Thinking and acting are for humans indivisible and inseparable. They can for the purpose of study be broken down into component parts, but in actuality — i.e. in how they function — thinking and acting are entirely unified and symbiotic: two inextricable pieces of an elegantly integrated whole.
Thinking and acting are another way of describing the spirit and flesh — or brain and body, if you prefer.
Human action is preceded by thinking.
Thinking means to cogitate beforehand over future action and to introspect afterward upon past action. Thinking is reasoning.
Reason is the human faculty that integrates data, and it’s a faculty all individual human beings possess. The capacity to reason isn’t limited to any one race, sex, sexual-orientation, gender, skin color, or any other non-definitional human characteristic. The faculty of reason is the sapiens in homo-sapiens. Reason is the defining characteristic of the human species and it is the common-denominator that unites us all as individuals.
All actions are performed by individuals.
Every action is always based upon some idea about cause and effect.
“One who thinks a casual relation thinks, by extension, a theorem. Action without thinking — or practice without theory — is unimaginable: even if the reasoning is faulty and the theory incorrect, thinking and theorizing are even then not lacking in action.”
Wrote Ludwig von Mises.
In this capacity, then — the capacity of a thinking, acting, discrete being — homo-sapiens came forth from her prehuman state: a social sapient creature yet individuated.
That there are clubs, churches, communities, cities, counties, nations, states, municipalities, and so on — and that there is contained therein social cooperation under the division of labor — becomes intelligible and comprehensible only in the action of individuals.
“Nobody ever perceived a nation” — as Ludwig von Mises also so sagely wrote — “without perceiving its members.”
In this sense, one may also accurately say that a so-called social collective only comes into being through the actions of individuals — which, however, does not mean that the individual is secondary or chronologically antecedent or temporally after-the-fact. It merely means that the definite actions of individuals constitute any and every community or so-named collective.
“A collective whole is a particular aspect of the actions of various individuals, and as such it is a real thing. Yet there is no need to argue whether a collective is the sum resulting from the addition of its elements or more, whether it is a being sui generis, and whether it is reasonable or not to speak of its will, plans, aims, and actions and to attribute to it a distinct soul. Such talk is pedantic and idle.”
And why is such talk pedantic and idle?
“Because it is illusory to believe that it could in any way be possible to visualize collective wholes apart from the individuals who compose these wholes” (ibid).
Collective wholes are never visible.
Their intelligibility — their discoverability and cognition — is always the outcome of the understanding of the meaning which acting humans attribute to their acts.
We can, of course, see a group or crowd — i.e. a multitude of people — yet whether this group or crowd is a mere gathering or a mob or a mass or an organized body or any other kind of social entity is a question which can only be answered by understanding the meaning that they themselves, as individuals, attach to their presence.
This meaning is always the meaning of individuals. Always.
Not our senses but our understanding — which comes from the human faculty of reason, which is a mental action that each individual must perform individually, in the privacy of her or his own mind — this alone is what enables us to recognize social entities.
As such, individualism as a philosophy opposes governmental coercion and all other forms of politico-economic authoritarianism, no matter how purportedly admirable the cause, no matter how seemingly benign the force.
As a corollary of this, the philosophy of individualism — which I unwaveringly back — is a full proponent of individual choice.
Individualism espouses the voluntary — nothing more and nothing less: voluntary human action specifically, as against coercion of any kind.
This alone is the defining characteristic of individualism.
Individualism does not mean you automatically or necessarily disagree with the ends or goals espoused by, for example, Quakers, Communitarians, Christians, Communists, et cetera. It means only that you do not believe in forcing any means whatsoever upon any individuals in order to achieve your stated ends or goals.
This one principle alone is absolutely critical in understanding accurately the philosophy of individualism and its corollary: the act of independent thinking.
Seen in this light, then — which is to say, the accurate light — it becomes blindingly obvious how absurd the litany of (false) platitudes concerning individualism actually are. To wit:
“Unbridled” voluntary choice and voluntary human action.
