28.01.2020 in Exploratory

Individualism Collectivism Approaches

Confrontation between individualism and collectivism caused the modern civilization being at a crossroads. The thesis of the impossibility of individualism and social interaction combination takes a prominent place among a number of claims, which collectivists expose to individualism. These claims being addressed to individualism require a systematic review, which will determine the degree of solvency of the arguments put forward. At the same time, it should be noted that individualism is disambiguation. It can be interpreted as a certain ideological stance, a way of social coordination, a methodological principle, characteristic of praxeology, Weber’s sociology, rational choice theory and other concepts.

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Individualism as a moral, political and social outlook is prevailing in the UK since the adoption of capitalism. The basic postulate of individualism as a certain ideological setting is the sovereignty of the individual – any man’s enduring importance. From this thesis, there comes a derived character of a society that has no independent existence outside the set of individual actions being a result of interaction between people. However, it does not imply the negation of the value of the society or the levelling of cooperation between people. The British practice does not confirm this thesis. Consistently, individualistic society has reached such a level of cooperation and social interaction, which a country with a collectivist morality and lifestyle could never ever come close to. At first glance, this seems counterintuitive, but in fact, it is quite understandable. The fact that the proponents of individualism, considering the question of social cooperation, emphasize the necessity of its nature voluntary subject to the principle of cooperation in individualistic society is not only possible but necessary. However, individualist, being a self-sufficient person interacting with other people, goes to the various forms of social relations realizing benefits of such actions. The recognition of self-worth does not mean break contact with other people; on the contrary, it leads to qualitative development of relations, which develop on a new basis.


As the foundation of a free society in the UK, individualism allows individuals to engage only in those interactions, which correspond to its sovereign will. Naturally, a free man exposes a critical revision of the social communication, the establishment of which is a consequence of the impact of installations of traditional society, state coercion and other sources opposite to the nature of human free choice. Since in the individualized society many relationships being typical to collectivism die, that becomes the basis for the charge of individualism in the destruction of society. However, if a failure occurs, then one can talk only about the creative destruction that sets in place of dismantled social institutions new institutional forms. In essence, social coordination completed in collectivist model makes all cooperation problematic since a standard mandatory list of needs and objectives blocks the possibility of voluntary interactions establishes. That is, the presence of intractable calculus needs of each individual allows creating an infinite number of social relationships that are fundamentally impossible in the framework of collectivism.

No less important is the fact that an individualist, putting his/her own ideas, is forced to adhere to a pattern of behaviour that does not entail subjectively perceived deterioration of own situation. That is a result of taking a full responsibility for one’s own actions in contrast to the collectivist approach. This, plus the impact of competitive mechanism, leads to the selection of the most effective forms of human activity and thus overall productivity of society providing welfare. In this regard, dynamism is inherent to the British individualized society implying constant refusal to less productive forms of cooperation. As a result, social relations do not disappear but acquire new properties being not so much an abstract common good but very specific and subjective personal welfare. In addition, they cease to be binding and determining the character of the state since those are based on the diversity of life strategies, attitudes and interests of millions of individuals. Due to this, interaction between people in the individualized society is based on the understanding of the benefits of this process for each subject of the extended order of human cooperation. All this can be observed in practice, which in particular indicates the numerous forms of cooperation in individualized societies. Of course, the most striking example is the market process itself, which is an expression of free wills altogether that interact in order to achieve benefits for each of the subjects. In addition, the theory and practice of civil society, in particular mutual societies, which have been the basis of social security, for example, here in the UK, shows the falsity of the thesis of the need for state intervention to establish a social order.

Thus, individualism and social relations are not antagonistic since cooperation between people is not contrary to human nature. In addition, the logic of human activity requires an increase in its effectiveness by using comparative advantages. Therefore, the accusations of collectivism theorists in the destructive influence of individualism in the society are unfounded.

In this context, it is interesting to learn the cause of such accusations. In many ways, the reason for this is an incorrect interpretation of the term, which is often confused with social atomism. In fact, the analogy of a man with an atom, and the company with the body, although it has a certain theoretical foundation, has always been only a speculative concept. The problem is that the atoms are somewhat homogeneity and constancy of interactions that can be easily calculated under the laws of physics. In turn, people are uniform only in their praxeological and, partly, biological characteristics. By the way, praxeological uniformity creates a basis for market sharing since, despite the huge set of specific goals, the very human activity is subject to a priori laws formulated by Ludwig von Mises. If it was otherwise and the doctrine of polylogism would have been true, then all cooperation would be impossible. However, in the rest of the values, objectives and desires of each man are fundamentally different. Hence, in contrast to the body, the society does not have hard permanent characteristics due to the variability of preferences and values. Therefore, atomistic model is the reductionist approach to understanding social reality even ethically. Genuine theoretical basis of individualism is associated just with the heterogeneity of individuals; they are not reducible to a common denominator, which creates the preconditions for market exchange. Thus, it helps to maximize the maximum individualization of socialization because it creates all the preconditions for increasing exponentially the number of catallactic operations. However, often, mainstream thinkers recognize the aforementioned items and focus on understanding catallactics as a zero sum game, in which there are always winners and losers. Such an understanding is inadequate nature of the market, in which the situation of all the participants of the transaction total of the transaction improves; otherwise, it would not have been made.

Understanding society as a set of interactions is appropriate to supplement taking into account the conclusions of B. Anderson and Jean Baudrillard. This allows one to regard it also as an imaginary category, the existence of which depends on how one’s individual consciousness draws it. Hence, any supra-individual design is secondary because it depends on the will and consciousness of people involved in creating and maintaining their existence. In other words, society should be understood in two ways: as a set of interactions and how a community imagines itself, individual notions of simulacrum of sociality. These two values do not contradict but complement each other because they reflect different aspects: the real-life interaction and the phenomenon of reflection of this interaction, as well as the influence of ideological doctrines on human consciousness. Naturally, all of the above does not mean the absence of supra-individual structures influence on the person because the result of countless interactions is the production of such a volume of information that does not have any of the social interactions. Assimilating of this information through the communication link, which is the market itself, a person corrects his/her behaviour and carries on business activity. In addition, by virtue of their performance, some individual practices are perceived and learn by other people becoming stable patterns generated by the social order.

Currently, the concept of society is an ideological construct. Policy makers constantly use the terms public good and social interest, the needs of society, the interests of society and other collectivist categories. Sometimes this is an intentional step in order to justify interventionist policies; in other cases, there is a self-deception when the actor uses the above categories but in fact, only articulates its own simulacrum. That is, speaking about the society, interventionist himself often believes in the independent existence of some supra-individual entity that has its own interests and values that differ from the interests and values of individuals. It is nothing but an illusion, an imaginary category, which gives a fundamentally incorrect value. If this illusion covers the minds of the actors, there is a collectivist model of sociality, with all the consequences in the form of socialism, nationalism, etc.


Resuming, the question may arise: if individualism is the most effective ethically justifiable way of social coordination than why are the collectivist doctrines popular? The explanation may be given only by a radical ignorance of the majority of people who basically do not have information about the nature of social institutions, the fundamental categories of human activity. Their knowledge about these concepts is implicit and practical. This knowledge is extremely important in a variety of interactions, but it is not enough when trying to achieve theoretical understanding of these issues. In turn, formalized knowledge mainly comes from the representatives of mainstream-science. It is full of statist and collectivist concepts of aggregated categories. Status of radical ignorance leads to a sharp decrease in the probability of an adequate understanding of the categories under consideration. Hence, the main task of implementation, which the future of every person depends on, is to educate the greatest possible number of people in a spirit of individualism and capitalist ethics.

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