Individualism vs. Collectivism

Essay, 2017

4 Pages


Individualism VS Collectivism

Individualism as a social theory is one that favors freedom of an individual’s action as opposed to have collective or state control. Many people would want to be granted maximum independence and be allowed to think and act based on their own conviction. It is in this regard that proponents of individualism theory will therefore find no meaning in communal rules and dictates as to the order of doing things.

When it is not possible to think and act in the same way, individualistic people will want to assume that each person can make right judgment regarding any situation and set precedence have no room in determining what their cause of action should be. This then raise the question on the importance of having rules written or implied in the society.

On the other hand, collectivism is the principal that that gives the group or society priority over an individual. The needs and perception of an individual may differ from the expectations of the society in which case the individual under the collectivism theory will be forced to give priority to the society. The need for law and order is strongly manifest in a collectivistic society since it is generally agreeable that the individual differences and ambitions cannot allow people to live and act harmoniously without set forms of control.

It is highly unlikely to establish a society that is fully individualistic or fully collectivist since the two must find their place in the society owing to their diverse characteristics which in some cases complement each other. The model of collectivism is however most popular and rightly so for reasons outlined in this essay. Collectivism parse is however a threat to liberty of mind or innovation as most people act in traditional way and are unwilling to easily accommodate changes in what they perceive as traditions or societal expectations. People’s diversity is therefore assumed to have been correctly put into consideration by the people who set the standards which may not be the case.

In reference to the story ‘Antigone’, the case of individualism versus collectivism has been brought out quite elaborately. The story that has a tragic ending, strongly points out the advantages of collectivism over individualism by using the key characters that hold to individualistic opinion and how they suffer grave consequences thereafter.

In a collectivistic society, order is of essence and there are rules most of which are natural laws and each individual is expected to adhere to them without reservation. Failure to observe these rules led to certain forms of punishment as happened for Oedipus when he killed his father and went ahead to marry his mother. The individual can at time be driven by greed or passion and if no restraints are set, this can lead to acts that are disgraceful or even unjust in the eyes of the society. The general laws of nature in collectivistic society are therefore meant to keep order and uphold what is deemed to be societal morals. It is on this basis that the society gets the moral authority to punish offenders.

In collectivism, there is generally an acceptable way of doing thing and some of these things are obligatory yet in a sense they bring uniformity even to the disadvantaged. The rituals for example are meant to be observed in a uniform manner regardless of an individual’s status in society. It is in this case that the whole society participates in rituals like burial of the dead.

There are cases when individualistic ideas come into conflict with such collectivism principles as happens in the case of Creon and the Thebes society on the matter of giving a decent burial to Polineices, Oedipus’s son. The king has a feeling that Polineices does not deserve a decent burial since he did what in the king’s opinion was unforgivable. It happens in most cases however that the individualist have other tools in their possession that they use to influence a society who may not fully agree with their point of view. These tools are position of power or threats that are directed to those who might have the requirement of the law followed.

The fear of intimidation has always given individualists a way as majority kept silence even when they strongly felt that things were not right. When people fear evoking the king’s anger they will cause him to press his harmful polices and leave the society suffering the consequences of their inaction.

The fear of being reprimanded alongside the need to demonstrate unwavering loyalty is characteristic in most societies and though collectivism is popular with a great majority, only a few are strong and bold enough to defend the principles of collectivism. The case of a son turn against his father in ‘Antigone’ is however an example that individualists will not always have their way unchallenged especially if the individuals’ ways is clearly contrary to the society’s expectations.

It takes courage and sacrifice to stand against any perception whether individualism or collectivism. The change in an individual’s perception is as hard to change as the society’s ideals and this is why a few must take the lead. Sometimes there is promising support from a section of the society but this support can never be reliable as many people will only support a dissenting opinion for as long as they are secure. The fear of losing life or property has always in a big way stood in the way of those who want to support change of ideals. A dilemma is then created as to whether one should defend what they feel is right or simply follow the majority in a collective stance.

The difference between individualism and collectivism brings disharmony in the society and creates mistrust. In a family where one person feels they need to stand against a practice or a certain order, another member may feel no need to act in opposition or be seen to be disrespectful. Consequently, the two people besides differing in opinion lose trust one for another as each person feels the other can betray them. It can also lead to disastrous endings when each party seeks to fight for their position in an attempt to prove they are correct. Collectivism does however offer solution to such situation when it gives room for consultation and accommodation of different opinions from people who may not necessarily agree with you. In the words of the sentry in ‘Antigone’ an individual should make haste slowly before making a resolve to avoid creating conflict. A well thought of decision is unlikely to get opposition in a collectivism model.

In a real life situation, one will always find himself between following individual urge to act in a manner that may not be popular to the society and fulfilling the society’s expectations. It is however common that in most cases people demonstrates that they are entirely individualistic when attempting to protect their interests as opposed to fighting for the cause of the general public. The need to fulfill an initial pledge or the desire to prove oneself as being stronger and capable that the other has always led to individuals taking strong stands and ignoring advice though save for very rare cases they live to regret making those decisions.

Individualism and collectivism are both essential in the society but a totally individualistic society can be harmful and unsafe for all and sundry. It is for this reason that the society must put in place rules to govern the actions of humanity since the liberty can cause disaster. Any society without set standards requires that there also be equality in terms of social wellbeing and uniformity of purpose. Without this commonality the differences will result in competition which then will lead to each person devising their method of attaining their individual goals. The result of this will then be a chaotic society with others employing their individualistic ego to maliciously cause harm to the rest of the society.

The individualistic principle can at times though with pain lead to individuals making sacrifices some even with their own life just to ensure the society is made better. It is therefore only right that a wise balance be created between the two.


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Individualism vs. Collectivism
University of Bonn
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ISBN (Book)
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Antigone, Sophocles, Individualism, Collectivism
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Prof. James Mageto (Author), 2017, Individualism vs. Collectivism, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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