I've promised that I'd describe why, though I love liberty, I can't call myself a libertarian. The question compels me to turn to a Christian view of man, one that can find corroboration in Aristotle and in certain strands of Stoicism, but that is only fulfilled in the Body of Christ.
This view prescinds from a Trinitarian paradox. God has made each of us in His image and likeness; what does this mean? I used to believe that the revelation had to do with what separated man from the lesser animals: we employ reason; we are possessed of intellect; we perform spiritual actions (as, for instance, contemplating the divine); we are endowed with immortal souls. Yet the verse in Genesis, as has long been noted, is strangely plural: "Let us make man in our image," says God. Some critics believe that the plural is a fly in amber, a residue of polytheism surviving in a much later text. I find the suggestion absurd. We have, in Genesis 1, a hymn to creation, such as we find also in God's speech to Job from the whirlwind, and in Psalm 8. In the latter texts, God is shown as with the "sons of morning," or he has made man "a little less than the angels," so that we should expect no less here, particularly since we will find angels in the expulsion of man from Eden, and all throughout the epic of the early patriarchs. But the Fathers saw also an intimation of the Trinity, since, after all, it is never suggested that man is made in the image of the angels — they who rather are also made in God's image, with names that reflect the unicity of God, like Michael ("Who is like God?", implying the answer, "No one is like God"). Now if man is made in the image of the three-personed God, it is not only "not good for man to be alone," it is downright self-contradictory, since God himself is not the lonely God of Omar (Chesterton), and to contemplate Him is no "flight of the alone to the Alone" (Plotinus), but is a contemplation of a communion of Love.
This meaning of man is intimated also, as C. S. Lewis saw, and as has been meditated upon by the last two Popes, by our having faces. Yes, so do many of the animals, but only man will gaze with love into the face of another, seeking the heart of the one he loves. When Dante meets Saint Benedict in the circle of Saturn in Paradise, he makes the remarkable request — remarkable, seeing that since the circle of Mercury he has not even been able to divine the merest traces of a countenance — that "father" Benedict show him his face. That cannot be, says Benedict, until Dante arrives in the very presence of God, in the empyrean, wherein all the faces of the saints will be clear. Then, after his short conversation with the pilgrim, Benedict rises again to his sphere, accompanied by his brothers in contemplation. I think Dante here is suggesting two truths about man here. The first is that we are only truly ourselves, and we will truly know one another, when we are made one in God. The second is that we are made for communion; the heart of the monastic life is eucharistic. These two truths about man illuminate one another. They are but the twin commandment given by Jesus, that we are to love the Lord our God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength, and our neighbors as ourselves.
Thus the "individual" as understood in rationalist social-contract theories is, for the Christian, already a reduction, even an abstraction. To be, as Pope Benedict has said, is revealed to us as to be from, to be with, and to be for: it is the Trinitarian mystery of existence. We must not think of people as, primarily, individuals, to which are superadded contingent relationships. Every person is born into a world of relationships: is the child of a mother and a father. In a certain sense, it is correct to remember that Jesus would have died on the cross to save even one of us: he loves all, in such a way as to love each, as if each were the only being in the world. But each of us is not the only being in the world, and could never be, so that when Jesus saves me he saves the fellow who is the son of Anthony and Jane, the husband of Debra; and it is also those relationships of love that he has come to heal and redeem. That is but what it means to save the individual.
I grant that this is a great mystery. But I think it helps us to avoid the unnecessary dichotomy between rights, which are supposed to inhere only in individuals, and responsibilities, which are supposed to be owed only to others. In point of fact, my rights and responsibilities are incoherent if considered as separate from one another, since I am fundamentally from, with, and for others. A family is more than an agglomeration of human isotopes; to deny that it too possesses rights is to mistake what a human being is. If no man is an island, and if every man's death diminisheth me, then every man's evil harms me, and every man's virtue builds me up. All these things we need to consider when we ask, "What does a just society look like?", and, what is not the same thing, "What form of government best serves the end of justice?" We will conclude that it is not true that the "freest" society is the most just, if by freedom we mean the license to behave as if we were alone in the world, pursuing individual ends, but that a just society will be the most free — because it will be a society of genuine liberty wherein human beings can best flourish. I'm not original here, far from it. More on this soon.