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April 21, 2007



You're confusing individuality and individualism.

Yes, we are all individuals. Individuality is "the quality of being individual" (from WordNet).

However, when we right-libertarians talk about individualism, we're talking about "a moral, political, or social outlook that stresses human independence and the importance of individual self-reliance and liberty" (from Wikipedia) or "the doctrine that government should not interfere in commercial affairs" (from WordNet).

Marcin Tustin

Yes, the individualism of the right is a rhetorical device. I have always seem the split as being between those who want to undermine current power and wealth inequalities, and those who wish to perpetuate them, or replace them with their own scheme of exploitation.

At present I worry that we are very much in a collectivist phase, and that is why the relevant radical left are individualists.


Marcin, this supposed "split" is flawed because lots of people, myself included, don't have a place in it.

I don't necessarily want to reduce "current power and wealth inequalities". However, I don't either want to "perpetuate them" or "replace them with [my] own scheme of exploitation".

All I care about is that people aren't coerced into anything. I don't care whether in such a libertarian society "inequalities" would be higher or lower. Just as long as there isn't any coercive exploitation.

Marcin Tustin

Mat, everyone fits into this scheme, whether they will admit it or not. It sounds like you want to do away with statist power structures, and replace them solely with power inequalities based on the control of resources which can be traded through a market. Just because you don't like the sound of that description does not make it any less accurate.

Rob Spear

The right, in theory, encourages all those sinister existing social structures, such as families, social clubs, corporations, and churches.

The left, in theory, believes in equality as the overriding good, and attempts to use state power or social pressure to change the above institutions to make them more equal.

Which of these is more individualistic?

tom s.

Jon Elster has a lovely take from 25 years ago called "MARXISM, FUNCTIONALISM, AND GAME THEORY: The Case for Methodological Individualism".

It is reprinted here:


Well, the right tends to be broadly in support of "family", which we might define as "collectivism that I choose". The collectivism of the left tends to be rather more along involuntary lines, forcing me to support people who I might not otherwise choose to help.

Maybe it's the difference between interdependence and dependence.

Peter Risdon

You have worked from an over-simplified set of definitions of left and right, and unwrapped the contradictions that then inevitably can be found.

Probably the biggest complications are that since the 1960s, neo-conservatives have been entering right wing politics from the left wing, and bringing with them collectivist ideas and preconceptions, and that classical liberals (and libertarians) are regarded as being right wing, when they have only one thing in common with traditional conservatives: neither is left wing.

Individualism in the traditional, left can be traced all the way back to Chartism and 19th century virtues of working class self-help, perhaps even back to the Diggers, and predates Marxism which in many ways conflicts with it.

So it's a false dichotomy.

young man

Your motivation for immigation and an IHT might stem from individualism but your arguments for them do not (well not entirely).

Immigration (unless it is of the targetted/ skilled kind) just lowers the average wealth (as well as straining social capital).

Your argument for an IHT, whilst very good, ignores the difficulties of enforcing such a tax. Its human nature to provide for your kids and most assets could be passed on IHT free during your lifetime as a way around the IHT.

I am right wing because I favour a system that works with human nature.... Or maybe its because I am from a wealthy family ;-)

BTW how do you reconcile your advocacy for immigration with your desire for a basic income (your best idea in my opinion)? Would immigarnts get the basic income? 10,000,000 unskilled immigarnts collecting the basic income and doing very little work would soon render this proposal impractical.


There's no contradiction between a basic income and free immigration, as the basic income can be limited to citizens. Through this route, objections to benefit tourism can be quashed.


"My social isolation (caused in large part by upward social mobility)"
More likely you're just too damn picky. I know a little about this, having married late (37). There are plenty of gals out there ready to drive you to the madhouse if you give them half a chance.


I don't think a right-wing critique of inheritance tax would necessarily centre around the collective good you describe, would it?
And no-one benefits more from immigration than the white upper class, do they?
Magda, where's my ironing?

john b

"Immigration (unless it is of the targetted/ skilled kind) just lowers the average wealth (as well as straining social capital)."

Not qualified to comment on the social capital point, but even the anti-immigrationists at Migration Watch grudgingly concede that immigration raises the mean income for non-immigrants.

Matt Munro

I think immigrants are beneficial to the economy when they first arrive, young, healthy, single and keen to work. In the longer term when they marry, have kids, get sick and claim a pension they become a net drain, especially if the economy dives and they become unemployed.
Immigration is only beneficial where there are significany holes in the economy - e.g the labour shortages post WW2 which drove immigration in the 1960s, or where specialist skills are scarce e.g the late 90s influx of indian comuter programmers because we couldn't produce enough to keep up with an expanding service industry.


I think individualism is more a characteristic of classic liberalism than of 'the right'. It most became associated with right-wing politics during the Thatcher/Reagan years. To my mind the defining difference of opinion between left and right is the attitude towards equality and hierarchy. The left are usually prepared to trade off other things that we value - such as personal freedom and responsibility - for the sake of reducing equality. The right are more likely to view inequality as inevitable no matter how much effort the state puts into reducing it, and to accept hierarchy in organisations as important for making sure that things actually get done. In this sense classic liberalism sometimes is seen as being right wing because it places individual freedom as paramount regardless of the fact that it inevitably generates inequality.

I'd even go so far as to say that these attitudes towards equality can be extended to the monsters of the far left and right. Both the Nazis and the Marxist-Leninists were collectivists. However, the Nazis thought that people were so inherently unequal that some merited extermination. The Marxist-Leninists thought that people should be treated so equally that any class enemy that got in the way of this ultimate aim (e.g. the upwardly mobile peasant class, the kulaks) should be exterminated.

Interested to hear whether you agree with this analysis ...

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