Individual freedom is a foundational principle in the classical liberal tradition. Other political traditions consider the individual to be subordinate to the collective. Under socialism and nationalism, for example, the individual’s interests are treated as means to the ends of society, the party, or the state. Classical liberals, on the other hand, see individuals not as mere means, but as ends in themselves, deserving respect and the freedom to exercise agency, adhere to their own beliefs, and pursue their own goals. Individuals may, of course, voluntarily act in ways that put their family, their community, or the broader society ahead of their own interests, but in so doing, they are exercising their individual freedom to make their own choices. Political coercion that puts the collective ahead of the individual is a violation of that freedom. Respect for individual rights is essential for a just and flourishing society.
The best way to understand liberalism is as individualist, not statist. When this movement began, liberals were united by a few common values: individual rights, personal responsibility, and democracy. Democracy was particularly crucial because it is the rule of the people, by the people.
– Daniel Jacobson