Individualism Vs. Collectivism

Given the heating Republican race for the presidential candidacy nomination and the fact that President Obama will soon be defending his own record in office against whoever receives it, it is important to differentiate between individualism and collectivism when scrutinizing the various key players (or anyone for that matter).

In this context, individualism is the general concept that the individual is uniquely sovereign; that his/her actions, choices, and values rightly form the foundation from which their respective merit springs and that superficial, largely exterior characteristics bear no relevant impact on their individual character or worth.  In this way virtually all classical liberals, including most of the Founders, were individualists and the 20th century’s finest champion of individual liberty – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. – endorsed this approach as well.

Conversely, collectivism is the incorporation of all individuals of a given demographic, organization, or professed belief system (etc.) into a single, all-encompassing point of view.  Collectivism assumes common traits exist universally across the given collective, and as such, presupposes universally common actions, choices, and values extend from that collective as well.  All people collectivize in one fashion or another and many of us are particularly ignorant with our applications.

Individual rights and freedom, quite obviously, cannot exist without the recognition of and proper respect for the sovereignty of the individual.  As such, it would seem elementary for voters concerned with these principles to take an individualist approach to their evaluation of political candidates.  But this is not what generally occurs in society – today or yesterday.  Collectivism remains the most dominant underlying social perspective at times, which presumes that all Republicans or all Democrats (among other collectives) are identical in their individual characters, values, and beliefs.  Intuitively, this is not so yet the stereotypes persist.

Collectivism is the general, sometimes subconscious, way of thought that lies at the heart of more specific manifestations such as racial, sexual, or religious bigotry, and virtually everyone is guilty of this in one form or another.  Many people voted against Obama because of his skin color and perhaps many more voted for him for the same reason.  Neither approach is particularly noble or in keeping with the sovereignty of the individual.  Both approaches imply that an insignificant characteristic such as simple skin color is somehow a relevant factor in executive leadership.  This ignorant perspective is itself derived from the supposition that skin color is an exterior indicator of how he will conduct himself and his affairs in line with a given ideology or belief.  I think it is fair to suggest that Alan Keyes or Representative Allen West (FL) would disagree with this supposition.

What makes collectivism such a poor approach in the political context is that it stifles logical evaluation of the individual candidates’ actions, choices, and values in favor of presupposing that the “R” or the “D” tells one everything s/he needs to know to make an “informed” decision.  Many people will apply far more individualist scrutiny to who they vote for on American Idol, who they should draft in their fantasy football league, or what sort of car they wish to purchase than they do in the application of the most powerful and precious civil right they possess: the right of suffrage.

It seems clear enough that the concept of individualism can benefit us in scrutinizing government leadership far more than the lazy nature of collectivism.  Absent collectivism, there is no available avenue for general and ultimately misleading demagoguery.  Debates then must be decided on the merits of evidence, situations must be evaluated independently, and ultimately people – political candidates or otherwise – must be judged “by the content of their character.”

Individualism eliminates the current status quo, where the parties preemptively decide who we must vote for.  This approach puts the prosperity of the individual American where it should be, ahead of the prosperity of the collective party.  Independence of thought and, consequently, the vote sheds the false obligation of loyalty to a given party and forces the candidates to establish themselves genuinely as the candidates of individual freedom and rights as the Natural Law requires and as the Constitution recognizes.


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  1. #1 by infamoucrimes on January 20, 2014 - 9:18 AM

    King was a collectivist, not a libertarian.

    • #2 by An Observer on January 20, 2014 - 10:18 AM

      I never stated that Dr. King was a libertarian. In point of fact, failure to appreciate someone’s words or thoughts on a given topic simply because they do not fit into a predefined, and presumably preapproved “box” of acceptability, is simply another form of collectivism unto itself. We should not have to agree completely with someone – indeed I never agree 100% with anyone – to appreciate their contributions to specific topics.

      What I stated, put a slightly different way, was that with regard to (at least) one contextually specific topic – individual liberty – he embraced individualist reasoning, as evidence by his own words from his most famous work.

      Perhaps Dr. King embraced collectivist thought in other areas of socio-politics, perhaps overwhelmingly so, but such a revelation would nonetheless be irrelevant to the point made here unless one is to embrace ad hominem reasoning.

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