- For the descriptive terminology as used in anthropology and psychology, see Collectivist and Individualist cultures.
Collectivism, in general, is a term used to describe a theoretical or practical emphasis on the group, as opposed to (and seen by many of its opponents to be at the expense of) the individual. It is thus directly opposed to individualism.
Today, few people use the term "collectivist" to identify themselves. This article, however, discusses collectivism as a commmon theme that spans a broad category of non-individualistic philosophies, many of which significantly differ from each other.
Collectivists state that the good of the group is more important than the good of the individual, however, some may go on to say that since any group is ultimately made up of individuals, the individual coincidentally serves his own interests by serving the group's interests (in other words, as the group prospers, all members of the group prosper). Collectivism may also be associated with altruism.
There is much baggage with the term collectivism, and it is considered diametrically opposed to individualism. Both collectivism and individualism are interpreted differently by different people. In some cases, the same people may characterize themselves as both individualists and collectivists, depending on the situation. Anarchists, for example, are "individualists" in the sense that they believe in the absolute sovereignty of the individual, but "collectivists" in the sense that they believe a free society must abolish private property and that the best form of organization for free individuals would be communes.
Some political collectivists hold that different groups have competing interests, and that the individual's interests and characteristics are in fact tied up with the interests and characteristics of his or her group. In this line of thought, differences between groups are considered more significant than differences between individuals within groups.
Other political collectivists emphasize the notions of equality and solidarity, and see all human beings as part of the same group, with common interests. They maintain that competition and rivalry between individuals or smaller groups is overall counter-productive or detrimental, and should therefore be replaced with some form of cooperation.
There are also collectivists who combine the two views presented above, arguing, for example, that the present-day situation is the one presented in the first view (there are several competing groups), but that we should strive to reach the situation presented in the second view (one large cooperating group).
Since collectivism is a very broad category, it is very difficult to define what exactly constitutes a "collectivist" position on a certain issue. However, generally speaking, collectivism in the field of economics holds that capital and land should be owned by the group (and presumably used for the benefit of all) rather than being owned by individuals. Central to this view is the concept of the commons, as opposed to private property. Often, collectivists argue that many (perhaps all) valued commodities are public goods, and are difficult to, or should not be privatized, such as environmental goods , national defense, law enforcement and information goods.
Relying on individual choice for the provision of public goods is seen to lead to market failure and the free rider problem. Collective action, enforced by authorities, social pressure or coercion, is thus seen to be the only reliable means of ensuring a supply of a public good.
There are many examples of societies around the world which have characterized themselves or have been characterized by outsiders as "collectivist".
On the one hand, there are the communist states, which have often collectivized most economic sectors (and agriculture in particular). On the other hand, there are Israeli kibbutzim (voluntary communes where people live and farm together without private ownership), and communities such as the Freetown Christiania in Denmark (a small anarchist political experiment centered around an abandoned military installation in Copenhagen; Christiania has laws abolishing private property).
As noted in the opening paragraphs of this article, the term "collectivism" itself is more often used by anti-collectivists than by anyone else. Some, such as Ayn Rand and many influenced by her, supporters of an ideology called Objectivism, claim that collectivism is fallacious in theory and immoral in practice. They further argue that many (perhaps most) political ideologies (other than Objectivism itself) are forms of collectivism or at least contain significant collectivist elements. Others make specific objections to specific issues that they see as part of collectivism. Many anti-collectivists argue that collectivist emphasis on the group suppresses individual rights (while many collectivists argue that their policy is aimed at maximizing the rights and benefits of all - or most - individuals within a group).
In The strange death of capitalist individualism, J. A. Banks argues that "liberal capitalism" has been succeeded by a system of "private collectivism", based upon large, hierarchical, and often transnational corporations. These corporations regard their employees and even their high-paid executives as dispensable, interchangeable commodities, ignoring their individuality and only purchasing labour that requires a minimum set of skills. Oligarchic directors with vastly inflated salaries lead from the top of steep corporate hierarchies and are often unaccountable even to shareholders. Private collectivism contrasts with the traditional capitalist mode of production, in which individual capitalists employed workers, invested in capital and collected profits directly, rather than a collective organization (the joint stock corporation).
Anti-capitalists generally see such developments as the inevitable result of capitalism, and argue that the idealized version of capitalism that is supported by Banks and others is something that never truly existed, cannot exist, or cannot be sustained over time.
"For if the nineteenth century was a century of individualism it may be expected that this [the 20th century] will be the century of collectivism and hence the century of the State...." - Benito Mussolini, 1932
Collectivism is also the name of a free magazine for Wolverhampton; see Collectivism (magazine).
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