by Donald J. Boudreaux
The American Institute for Economic Research
Liberal individualism is often interpreted as an ideology based on the belief that individuals are atomistic egoists, each of whom single-mindedly pursues only maximum material gain and sensual satisfaction for himself or herself. Each person, in this interpretation, engages with people outside of his or her immediate family exclusively for reasons shallow and prudential – most notably, to trade in impersonal ways that materially enrich the person. Liberal individualists are accused of being blind to higher human desires, such as for community and a sense of purpose more elevated than the gratification of one’s narrow material desires.
This interpretation of liberal individualism could not be more mistaken. Liberal individualists understand, of course, that it’s in the nature of each human to be self-interested – that is, interested in himself or herself (and family) to a degree greater than he or she is interested in strangers.