While the various strands of liberalism, free market economics, early libertarianism, American contemporary libertarianism, and neo-liberalism of the Thatcherite and Reaganite varieties, had divergent and often contradictory principles and aims, all of them shared a rudimentary belief in the freedom and independence of the individual, as opposed to the determinism of the socialist, collectivist or Marxist view.
Historically, collectivist and individualist philosophical theories and systems of thought developed as dichotomies, feeding off one another at philosophical, ideological and political levels and broadly divided between the individualist current on the right and the collectivist on the left; although there is a strange crossover when one enters the marginal worlds of the left anarchist and individualist anarchist traditions and the anacro-capitalist /libertatianism of Tucker, Spooner, and Rothbard.
The neo-liberalism of the Thatcherite/ Reaganite variety, while based on broadly liberal ideas of free market economy, individual liberty and a curb on state power, sought to establish an objective or scientific basis for the idea of individual freedom on a par with the “objectivity”of Marxist determinism. The most influential current of thought developed out of the Rand think-tanks, where the mathematicians Nash and Arrow introduced “objective” criterion, via mathematics and probability theory, into the study of agency and decision-making. What became known as rational choice theory reinterpreted the liberal and libertarian idea of the free individual on a “scientific” basis. This current of thought strongly influenced the Regan and Thatcher regimes, (Volcker, Friedman, etc.) and became integrated into mainstream economics, so much so that the ideological trope of the self-interested and calculating “player” has, in popular imagination, been naturalised as the default state of the individual over and against the altruistic or cooperative impulse. This is clearly an ideological trope and not a conclusion based on scientific observation or practice. It is also clear that many of these economists displayed the sort of self aggrandisement they projected on their object of study (the isolated game player) and feathered their nests via consultancy fees, seats on corporate boards, directorships, lucrative publishing and speaking opportunities, university seats, and access to the “corridors of power”.