This quote is from Ayn Rand, a Russian-American philosopher and writer known for developing the philosophy of Objectivism. This philosophy places individual rights and self-interest at the centre of its ethical and political thought. “The smallest minority on earth is the individual. Those who deny individual rights cannot claim to be defenders of minorities.”
This quote is a reflection of Rand’s strong emphasis on individual rights. In the first sentence, “The smallest minority on earth is the individual,” Rand is making a point that at the most fundamental level, all groups or collectives are made up of individuals. So, when we talk about the rights of groups (minorities, for example), we’re ultimately talking about the rights of the individuals who make up those groups.
In the second sentence, “Those who deny individual rights cannot claim to be defenders of minorities,” Rand is arguing that it’s inconsistent to claim to defend the rights of minorities (which are, after all, groups of individuals) while denying the rights of individuals. From Rand’s perspective, individual rights are the bedrock of any meaningful concept of rights, so to deny individual rights is, in a real sense, to undermine the very concept of rights.
Rand was an ardent critic of collectivism and defender of capitalism, and she saw the defence of individual rights as crucial to a just and free society. Her work continues to spark controversy and debate in philosophical, political, and economic circles.