Individualism is the idea that one’s life belongs to him and that he has an inalienable right to liberty. That the individual is sovereign, and is the fundamental unit of moral concern. This is the ideal that the American Founders set forth and sought to establish when they drafted the Declaration and the Constitution and created a Republic in which the individual’s rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness were to be recognized and protected.
Collectivism is the idea that the individual’s life belongs not to him, but to the group of which he is merely a part; that he has no inherent rights, and that he must sacrifice himself for the group’s greater interest. The group or society is the basic unit of moral concern, and the individual is of value only insofar as he serves the group. The power is derived directly from collective ownership of the individual.
As one advocate of collectivism puts it, “Man has no rights except those which society permits him to enjoy. From the day of his birth until the day of his death society allows him to enjoy certain so-called rights and deprives him of others.” - A. Maurice Low, 1913
Collectivism is the instrumentality that brings about large tyrannical governments, and it works the other way around. If a large government controls the educational system, it can make sure the curricula that the students have inculcates in their minds an admiration of collectivism. We have been taught that collectivism is a virtuous notion. Because we have also been thoroughly taught that all kinds of group identities exist. Which has unfortunately become central focus in American education, media and politics.
Barack Obama knows best, “Individual actions, individual dreams, are not sufficient. We must unite in collective action, build collective institutions and organizations.”
Collectivists and individualists both want good things. They want peace, security, justice, health - where they differ is how to bring them about. The collectivist wants to use force and coercion. So for our own good, the collectivist has the obligation to rule. Almost all of the laws that are on our books are as a result of this mentality.
For example, everybody agrees that wearing seatbelts is a good thing. The individualist agrees that it is a smart thing to do, but believes in freedom of choice. He wants to use persuasion, and the power of good example, but not coercion.
The collectivist says “You know there are dummies out there who won’t put seatbelts on? Let’s pass a law. And for their own good, we’re going to put those people in jail if they don’t do what we think they should do.”
One of the ways you can spot this mentality is that they say “There ought to be a law”. Their first instinct is to force people to do things. Collectivism is the idea that government is the solution to all problems, an unquestioned good, and it should be used almost in place of one’s religion. The kind of thing we look to for guidance and salvation.
Another form of collectivism is a pure democracy, and it seems noble at first glance. The Founding Fathers discussed the merits and demerits of a democracy, but were very emphatic on establishing a limited government, as a Constitutional Republic, to protect individual rights. A pure democracy is based on the concept of majority rule. And what could be wrong with such an idea? Contrary to what is taught in public schools, there could be plenty wrong with pure democracy.
Applications of majority rule in practice would include: 51% of a population enslaving the other 49%; three hungry cannibals eating two vegetarians; and a lynching mob murdering a man whom they consider to be dangerous. Now it is majority rule there: there’s only one dissenting vote, and he’s at the end of the rope. We know from history, and our Founding Fathers knew from history, that a mob can be a very vicious thing. And it’s possible for a demagogue to whip up the passions of a mob, and actually sway the majority in moments that would be very destructive of the rights of individuals or minorities.
“The greatest good for the greatest number” was a slogan popularized in the late 19th century, and it predicated major events in the early 20th century. Because this slogan has no specific meaning, there is no way to interpret it objectively. Although there are many ways in which it has been used to justify the most ruthless acts.
The most horrific atrocity achieved in the practice of the slogan was the greater number of seventy million Germans in Germany supported the Nazi government, which told them that their best interests would be served by exterminating the smaller number - six hundred thousand Jews. Both the so called greater and smaller numbers were sacrificed anyway, but one person at a time. And the irony of it is that the leaders of this so called democracy, or this superiority of the group, made the decisions for the greater number.
What is this thing called group? Where is a group? Can you point to a group? When we look out at the world, we see separate, distinct individuals. They may be in groups, but the indivisible being each has his own body, his own mind, his own life. Groups, insofar as they exist, are nothing more than individuals who have come together. The word “group” is an abstraction, a word concept. It’s an image in the mind of something that does not really exist, except to the extent that individuals exist.
Frederick Douglass, a former slave, brilliantly expressed the sovereignty of the individual in a letter to his ex-master after escaping bondage, “I am myself; you are yourself; we are two distinct persons, equal persons. What you are, I am. You are a man, and so am I. God created both, and made us separate beings. I am not by nature bound to you, or you to me. Nature does not make your existence depend upon me, or mine to depend upon yours. I cannot walk upon your legs, or you upon mine. I cannot breathe for you, or you for me; I must breathe for myself, and you for yourself. We are distinct persons, and are each equally provided with faculties necessary to our individual existence. In leaving you, I took nothing but what belonged to me, and in no way lessened your means for obtaining an honest living. Your faculties remained yours, and mine became useful to their rightful owner.”
Despite the tyrannical nature of collectivism, people are fooled into following this system through its ambiguous goodwill, and through the system’s identification of “enemies” that its followers can struggle against (e.g., capitalism, socialism). The ideology of collectivism is based on a dysfunctional understanding of compassion, and is built on a narrow understanding of history.
To see the effects of collectivism, we need only look at the histories of the leaders who decided the direction of the collective, and what happened to those who refused to follow the collective interest. Under most regimes—from Vladimir Lenin, to Adolf Hitler, to Josef Stalin, to Mao Zedong—it led to dictatorship, crimes against humanity, and 130,000,000 deaths.