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Study notes

Egotistical and Developmental Individualism (Liberalism)

  • Levels: AS, A Level
  • Exam boards: AQA, Edexcel

Classical liberals are associated with egotistical individualism whereas social liberals take the view of developmental individualism. 

Classical liberals believe that individuals aim to satisfy their own wants and needs. As such, there is no such thing as society – merely a collection of egotistical, self-interested and self-reliant individuals. 

Social liberalism however takes a less atomised view. Instead, they adopt a more developed view of humanity which recognises our desire to live in harmony with one another. Developmental individualism assumes that we may choose to make social progress and express a degree of altruism.

The distinction between egotistical and developmental individualism holds overt implications for the role of the state

Egotistical individualism advocates a minimal state. Ultimately, self-interest individuals know what is best for them. Individuals should therefore be self-reliant rather than relying upon the state to look after them. Moreover, individuals should be allowed to keep as much of their wealth as possible. 

In contrast, developmental individualism takes a more positive view of state intervention. According to those on the libertarian-left of the political spectrum, the government should provide essential welfare services and some level of wealth distribution. This inevitably leads us towards a consideration of the distinction between negative and positive freedom.

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