But individualism, and the cultural and economic freedom it thrives on, is not antisocial. A few individuals might cut themselves off from society, but as the very happiness industry he derides takes pains to demonstrate, friendships and other social interactions are a big part of what really makes most people happy. What individualists like me actually believe is that the greater the level of individual freedom, the better the society. People living in a free society—a society in which as many aspects of life as possible are left in the hands of individuals and voluntary associations—will be wealthier, healthier, and happier, and will experience less suffering. It is neither right nor practical to try to organize society from the top down. Government coercion of individuals through taxation and regulation (both of which the modern world has in spades, despite equivocation from Lears and many others) interferes with the spontaneous order of the market and tends to make people worse off.
While I’m not a fan of everything Thatcher did, it’s clear from the context in which she denied the existence of society that, broadly speaking, she was advocating the kind of individualism sketched above. In other words, the belief that leaving individuals free to pursue their own happiness leads to a better society. If positive psychology self-help books can make that pursuit more successful, all the better.