Difference Between Collectivism and Individualism

Collectivism vs Individualism

The difference between collectivism and individualism is in what each ideology considers as important: the individual or the group. If communism, socialism, capitalism, liberalism, conservatism, Maoism, Nazism, etc. were not enough to confuse people as different political ideologies, we now have to confront with collectivism and individualism. It is like asking a person his political ideology and then commenting on his choice as good or bad depending upon the context. It is easier for an individual to say that he is a moderate or a liberal rather than choosing from one of the many complex political ideologies. But the situation is not that simplistic in nature. However, we are here to differentiate between individualism and collectivism, which happen to be concepts that make it easy to understand and differentiate between different political ideologies. The words, collectivism and individualism, themselves make the meaning clear.

What is Collectivism?

In collectivism, it is some sort of group rather than an individual who is at the centre of all social, political, and economic concerns, and issues. Those who are proponents of this ideology say that the interests and claims of groups (it may even be a state) supersede those of individuals. Thus, a society being a group is considered to be superior to an individual. It is treated as some sort of super-organism over and above individuals that make it. Collectivism believes in the subjugation of the individual to a group, which may be family, tribe, society, party or a state. Individual has to sacrifice for the collective good of the people. The proponents of collectivism consider their stand to be superior to those of individualists as they are morally superior thinking of the collective good of the group or the society.

For example, think about the institution of marriage. With a collectivist perspective of the marriage, the two people involved in it, husband and wife, are looked upon as a group. Their individual values are lost if the marriage is considered more important than the two people. In such a situation, it is the collectivism at work.

Difference Between Collectivism and Individualism

What is Individualism?

The focus of all thinking in individualism is the individual. When talking of political ideologies, classical liberalism comes closest to this thinking as individual human being is taken as the central unit of all analysis. It is not that an individual is any different from the society. However, an individualist, even while remaining within the society thinks about his own personal interests. This doctrine believes that society is there, but it is ultimately made up of individuals who choose and act. The foundation of individualism lies in one’s moral right, to pursue one’s own happiness. However, it is not in contradiction with collectivism as it believes that it is necessary for individuals to preserve and defend institutions that have been made to protect one’s right to pursue happiness.

Think about racism. Racism is a good example of collectivism where the good or bad an individual of a particular group has done is attributed to the whole group. Think that there is a family who considers their race to be superior to their neighbours who come from a different race. This family forbids their children to be friendly with the neighbours. However, one child refuses to accept that their neighbours are inferior because of their skin color and he goes on to be friendly with the neighbours. This is an example of individualism. The individual within the group takes his own decisions.

 Collectivism vs Individualism

What is the difference between Collectivism and Individualism?

• Definitions of Collectivism and Individualism:

• Individualism is an ideology, which accepts that the individual person is more important than the group.

• Collectivism is an ideology which accepts that the group is more important than individuals that form the group.

• Value of the Individual or the Group:

• Individualism places individual above all groupings.

• Collectivism places the interests of the groups above the individual interests.

• Decisions:

• In individualism, decisions are taken by the individual. He or she may listen to others, but the final decision is his or hers.

• In collectivism, decisions are taken by the group. Even though some individuals may not agree, the decision is taken by the majority in the group.

In all democracies, and even in socialist countries, the right to life, the right to freedom, the right to speech, etc. are nothing but a manifestation of individualism. This proves that individualism is not antithetical to collectivism. It may seem paradoxical to some, but societies and states, where individual independence is preached and practiced, are the ones where men and women are found to be most compassionate and caring about the society.


Images Courtesy:

  1. Crowd by James Cridland (CC BY 2.0)
  2. Individualism by Gwydion M. Williams (CC BY 2.0)