I've noticed that ideological libertarians tend to denounce utilitarian interventions (e.g. redistributive taxation) as "collectivist", or favouring "the group" over "the individual". I can't make the slightest sense of this charge. Can anyone help me out?
The obvious problem is that "group", in this context, means nothing more than "several individuals". There's nothing obviously anti-individualistic about harming one individual in order to benefit many other individuals. On the contrary, it's hard to see what could possibly be more pro-individual than the utilitarian's desire to maximally benefit every individual in the world!
When libertarians talk about "the individual", I can only charitably interpret this as a definite, rather than generic, description. As established above, their claims would make no sense in relation to individuals in general. They must be talking about that particular individual - call him Bob - who is being harmed for the benefit of others. When they call utilitarians "anti-individual", they just mean we're "anti-Bob" -- in the weak sense that we give greater weight to the interests of multiple people than we do to Bob alone. But then what sort of criticism is this? Who in their right mind wouldn't think that, say, one life could be outweighed by a million? So if this -- the denial of deontological absolutism -- is all that they mean by "collectivism", it's a charge without bite.
A more intuitive definition of the term, I think, would invoke the notion that the group is somehow more than just the sum of its parts. On this understanding, a collectivist would elevate abstractions over real people, pursuing the glory of the group at the expense of the actual people who make it up. Now, I can understand why this anti-human ideology might be thought pernicious -- I'd probably agree, in fact. (Even worse is when an authoritarian leader dishonestly appeals to the "greater good" merely as a smokescreen for consolidating their own power. But I don't imagine anybody supports that!) But of course none of this bears any relation at all to the utilitarian trade-offs that some libertarians seek to slur.
Or am I missing something?