Via David Henderson, I came upon this essay by John Edward Terrell in the New York Times criticizing libertarians and Tea Party types for favoring individualism. What a morass of confusion!
To begin with, Terrell conflates (1) the appropriateness of respecting individual rights, (2) the moral question, how we should act, and (3) the psychological question, how we are likely to act. He seems to believe that libertarians believe that we should have absolute individual rights, that it is moral to be selfish, and that we are likely to be so.
These are old mistakes, but it is sad how often libertarianism is rejected for these mistaken reasons.
1. First, it is true that libertarians believe that people should have individual rights, but it is not because our actions have no effect on other people. Libertarians recognize that we are interconnected and argue that our mode of interaction should not be through coercion but through voluntary associations. Social interactions work better through voluntary associations.
Goods and services are better provided through a competitive market than through monopoly government provision. Similarly, in a free society, as de Tocqueville saw, people form voluntary associations to serve community ends and these associations generally work better than government does through coercion.