Individualism regards man — every man — as an independent, sovereign entity who possesses an inalienable right to his own life, a right derived from his nature as a rational being. Individualism holds that a civilized society, or any form of association, cooperation or peaceful coexistence among men, can be achieved only on the basis of the recognition of individual rights — and that a group, as such, has no rights other than the individual rights of its members.Ayn Rand, Racism (The Virtue of Selfishness) p. 129
Every human being is an individual, an independently thinking entity with a single mind. This does not mean that it can’t be influenced by others, but fundamentally an individuals mind works on its own and only it can decide to think. Since reason is mens only means of survival, it is obvious that he requires the freedom to think and more importantly: The freedom to act on his conclusions.
As is evident from history, humans can greatly benefit from working together, sharing knowledge and divide labour. But in order to do so in the best way possible, they need to respect the sovereignty and autonomy of other people, their mind and their choices. They may trade material and spiritual goods with one another to mutual benefit but physical force is only justified and necessary in selfdefense.
There is no conflict of interests among men who do not desire the unearned, who do not make sacrifices nor accept them, who deal with one another as traders, giving value for value.
The principle of trade is the only rational ethical principle for all human relationships, personal and social, private and public, spiritual and material. It is the principle of justice.
A trader is a man who earns what he gets and does not give or take the undeserved. He does not treat men as masters or slaves, but as independent equals. He deals with men by means of a free, voluntary, unforced, uncoerced exchange—an exchange which benefits both parties by their own independent judgment. A trader does not expect to be paid for his defaults, only for his achievements. He does not switch to others the burden of his failures, and he does not mortgage his life into bondage to the failures of others.
In spiritual issues—(by “spiritual” I mean: “pertaining to man’s consciousness”)—the currency or medium of exchange is different, but the principle is the same. Love, friendship, respect, admiration are the emotional response of one man to the virtues of another, the spiritual payment given in exchange for the personal, selfish pleasure which one man derives from the virtues of another man’s character. Only a brute or an altruist would claim that the appreciation of another person’s virtues is an act of selflessness, that as far as one’s own selfish interest and pleasure are concerned, it makes no difference whether one deals with a genius or a fool, whether one meets a hero or a thug, whether one marries an ideal woman or a slut. In spiritual issues, a trader is a man who does not seek to be loved for his weaknesses or flaws, only for his virtues, and who does not grant his love to the weaknesses or the flaws of others, only to their virtues.Ayn Rand, The Objectivist Ethics (The Virtue of Selfishness) p. 31
Though I fully agree with Rands Trader Principle and with what she describes as (rational) egoism/selfishness, I disagree with the term she uses, because it is misleading and contra-productive. On the first pages in The Virtue of Selfishness she makes clear that she does not use the term egoism in the commonly understood way, which is that of a “murderous brute who tramples over piles of corpses to achieve his own ends, who cares for no living being and pursues nothing but the gratification of the mindless whims of any immediate moment”(p. 1). But if that’s the common definition and there is already a less negative connotated term (individualism), why not use that one? Because it’s a shame that many people dismiss her ideas altogether, because they don’t grasp this difference.
The evil of Altruism
Whenever anyone wants others to do their work, they call upon their altruism. “Never mind your own needs,” they say, “think of the needs of …” of … whoever. Of the state. Of the poor. Of the army. Of the king. Of God. The list goes on and on. How many catastrophes were launched with the words “think of yourself”? It’s the “king and country” crowd who light the torch of destruction. It is this great inversion, this ancient lie, which has chained humanity to an endless cycle of guilt and failure.Andrew Ryan, BioShock
I think the quote and video above should be enough to demonstrate the perils of altruism. But to make it clear: Self-sacrifice, the total surrender of oneself, is practically suicide. We exist – because of our consciousness, our personhood – on a whole other level of existence than animals. Animals die when their bodies stop functioning. We, as persons, already die when our brain stops functioning, i.e. when our personality is gone. To subordinate the individual to the collective, to reduce a human being to a cog in the machine, to deprive it of the possibility to act on its own judgement is like turning it into a slave or a drone. This collectivism/tribalism is what humankind has done since time immemorial and only with the enlightenment and the american revolution has humanity chosen a fundamentally different path. The discovery of the individual, of freedom and reason is the root of our progress and wealth and necessary for peace and prosperity. It is also the reason, why socialism, fascism and all other kinds of altruist-collectivist ideologies are pure evil and doomed to fail (as history has shown numerous times).
Besides, the whole egoism-altruism dichotomy seems like total nonsense to me: Kant rightly pointed out that for an action to be truly altruistic, you can’t gain any benefit from it, not even a good feeling of righteousness. No one, not even convinced altruists (aside from delusional dogmatists), acts this way. Why? Because you won’t survive long, it’s suicide. Although nobody acts truly altruistic, it is often used as a means to rule others by force, to gain something one doesn’t deserve (see quote above). It is always an attempt to put the collective above the individual. Just listen to the consequences of the „ideal” of altruism: