Thoughts on Collectivism

Collectivism emphasizes group goals. Individualism emphasizes individual goals.

Looking at those two definitions straight up, I’m definitely a collectivist (or at least I want to be). I value group goals higher than individual goals. Society as a whole has more value than all the individuals who make up that society. The whole is greater than the sum of all its parts.

Fine. Now how does all this work out in practice?

I think we’re better off if we’re all working together. Even the Declaration of Independence, which at first seems to emphasize individuals, only works if everyone agrees to make it work. It’s a form of collectivism that grants individualism, not the other way around. We’re all agreeing to value individuals, but unity – community – is prior.

So why have U. S. citizens traditionally hated collectivism… or at least had the reputation of hating it?

Because collectivism as it’s practiced in society isn’t collectivism. It might start out that way, but it quickly deteriorates.

Here’s what happens. Most people – say 99% – think they’re operating under collectivism, while a small minority – that remaining 1% – quit. If 99% of people think they’re working together, they trust everyone. As a result, the 1% who stop working for the “common good” gain enormous power. They can continue to deceive the 99%, making them think everyone’s working together, but in reality control everything for their own, individual profit.

That’s why trying to live under collectivism is so dangerous. It’s like 100 cows in a corral vs. 100 cows in a field. When they’re all together in the corral, it’s much easier for one person to control them all than if all the cows were scattered around the field.

In short, collectivism creates power. If you trust everyone, then collectivism is great. But if even one person goes bad, collectivism crashes hard.

And by the way, even if you believe people are generally good at heart, collectivism isn’t a good bet. For it to work, you can’t just believe that people are generally good at heart, you have to believe that all people are always good at heart and always know how to be good.