competition, and expression.
Sadly though, Secular Libertarianism, as the political correlate to Individualism, violates Scripture and sound Philosophy. The individual eclipses the state, God, and the other in this system. Unlike the Kuyperian system wherein the state and self have certain rights and duties and the individual has certain rights and duties, Libertarianism posits that duties are non-existent and rights alone are ultimate. Negative rights, freedom from infringement from the other, are the only reality, necessarily, in Libertarianism. Righteously, the government is a hypothetical possibility alone for Libertarians; which contradicts the Scriptural doctrine, wherein God is the creator and ordainer of government. For Libertarianism, government is only rightly established by the free association of persons alone. Therefore, whereas the Bible states that we pay our taxes because the government is God’s minister, ordained for the administration of justice, the Libertarian cries that taxation is theft. Whereas the Bible states that the death penalty is rightly administered to those who shed the life of a man, the Libertarian argues that the right to kill is the centralization of too much governmental power. Whereas the Christian proclaims his inherent right to influence the government to end abortion, making it illegal, the secular Libertarian proclaims that the woman has the right to kill the fetus which she possesses. Such is the result of a system governed by the principle of ownership, expressed practically through an emphasis on negative rights, with no regard for duties which are to be expressed to one’s neighbor.
Individualism’s error is not that it values the individual, but that it makes the individual a god. Within Individualism, the self, not God, is the ultimate owner who has rights. Within Kuyperianism, God alone has ultimate rights and freedom; He has, from his wisdom and grace, annexed rights and duties to various spheres of his own institution such that the individual does, in fact, have derivative rights. The individual’s rights are a grace, having their basis in God’s ordination. Further, individual rights do not eclipse duties to the the other on a social level (the error of Individualism broadly). And they do not eclipse the necessary existence of the state at a political level (the error of secular Libertarianism particularly). Individualism, therefore, is as immoral as it is impractical. Not only is it impossible that society could ever function on its principles, we should also never desire that it would. Promising a form of flourishing liberty, the content of actualized Individualism is despair. Egoism, Individualism’s correlate ethic, states that through the pursuit of individual self-interest joy is found (this is not meant to deny the righteousness of self-interest, only to match it to the twin correlate of “other” centered care which, together, constitute joy). The Scriptures ethic is that through submission to God and service to the other is joy is found. Through obedience to God and sacrifice for the other one realizes joy. Further, Individualism seeks to destroy hierarchy. Yet the Bible is replete with hierarchy. From the beginning, God was over the man. The man over the woman, for their flourishing. Though detrimental at times due to man’s sin, hierarchy is inherent to the creational order, instituted for our good. Government, a hierarchy related to force and order, is God’s ordained minister to carry out justice, instituted for societies good.
In all of this, the Individualist consistently values the self over God, neighbor, and state. Against this, Kuyperianism proceeds from the Sovereignty of God as such. Said sovereignty realizes itself in the work of Jesus Christ redemptive-historically: the king comes to establish his kingdom. The sovereignty of God and kingdom of Christ are brought to fruition in the individual through Spirit-wrought faith. And that faith, the faith of the church, works redemption in society realizing the kingdom of God in an already/not yet way. The result of Kuyperianism, therefore, is submission to Christ, an orderly society, and a transformed world. The result of Individualism is, sadly, on a personal level, isolation. On a social and familial level, its result is fragmentation (atomization). The result of Individualism on a political level, finally, is chaos. Thankfully, though, our God is no individualist. Our God is Triune – Three persons in a mysterious unity. Through new birth the Father has caused us to be born again in and with Another. Being in Him, we are no longer in ourselves at enmity with God and others. Rather, we have realized ourselves and are continuing to do so through the Spirit’s sanctification, having been found in the great Other, Jesus Christ our brother.
 In all of this, I mean to distinguish secular Libertarianism from Christian Libertarianism. The former proceeds, seemingly, without any basis other than consequence in its grounding of individual rights. The latter, on the other hand, establishes it’s doctrine of rights through an appeal to its broader Theology and Anthropology. God made man in His own image fit with rights. Futher, the most consistent of Christian Libertarians see a legitimate place for government in the administration of the sword of God’s justice (Romans 13). All this to say, though there is much to glean from secular libertarian thinkers, Christian foundations are ultimately necessary to justify their assertions regarding individual rights and limited government.
This post was originally written for The Reformed Conservative: https://thereformedconservative.org/