Individualists, contrary to Brooks’s claims, don’t have any general objection to human sociality. We realize how much we all depend on one another in our everyday lives. That should be obvious enough from the fact that we believe in replacing government regimentation with freed markets and voluntary associations. But if it is not obvious enough, let’s make it as clear as we can.
A freed market is nothing more and nothing less than a form of spontaneous social collaboration. There are no markets without several people cooperating with each other to buy and sell, interdependent with others who work, invent, discover opportunities, and generally hustle to truck and barter. And there are myriad other ways for free people to choose individually to cooperate without cash exchanges, like family networks, charities, community organizations, fraternal lodges, or voluntary mutual-aid societies and workers’ unions.
The debate between individualists and “modernized” collectivists has nothing really to do with whether or not human beings ought to live a social life; it has to do with the terms on which we associate to work and live together—whether our social combinations ought to be cooperative or coercive. Social combinations can only be truly cooperative if they are voluntary—if they are organized through persuasion and free agreement among everyone involved, rather than through force and coerced obedience by some to a few.
Individualism is not a philosophical rationale for antisocial attitudes or for indifference or hostility toward your fellow creatures. It is the collectivist, not the individualist, who sees human beings as naturally truculent creatures who don’t care enough about each other to get along peacefully and who need to have plans for collaboration forced on them from the top. Promising social harmony and security, collectivism delivers dissonance and violence.
Individualists believe in individualism precisely because we believe that human beings can and should be both social and civilized to each other at the same time—that community and social life don’t require shoving people around or bullying them into following one big plan. What Brooks fails to see is how—individually—we can peacefully, freely, and naturally form communities, institutions, and invisible social bonds as we make our way through the world.