6.2.3 Collectivism

(This is a current page, from the Patterns of Power Edition 3 book contents.  An archived copy of this page is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition03/623.htm)

Collectivists believe that individuals should surrender some liberty in order to support the well-being of the community.  They believe that everybody should be provided with basic socio-economic rights ( and adequate public services.

Collectivism is diametrically opposed to individualism (6.2.2), which prioritises freedom of the individual.  It is compatible with two overlapping political philosophies:

  • Communitarianism argues that the needs of society must be met before individuals can thrive.[1]
  • Utilitarianism’, as described by John Stuart Mill in his essay of that name, can be loosely defined as aiming for ‘the greatest good of the greatest number’.

As described in the following sub-sections, there are three broad categories of collectivism:

  • ‘Social democracy’ (62.3.1) is the predominant Western form of it. It is a political system in which governments fund public services by collecting taxes, to harness some of the wealth created by capitalism.
  • ‘Socialism’ ( is characterised by State ownership of major industries, thereby limiting the role of private enterprise.  In some forms, such as communism, it suppresses all individual freedom and is authoritarian.
  • ‘Green’ movements( advocate protection of the planet and its wildlife, regarding it as a communal good that should take precedence over economic considerations.



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[1] Communitarianism “emphasizes the importance of society in articulating the good”, according to Amitai Etzioni, in a document of that name which was available in October 2018 at https://icps.gwu.edu/sites/icps.gwu.edu/files/downloads/Communitarianism.Etzioni.pdf.

The Encyclopaedia Britannica entry on communitarianism, which was at https://www.britannica.com/topic/communitarianism in October 2018, explains that, although the word was coined in the 19th century, it was revived in the 1980s as a critique of the more extreme forms of individualism.  The article gives a useful summary of the argument between the common good and individual rights.