I didn’t make that-the myth of the rugged individual


I pick on Libertarians a lot, because they have a fatal flaw in their philosophy, but I must confess that I once liked their ideas so much, I joined a local Libertarian party for a few weeks. I still get meeting notices with the subject line: “The slaves conspire”

The fatal flaw in American Libertarianism is the idea that we can live as isolated individuals; that “society” is non-existent (as Thatcher said), that we don’t need it. You may recall the fuss about Obama’s statement, “You didn’t make that,” regarding businessmen and roads, electricity, and other modern conveniences. But the fact is, they didn’t make that. The flourishing of an individual is dependent on the flourishing of the whole society.

Just now, I took a shower and hot water came right out of the shower head. I didn’t have to go to the creek, haul water, chop wood and build a fire to heat the water. In many parts of the world, even today, that is precisely what is required to get clean. Not me, I turned a handle and got hot water. But I didn’t make that.

I brushed my teeth, but I didn’t make the toothbrush. I dried off with a nice fluffly towel, but I didn’t make that. I climbed into a bed I didn’t build, pulled up a blanket I didn’t weave and picked up a book I didn’t bind. I wrote in the margins with a pen I didn’t assemble and am now typing on a computer I didn’t invent. So in less than half an hour I have used the work and inventiveness and brains of many unknown others who made things I did not make, transported over roads I did not pave.

And any Libertarian must admit they do the same, if they will but be honest. As for taxes- they are the dues we pay to belong to Club Civilization. Club Civilization is preferable to the alternative. Really. But don’t take my word for it. Go into the wilderness and live without all the things you didn’t make for awhile. If you survive, you may come back and join society, but, sorry, you will have to pay your dues.

Now, what they are actually doing with our dues-that is a good subject for debate.

I play a little game I call Attitude of Gratitude. Try it sometime: Every time you use something you did not make, send a mental “thank you” to whoever did.


  1. Maybe Mill has something to say of merit on this. At least his libertarianism is a messy, contestable and negotiable liberty. As Warburton paraphrased it… ‘Your freedom to swing your fists ends where my face begins.’ The problem is that Mill seems to envisage a dialogue amongst the elite only (like Plato). The additional problem, and they are not exhausted with this… is that I would compromise liberty of different negotiable than the next person. Its a great ideal as long as we all get a turn to deal.

      1. I’ll get back to you on Rawls… certainly he’s one of those Thinkers. Worth comparing his ethical veil with Adam Smith’s hypothetical onlooker.

        Chow, fellow thinker.

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