Collectivism vs Individualism
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, itself make the meaning clear, as 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 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.
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.
Individualism places individual above all groupings while collectivism places the interests of groups above individual interests. In all democracies, and even in socialist countries, the right to life, right to freedom, right to speech etc are nothing but a manifestation of this 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.