What is Collectivism?

Collectivism is a philosophical position that defends the needs and welfare of a group or community over those of individuals. What are the characteristics of this movement? Learn all about it here!
What is Collectivism?
Maria Alejandra Morgado Cusati

Written and verified by the philosopher Maria Alejandra Morgado Cusati.

Last update: 27 September, 2022

Collectivism is a philosophical position that defends the superiority of the collective over the individual. Thus, it assumes that the public good comes before the personal good.

Thus, it justifies the establishment of regimes of high government intervention, in which individual rights are of little importance. Therefore, from a political and economic perspective, collectivism could be defined as the doctrine that assumes that goods and means of production should be owned by the state or the community.

The characteristics of collectivism

To better understand this perspective, its main characteristics are outlined below. These are the most important ones.

Superiority of the collective

Collectivism will always place collective interests above the personal interest of each individual. The same occurs in the case of two groups of different sizes; in this case, the one made up of the largest number of people will be favored over the other.

Therefore, in the collectivist discourse, the sacrifice of the individual is often present since the collective is considered the morally priority.

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A use of language that alludes to a conglomerate of people

In collectivist language, it’s common to find a series of words that allude to groups of people, such as society, nation, community, brotherhood, sisterhood, comradeship, collectivity, guild, corporation, union, and social class, among other similar terms.

The frequent use of these words and their derivatives represents a reliable indicator of a collectivist mentality, especially in political or organizational discourses.

collectivism
In political marches and campaign speeches, it’s possible to notice if there are collectivist traits through the use of collectivist language.

Collectivism is common among a variety of ideologies

Collectivism is a generic category that, in turn, includes a variety of perspectives and ideologies. All of them share the exaltation of the collective.

Some of these positions are the following:

  • Socialism
  • Communism
  • Nationalism
  • Corporatism
  • Fascism

It needs a strong central power

For collectivism to function, it needs a powerful entity that has the capacity to represent the collective and act on its behalf. To do this, it must be able to impose measures that sacrifice the smaller group for the benefit of the larger one.

Some collectivist policies involve interventions, such as price controls in defense of the majority, legal biases in favor of unions, state ownership of enterprises for the good of society, and media censorship to prevent the dissemination of ideas that might disturb public harmony.

However, it’s also important to note that this brings with it the risk that powerful entities will take advantage of their position to act for personal gain. This is what happens in the case totalitarian regimes, for instance.

Social division

Another characteristic feature of collectivism is the tendency to distinguish between social classes. For this purpose, it usually resorts to dual classifications, such as rich-poor, proletarians-bourgeois, owners-destitute.

It’s opposed to individualism

Individualism is the social, political, and economic doctrine that defends individual needs and welfare above those of the group or community. It also promotes independence and self-reliance.

In individualistic cultures, decisions, achievements, goals, and desires are usually defined as personal rather than collective. Therefore, people in this type of culture tend to consider social prestige, success, dominance, and personal wealth as their priority.

When it comes to collectivist cultures, on the other hand, people tend to define themselves in terms of their ties within the group. In other words, there’s a greater interest in the welfare of others, concern for social justice, and commitment to traditions.

individualism and workplace competition
Individualistic cultures place often place more emphasis on personal success in the workplace, among other things. Collectivist cultures, on the other hand, place more emphasis on collaboration and teamwork. 

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Criticism of collectivism

Like all philosophical positions, collectivism has its defenders and opponents. One of the major criticisms of collectivism is directed at the worth or dignity of the individual defined in terms of how he or she contributes to society.

For example, a person is often considered superior if he or she belongs to a labor union. However, that same subject then automatically loses value if he or she leaves this collective and becomes an entrepreneur.

For its part, collectivism has been strongly criticized for its tendency to establish authoritarian systems that violate freedoms and human rights. In this case, the most affected are usually the minority groups or individuals who don’t share the ideals of the larger collective.

The collectivist position has also been criticized for being against personal initiatives and their achievement. After all, these are often ignored or put aside if they’re not compatible with or don’t benefit the collective.

The importance of human rights

There are very many redeemable ideas that come with collectivism, such as the notions of solidarity, social justice, and equality among the members of a group. However, we must not forget that each person has human rights, and under no circumstances should they ever be violated. That’s why it’s pertinent to be critical and careful with any systems or beliefs that pose a risk to them.

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