The Trap of Collectivism

Under collectivism, responsibility is reduced to putting oneself at the orders of whoever commands, sacrificing individualism to whoever is in power.

The unreflective acceptance of ethereal notions empty of content, such as “the common good” and other analogous expressions, as opposed to the particular or individual good, is what causes today's society to have turned to collectivism. This is done with the conviction that there would be an "irreconcilable conflict" between individual and the “collective interests” without perceiving that the objectivity of such things as collective interests is impossible except as the mere sum of individuals. The supposed conflict is nothing more than a pure invention of those who exploit such beliefs for their own personal gain. For example, politicians’ speeches overflow with appeals in favor of the public good, the general interest of the country, or the common good people.

Sacrificing the Individual

The social and personality psychologist Donelson R. Forsyth (2006) defines Collectivism as “a tradition, ideology, or personal orientation that emphasizes the primacy of the group or community rather than each individual person” (p. 77). Here, he alludes to the fact that the group, the nation, the community, the race, etc., is the primary unit of reality and the ultimate standard of value.

The great justification for any collectivism is equality, which, in reality, is only a mere illusion of such a demanding ideal.

The great justification for any collectivism is equality, which, in reality, is only a mere illusion of such a demanding ideal. Its great trap consists of forgetting that it is impossible to achieve something using contradictory means, and collectivism believes, less naively than it seems, that force can put an end to oppression with any difference. Such a paradox is possible because within collectivism the first victim is the reason for it.

Ayn Rand, in her definition of this idealistic thinking, wrote: “Collectivism means the subjugation of the individual to a group—whether to a race, class or state does not matter. Collectivism holds that man must be chained to collective action and collective thought for the sake of what is called ‘the common good.’”

The reason disappears the very moment in which the principle of unanimity begins to prevail, which is what gives strength to the collective because it serves to exclude the one who does not belong—the traitor and the guilty. It is a rule that admits no exceptions, and any dissent is pernicious, criminal, and in some way punishable.

Rejecting Responsibility

As a consequence of the expulsion of the critical sense, collectivism is a tool to exempt from responsibility since, by definition, it is a mechanism to externalize guilt and to flatter the supposedly oppressed, liberating them from any personal duty, from any personal commitment alien to the collective: all responsibility is reduced to putting oneself at the orders of whoever commands.

This problem is the idea that people can benefit from group effort even if they are not involved in the effort itself.

To explain better the previous point, let’s take a look at Mancur Olson, a US economist (1932–1998), and his book The Logic of Collective Action (1965). Olson defined the two main problems that are inherent to collectivism. The first is free-riding. This problem is the idea that people can benefit from group effort even if they are not involved in the effort itself. Olson also cites the example of syndicalism: when a trade union in an industry protests against a law, either it loses and everyone loses or it wins and everyone wins, even workers outside the trade union.

Furthermore, the free-rider problem is getting bigger as groups get larger. And the second problem is the latency, in which, for the same reason, collectivism might lead to a latent group where everyone waits for someone else to act in first place.

Further Reading

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