Notes on The Individualist Manifesto
By Trevor Watkins
The Individualist Manifesto does not tell anyone how to live or what to believe. That would be presumptuous. It simply specifies how I agree to treat others, nations and individuals, and in turn, how I hope to be treated by them. It is my contract with society.
This manifesto attempts to unite the several strains of the freedom philosophy into one consistent document. It aspires to be a statement that most seekers of liberty would be willing to accept and share.
The Communist Manifesto written by Karl Marx has inspired communists and socialists for the past 100 years. The Freedom Charter written in Sophiatown in South Africa has inspired the communists and socialists within the African National Congress for the past 70 years. The Magna Carta has served as an inspiration and guide for English citizens for over 700 years. The American Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights has formed the basis of American freedom for the past 250 years. These documents all inspired generations of individuals towards the goal of peaceful coexistence, even when deeply flawed.
Ideas are only made real when they are written down and shared. The adoption of new ideas by the broader public depends on the accessibility, the appeal and the simplicity of these new thoughts. The Individualist Manifesto is an attempt to condense most of the popular libertarian ideas into a short and simple document accessible to all. In 1940 Ayn Rand set the ball rolling with an article in the Reader's Digest entitled “The only path to tomorrow”. Since then many hundreds of similar documents have been produced by libertarian authors including the Non-Aggression principle and the Consent axiom.
This manifesto does not tell you how to govern. It says nothing about the relative merits of democracies or monarchies or dictatorships. It is neither for nor against minarchies or anarchies. It has no opinion on your religious, social or political views. It is simply a statement of how you expect to be treated by your peers in a complex world, and how you agree to treat them.
Why do we need yet another libertarian definition document?
Libertarians are a fringe group, with no clear identity. Currently the best definition of a libertarian is an individual who favours Liberty. That includes just about everyone. Most of the time we say that we believe in individual liberty without understanding or articulating the full implications of that statement.
We don't belong to anything. We don't know who our comrades are. We don't know what we believe, much less what they believe. We make no stand, we take no risks, we have no loyalties. We live in constant fear of the authority we so despise. Libertarians need an identity with which most can agree. The Individualist Manifesto can provide that identity.
Problems with the Consent Axiom
The Consent Axiom introduced a new concept into the statement of libertarian principles. It was crisper and more consistent than the non aggression principle. It covered more cases.
However, the Consent Axiom alone did not address several important issues, such as the right to life, respect for private property, handling of conflict and resolution of disputes. All of these issues are brought together in the Individualist Manifesto.
Why individualist and not libertarian manifesto
Like the word liberal, the meaning of the word “libertarian” is slowly being eroded. The word is claimed by members of both the far right and the far left wings. On Wikipedia, libertarian socialists and communists are defined and described alongside anarchists and conservatives. “Although the word "libertarian" has been used to refer to socialists internationally, its meaning in the United States has deviated from its political origins. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Libertarianism)”
The word “Individualist” does not suffer from this confusion, and does not imply any particular political faction.
How should the Individualist Manifesto be used?
Libertarians tend to have difficulty explaining their quite radical philosophy in a few simple sentences to the average layman. Some start with the non aggression principle, others begin describing the Consent Axiom, while some immediately start giving examples such as taxation or drug use. If you can't summarise your position in a few crisp words you are likely to lose the attention of your listener.
The Communist Manifesto is summarised with the words “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs”. The apparent logic and fairness of this phrase has allowed communism to grow around the globe.
The Individualist Manifesto is summarised with the words “ respect for the individual, consent not force, property rights, trial by jury”. These few words immediately distinguish the Individualist Manifesto from systems such as communism, socialism, democracy and religious authoritarianism. Although the essence of the Individualist position can be successfully conveyed in just one page, of course there are still many grey areas to be explored and resolved. But one does not win converts by first pointing out all the difficulties.
Like any document of this nature it is subject to change and improvement over time.
How does the Individualist Manifesto deal with the major issues?
Right to life: Respecting my right to life is implicit in respecting me and my independence, and in requesting my consent.
Freedom of speech: Words do not physically affect others and so the consent of others is not required before speaking, except in the case of fraud.
Harm: For an action resulting in harm against another to require the consent of the other, then that action must be immediate in time and space, must have significant consequences for the other, and must have physical reality.
Consent: The request for consent and the subsequent action must be within a reasonable time and distance of each other.
Consent given now does not imply ongoing consent into the future. Consent given in one place does not imply consent in all places. Consent for an action is not required from people far removed from the consequences of that action, in space or time.
Fraud: If your fraudulent words or actions may physically affect me then you must request my consent.
Freedom of action: You may do anything you choose so long as you cause no physical harm to others without their consent.
Use of force: You may only use force against others with their consent, except when they have already used force without consent, like for like.
Age of consent: Some individuals, such as very young children or the insane or unconscious, are incapable of informed consent. In that case they are considered as the wards and property of a consenting individual, or unowned. If ownership is challenged (by anyone), the decision on ownership must be taken by a duly appointed jury. If an individual is considered unowned, by themselves or by anyone else, then they may have to rely on the charity and intervention of their peers.
Democracy: Voting is a useful mechanism for determining the opinion of a majority. However it gives no authority to any group to harm an individual without their consent.
The Greater Good: Some actions are considered so overwhelmingly good for society that their performance overrides any individual objections (for example, vaccination, environmental preservation (eg global warming), terrorist apprehension). This argument is inevitably the top of a slippery slope, on which all manner of further consent violations are justified. This argument should be rejected.
Grey areas: Any discussion of human interactions is bound to involve many grey areas. This manifesto suggests that such grey areas will be resolved by a jury of one’s peers.
This manifesto is an attempt to crystallize in words the concepts that I believe are necessary for peaceful and prosperous coexistence. I welcome all comments..
The paradox of individualism. by Christopher Chantrill
A 10-point manifesto for individualism. Center for Individualism
The only path to tomorrow. Ayn Rand.
The non-aggression principle. Wikipedia
The Consent Principle. Trevor Watkins
Notes on the Consent Principle. Trevor Watkins