“Rugged” voluntary choice and voluntary human action.
“Unrestrained” voluntary choice and voluntary human action.
“Unchecked” voluntary choice and voluntary human action.
“Lone-wolf” voluntary choice and voluntary human action.
Ladies, gentlemen, and everyone else, I ask you to please hear this and ruminate upon it — for the sake of your rational minds and the rational minds of your loved ones, if nothing else:
Individualism is not dangerous even when it’s “unbridled.” It is not rugged. It is not the lone wolf, not wild. It is not the kamikaze pilot, not self-destructive, not suicidal.
Individualism is not the unchecked monster under your roof — some slavering, insatiable, dog-like beast who would devour all cooperation and all humanity and peace, all harmony, all goodwill, all the warmth or benevolence which you so often feel.
On the contrary, in leaving people alone and in having the respect for each individual’s independence to make her or his free and voluntary choices, individualism as a philosophy creates and fosters these excellent things, these virtuous beings, gives them more confident and more independent voices.
Neither isolationist, nor antisocial, nor anti-society, nor atomistic, nor anachronistic, the philosophy of individualism, I say again, is not anti-family, anti-friend, anti-love, anti-ocean-below, anti-blue-sky-above. Neither is individualism something disconnected and completely discrete, without any context at all — which, from a purely metaphysical standpoint, isn’t even possible, first of all. When you distill it down to its essence, individualism is really one thing and one thing only: it is a belief in voluntary human action, as against (I repeat) action that is coerced, compelled, or forced.
Individualism is predicated upon the fact that only individuals think. Only individuals reason. “Societies” do not think. “The Community” does not reason. “The racial group” does not either — none of them do, apart from the individuals who compose each one of these groups.
No collective — no matter how venerable, no matter how numerous its members, no matter how frenzied its mob, no matter how hip and fashionable or cool — none collectively reasons or thinks, not any more than any one of them collectively eats or breathes or drinks.
The executioner, not the state, executes the criminal.
The meaning of those concerned is what discerns in the executioner’s action an action of the state.
Any given group or so-called collective operates always through the intermediary of one or several individuals whose actions are related to the collective as the secondary source. The meaning that the acting individuals — and those affected by the acting — attach to an action is what determines the action’s character. It’s also the meaning that marks one action as the action of an individual and another action as the action of the state or the municipality.
A group of armed people occupy a palace or place. It is the meaning of those concerned which imputes this occupation not to the individual officers and soldiers on the spot but rather to their nation.
If we analyze and study the meaning of the various actions performed by individuals, we must necessarily learn everything about the actions of a collective wholes. Why?
Because a societal collective has no existence and no reality outside the individual members’ actions.
The life of a collective is lived in the actions of the individuals constituting its body. There is no group, gang, collective, community (et cetera) conceivable which is not operative in the actions of the individuals who compose it. The reality of a social integer consists in its directing and releasing definite actions on the part of individuals. Thus the way to understanding wholes is through an analysis of the individual’s actions.
Wrote Ludwig von Mises.
This is why the most self-destructive thing any human can do is subjugate the power of one’s own brain to that of another — to accept as fact the mere assertions of an authority, to treat as truth their authoritarian decrees, or to allow these to be the connective link between your mind and your life, your convictions and your actions.
No matter the size and scope of any one person’s learning, it does not alter the fact that it’s each individual human brain which must obtain its learning, and which must, as a corollary, integrate individually and process this learning so that this learning becomes knowledge — because if it’s not independently processed and integrated, it is not fully knowledge. This is the difference between the parrot who learns to mimic and repeat human language and the human who learns the meaning of the language she or he is using.
The one who thinks and acts within the scope of her or his knowledge and learning — regardless of its size, regardless of how large or how small — and the one who then keeps expanding the limit of that learning and who does so over the long arc of life, that is the independent thinker. And that is what the philosophy of individualism espouses.