Collectivism is a philosophical position and political doctrine which maintains that entities such as the state, society, or a nation have an autonomous existence apart from the individuals who compose it. Some extreme forms of collectivism even go as far as denying that individuals have an autonomous existence outside of the collective. A further characteristic of collectivism is the belief that the will or interests of the collective should come before the interests of individuals. Collectivism is a central characteristic of ideologies such as communism, socialism, and fascism and can be seen as the antithesis of the philosophical position of individualism.
Criticisms of collectivism
Classical liberals have been consistent opponents of the collectivist position. Ludwig von Mises being one of the most vocal opponents, points out that the philosophy of collectivism is flawed in that collectives cannot be viewed as existing autonomously, instead they can only be analyzed through examining the actions of the individuals who compose them, i.e., from a methodological individualistic point of view. A further criticism is based on the arbitrary nature that is accompanied in the determination of which individuals will be included in a collective:
There is no uniform collectivist ideology, but many collectivist doctrines. Each of them extols a different collectivist entity and requests all decent people to submit to it. Each sect worships its own idol and is intolerant of all rival idols. Each ordains total subjection of the individual, each is totalitarian.
- —Ludwig von Mises, Theory and History
Another criticism relates to the collectivist view that the interests and desires of individuals are to give way to those of the collective. A view such as this leads to the dilemma of how the interests of such an entity are to be determined, other than by arbitrary decisions of those in power? And furthermore how can these decisions reflect the actual desires of the collective rather then being solely based on the value judgement of the leaders?