For the majority of history, humanity has existed under collectivist systems of government, such as communism, fascism, and other forms of tyranny. Collectivism is the prioritizing of the community over the individual. In a collectivist mindset, the individual belongs to the group and if necessary, they must sacrifice in order to serve the greater good. The collectivist is even willing to sacrifice you in order to serve a greater good (just ask the victims of Fidel Castro and Joseph Stalin). This so-called greater good is almost always ambiguous and dictated by tyrants. There is certainly value in recognizing the importance of community and that no one person acts in isolation, but the reality is that communities are made up of rational, unique individuals. It was the prioritization of the individual, free from government and the will of the oppressive majority, which led to the great success of the United States of America. The great 20th century author and philosopher, Ayn Rand, said,
“The mind is an attribute of the individual. There is no such thing as a collective brain. There is no such thing as a collective thought. An agreement reached by a group of men is only a compromise or an average drawn upon many individual thoughts. It is a secondary consequence. The primary act—the process of reason—must be performed by each man alone.”
My parents come from two political extremes: post-fascist Italy and communist Cuba. Perhaps one of the greatest mistruths of the 20th century is the differentiation between fascism and communism. Their differences are subtle; they result in the very same suppression of the individual’s basic human rights because they are rooted in the same evil: collectivism. Ayn Rand put it best:
“Fascism and communism are not two opposites, but two rival gangs fighting over the same territory . . . both are variants of statism, based on the collectivist principle that man is the rightless slave of the state.”
When individuals are erased and placed under the faceless guise of society, the state then has a foothold to infringe upon an individual’s rights all while calling upon the pretense of the “common good.” On the other hand, when an individual’s rights are championed, the individual has the ability to thrive, live, be free and pursue his own happiness. Sound familiar? This was what the Founding Fathers of the United States had intended for their country.
Many non-western civilizations and societies have been based on collectivist ideas and it could be very well argued that these societies have some good qualities. Yet it is only when the individual’s rights are a priority that true progress can be achieved. It is through competition and pursuing one’s own goals that some of the greatest inventions have arisen. It wasn’t the collective that discovered flight, invented the modern car, created the i-phone, invented refrigeration, or made so many advances in modern medicine. These things were accomplished by inspired individuals who were allowed to pursue their dreams and talents free from interference by a collectivist society or government.
Presently, there are many movements which dominate the public sphere with excessive collectivist approaches. The Social Justice Warrior movement, for example, groups individuals with respect to their race, gender, and sexual orientation, erasing their individuality. The people themselves do not matter-only the fact that they belong to a specific group. Those who claim to be on the side of minorities are in fact doing them more harm than good because they strip people within these minorities from their own ability to reason, as they must agree with what the collective believes.
“The smallest minority on earth is the individual. Those who deny individual rights cannot claim to be defenders of minorities.” –Ayn Rand
Ayn Rand even went so far as to say selfishness and egoism are virtues. For example, the traditional “selfish” goal to attain money is not something one should be ashamed of. In fact, Rand even argues that “wealth is the product of man’s capacity to think.”
Individualism prioritizes the individual and proposes that the state has no right to become involved in the people’s personal affairs. We the people must fight for our individual liberties and limit the power of the government. The government is our tool and it must be accountable to us. If we succumb to collectivist ideals and lose our individuality we can only expect the fate of extremist, human rights deprived societies that are all too common to history. When a part of the collective, the individual is bound to the collective’s whims; the individual cannot reason for himself nor question what the majority has proposed. One example of the whims of the collective overcoming the rights of the individuals is racism. When you refuse to view people as individuals but instead as faceless entities that are defined by the group that they belong to, we see the white supremacists who claim all black people are a certain way. Individualism is the moral stance as judgement of people is based on the actual person rather than a group. The collectivists’ discriminations are based entirely on presuppositions.
How can we combat collectivism?
“You would be surprised how quickly the ideologists of collectivism retreat when they encounter a confident, intellectual adversary.” –Ayn Rand
As a person who values balance, I do not think it is necessary to reject all collectivism. From a societal and scientific point of view, it is useful to see trends in groups to solve problems. However, it is only by prioritizing the individual’s free choice that change can occur. Collectivism has progressively made its way into society through the resurgence of political correctness, safe-spaces on American and Canadian campuses meant to silence the minority, and as of late, through legislation that claims to push “positive discrimination.” The values we have historically fought against are becoming commonly accepted by my generation. As a fellow millennial, I implore you to think for yourself, fight for your liberty and uphold individualism. Our rights may very well depend on it.