In the words of famous German philosopher Hegel ‘A man is defined in relations to others and his greatest good is as a part of the society’. This saying emphasizes the importance of society to an individual implying that a man is of immense importance being a part of a society, and on his owns he is nothing. Hence the importance of a certain individual can be derived from the fact that how much has he contributed towards the welfare of his society.
It can be seen that a man gains in moral and social respect only through subordinating and sacrificing his individual rights for the betterment of society. Over the time the debate has developed, whether the individual rights of a person are subservient to the needs of the society. Although individualism recognizes a man’s right over his life and happiness, however the purpose of collectivism is to ensure that the entire betterment of the society is given importance over personal and individual benefits. Individual rights are given to individuals by their religion, state or society.
Most of these rights are inalienable and unforfeitable such as right of choosing their lifestyle, religion, education, freedom of speech etc and are commonly accepted in modernly advanced societies. Such rights are important and it is made sure that these rights are provided over the entire society. But the problem arises when some individual rights conflict with the needs of the society. For instance a man has his right to property at a location where government intends to build roads and infrastructure so as to reduce traffic.
In such a circumstance there is a collective welfare of society on one hand and the right of an individual on the other hand, hence in such conditions the needs of a society should always supersede the rights of an individual so as to ensure the collective welfare of everyone. Similarly if there is a shortage of doctors in a society, more and more students should be forced to pursue a medical career even though they don’twant to; hence the need of society once again should be of primary importance as compared to the rights of individuals.
Hence, in any society the fundamental rights of the individual must be recognized and should be protected but at the same time it also has to be seen that whether that there is a certain distinction between the principles of individualism and the principle of exploitation. This can be seen as the violation of these rights as some people might use these rights to exploit and frustrate others. For instance the freedom of speech is sometimes used to provoke people against their government, causing them to protest.
Similarly it is used to stir up the religious sentiments of people. In a situation like this , the collective welfare of the society as a whole should be seen of much greater importance and any necessary steps should be taken to diminish such an individual right which is threatening the well being of the society. It is on the other hand the doctrine of collectivism that stresses the importance of human needs. In a collectivist society the collective benefit and welfare of people will be in primacy as opposed to individual rights.
When we talk about catering to the needs of the society it looks morally and socially far better. The example can be seen of welfare states where state or government is working for the welfare of the entire society and the outcome is the raised standard of living in those countries together with peace and harmony. The reason for this being that in these states governments together with all its people work for the collective welfare of society. Individual interests and rights are set aside and efforts are made for collective welfare of all.
On the other hand the developing countries: where individual rights are not made subordinate to collective welfare, depict an entirely different scene. Due to this such societies experience division of societies into classes, where the most powerful class sees it as its right to govern and rule those below it. Individual motives tend to get more important in such circumstances and the collective welfare is seen as of secondary importance which thus results in degeneration of a society.
This is the reason that why society is preferred over an individual and the principle of collectivism sounds more humane than that of individualism. If we try to seek solution to this debate from an Islamic point of view, than again collectivism is still better than individualism. If for instance, people who are more blessed than others carry out the process of distributing their wealth amongst the less fortunate, even though it may require forsaking one’s own right to property and inheritance. This act would not only be morally and ethically but also socially and economical eneficial as it would help overcome increasing inequality and create a more peaceful and prosperous society. Islam also teaches us to keep channeling our wealth to those who are not blessed with it. The concept of zakat hence calls upon individuals to give up their rights to their wealth and distribute it amongst the poor and needy so that the needs of the society are adequately met. The concept of placing the collective welfare above one’s own benefit raises the moral level of an individual as it makes him more and more selfless “Collectivism is the application of the altruist ethics to politics. — Dr. Andrew Bernstein. This is true in the sense that when a person sacrifices his own rights for the sake of welfare of the society he is actually being altruistic and selfless. Societies will prosper if individuals start thinking of the collective good and become more and more selfless. But there has to be unity in this thought. Each and every person should take it upon itself to contribute whatever he can towards the welfare of collective whole.
We can consider the example of human body here, in which every single part of our body in co-ordination with all others works for our well being. If only a single part stops working the entire system is affected. The same is the case with society, the moment people start thinking of their own good above that of society, the society will degenerate in to a number of people seeking their own interests. Only those societies have progressed both economically and socially where the collective good and welfare of the society as a whole have been given primacy over individual benefits.
The reason being that such societies display peace, harmony and a general feeling for the well being of all others which seems to be missing in those societies which are ruled by individuals or dictators who are looking to exploit people for their own benefits rather than looking for the collective welfare of whole, resulting in societies that are frustrated and disrupted. Hence the two different concepts of collectivism and individualism give rise to two completely different societies.
Though emphasis has been laid on the needs of society but it shouldn’t be forgotten that it is the collective individual rights that make up the needs of a particular society. Such inalienable and fundamental rights of people ought to be protected and recognized. It is only when these rights cross the line and come in the way of collective welfare of the society that these rights be made subservient to the needs of the society in order to ensure the welfare of collective whole !
* http://pamirtimes. net/2011/12/19/individualism-and-collectivism/ * http://freedomkeys. com/collectivism. htm