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Collectivism is the moral stance, political philosophy, ideology, or social outlook that emphasizes the group and its interests. Collectivism is the opposite of individualism. Collectivists focus on communal, societal, or national interests in various types of political, economic, and educational systems.
Collectivism has been characterized as "horizontal collectivism", wherein equality is emphasized and people engage in sharing and cooperation, or "vertical collectivism", wherein hierarchy is emphasized and people submit to specific authorities. Horizontal collectivism is based on the assumption that each individual is more or less equal, while vertical collectivism assumes that individuals are fundamentally different from each other. Social anarchist Alexander Berkman, who was a horizontal collectivist, argued that equality does not imply a lack of unique individuality, but an equal amount of freedom and equal opportunity to develop one's own skills and talents.
Horizontal collectivists tend to favor democratic decision-making, while vertical collectivists believe in a more strict chains of commands. Horizontal collectivism stresses common goals, interdependence and sociability. Vertical collectivism stresses the integrity of the in-group (e.g. the family or the nation, for example), expects individuals to sacrifice themselves for the in-group if necessary, and promotes competition between different in-groups.
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Collectivism is often portrayed as the polar opposite of individualism, the economic, political, social or cultural autonomy of the individual within society; but given the different interpretations of individualism, from egocentric perspectives to more integrative ones, this apparent opposition is not necessarily true. For example, worker cooperatives operate on a collective basis but require the direct input of each individual member. While the ideas of holism posit that a sum is greater than its parts, this does not necessarily imply that a collectivity is greater or more powerful than the individuals that make it up, but instead that the collective energies of all individuals involved produce something that goes beyond each person (whereas, in authoritarian collectivities, power accrues to a person or group who is supposed to embody the collective). Theoretically, collectivism goes beyond considering the individual as the prime mover of society, but instead considers the numerous associations individuals voluntarily form as society's basis. In doing so it recognizes society as a collection of individuals and so remains with the understanding that any collective organization is fundamentally composed of individuals.
How conscious a collectivity is of this reality determines how genuinely it maintains respect for individuality. On the other hand, individualism which encourages individuality at the expense of others cannot be considered collectivist, nor even individualist, since individualism is not the same as egotism.
Researchers have proposed that collectivism and individualism came about through an evolutionary adaptation, which resulted from the need to be protected from parasites. This theory is commonly known as the parasite-stress theory, whereby different pathogens in different geographical locations will lead to residents of those locations having an immune-system specifically designed to protect against diseases in those particular areas.
Collectivism is one of the four dimensions of Hofstede's cultural dimensions theory.
In a collectivist culture, an individual identifies himself or herself as with a group. He or she believes that the desire and goals of their group are more important than anyone else's individual ideas. Thus, he or she is more connected to his or her group and care less about personal goals as an individual and more about combined goals as a whole group. In a collectivist society, people value their ingroup as a whole, taking into account how their actions give a positive or negative impression to outgroups while staying tightly knit with their ingroup.
Several studies have shown the consistent impact that collectivist cultures and individualist cultures have on the willingness to cooperate with others during group activities. Collectivists are more likely to accommodate when in an individualistic culture and change their behaviors based on their situations better than individualists.
There are two types of collectivism: institutional collectivism and in-group collectivism. Institutional collectivism is the idea that a work environment creates a sense of collectivist nature due to similar statuses and similar rewards, such as earning the same salary. In-group collectivism is the idea that an individual's chosen group of people, such as family or friend groups, create a sense of collectivist nature. In-group collectivism can be referred to as family collectivism.
There are two main objections to collectivism from the ideas of liberal individualists, such as classical liberals, libertarians, and Objectivists. One is that collectivism stifles individuality and diversity by insisting upon a common social identity, such as nationalism or some other group focus. The other is that collectivism is linked to statism and the diminution of freedom when political authority is used to advance collectivist goals.
On the other hand the application of the basic ideas of collectivism cannot result in anything but social disintegration and the perpetuation of armed conflict. It is true that every variety of collectivism promises eternal peace starting with the day of its own decisive victory and the final overthrow and extermination of all other ideologies and their supporters. ... As soon as a faction has succeeded in winning the support of the majority of citizens and thereby attained control of the government machine, it is free to deny to the minority all those democratic rights by means of which it itself has previously carried on its own struggle for supremacy.
Ayn Rand, creator of the philosophy of Objectivism and a particularly vocal opponent of collectivism, argued that it led to totalitarianism. She argued that "collectivism means the subjugation of the individual to a group," and that "throughout history, no tyrant ever rose to power except on the claim of representing the common good." She further claimed that "horrors which no man would dare consider for his own selfish sake are perpetrated with a clear conscience by altruists who justify themselves by the common good." (The "altruists" Rand refers to are not those who practice simple benevolence or charity, but rather those who believe in Auguste Comte's ethical doctrine of altruism which holds that there is "a moral and political obligation of the individual to sacrifice his own interests for the sake of a greater social good.").
Libertarian socialists, individualist anarchists, and De Leonists criticise the concept of collectivism, and argue that modern capitalism and private property, which is based on joint-stock or corporate ownership structures, is a form of organic collectivism that sharply contrasts with the perception that capitalism is a system of free individuals exchanging commodities.
George Orwell, a dedicated democratic socialist, believed that collectivism resulted in the empowerment of a minority of individuals that led to further oppression of the majority of the population in the name of some ideal such as freedom.
It cannot be said too often – at any rate, it is not being said nearly often enough – that collectivism is not inherently democratic, but, on the contrary, gives to a tyrannical minority such powers as the Spanish Inquisitors never dreamt of.
Yet in the subsequent sentence he also warns of what he believes is the tyranny of private ownership over the means of production:
... that a return to 'free' competition means for the great mass of people a tyranny probably worse, because more irresponsible, than that of the state.
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- Bureaucratic collectivism
- Collective guilt
- Collective identity
- Collective leadership
- Collective narcissism
- Collective responsibility
- Collectivist anarchism
- Collective ownership
- Cultural conservatism
- Primitive communism
- Social cohesion
- Social solidarity
- Utopian socialism
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- Rand, Ayn. The Only Path to Tomorrow, Readers Digest, January 1944, pp. 88–90
- Smith, George H. Ayn Rand on Altruism, Egoism, and Rights
- Capital, Volume 1, by Marx, Karl. From "Chapter 32: Historical Tendency of Capitalist Accumulation": "Self-earned private property, that is based, so to say, on the fusing together of the isolated, independent laboring-individual with the conditions of his labor, is supplanted by capitalistic private property, which rests on exploitation of the nominally free labor of others, i.e., on wage-labor. As soon as this process of transformation has sufficiently decomposed the old society from top to bottom, as soon as the laborers are turned into proletarians, their means of labor into capital, as soon as the capitalist mode of production stands on its own feet, then the further socialization of labor and further transformation of the land and other means of production into socially exploited and, therefore, common means of production, as well as the further expropriation of private proprietors, takes a new form. That which is now to be expropriated is no longer the laborer working for himself, but the capitalist exploiting many laborers."
- Orwell, George Why I Write Archived 1 November 2007 at the Wayback Machine.
- George Orwell, review of The Road to Serfdom (1944)