What is collectivism, and what does it mean?

What is collectivism, and what does it mean?

June 28, 2021 Off By Felso

Communitarianism is a main topic where collectivist thinkers’ criticisms of liberalism are collected. These criticisms can be grouped under three headings: anthropological criticism, normative criticism, and the justice-good debate.

The fact that socialism, which defends society and equality against liberalism’s individualism and conceptions of freedom, gradually lost its weight in theoretical discussions after the collapse of the USSR, led to a renewal in the critical perspective.

Especially after the 1980s, collectivism, which took over the criticisms of socialism on abstract individualism, became involved in political philosophy discussions by forming a new dichotomy with liberalism.

Collectivist critiques of liberalism

The backbone of the debate between liberals and communitarians is actually the critique of normative determinations towards liberalism.

However, Charles Taylor, one of the leading figures of the collectivist tradition, argues that the root of normative criticism is liberalism’s definition of individuals as ontologically out of place and homeless (Taylor 2006, pp. 77-104). According to Taylor, he argues that if justice is to be mentioned, it can only be ontologically meaningful in the context of individuals within the circumstances. However, liberal theory cuts off individuals from all social and relational contexts, ignoring their belongings such as ethnicity, gender, culture, politics or religion. Thus, individuals who fill the content of liberalism’s definition of individual are, in a sense, individuals who disappear ontologically.

In fact, negative conceptions of freedom and justice are the basis of liberalism’s rejection of the ontological determination of individuals. Negative freedom, as explained earlier, means that the individual makes choices without interference. The more options individuals have before them, the greater their freedom. Individuals make their choices entirely in line with their own interests, wishes and rational calculations. It is clear that defining the individual with a certain belonging will lead individuals to certain options and limit the options. In this respect, defining individuals with an ontological sense of belonging indicates primarily the loss of freedom for liberals.

Contrary to the idea that the individual necessarily carries certain belongings, from the point of view of liberals, individuals have the free will to question and change their beliefs, and to debate whether or not to participate in certain groups or activities. In other words, in liberal evaluations, the individual is an entity that takes responsibility for choosing certain actions and performing the action and applying rational criteria while taking this responsibility. For this reason, Rawls expresses the distance between an individual’s goals and identity, claiming that the “I” takes priority over the goals (Rawls 1999, pp. 450-456).

Liberalism’s conception of the individual finds its source in Kant’s “transcendent subject”. The transcendent subject, which is the subject of Kant’s ethics, takes its decisions independently of all social conditions and context. However, the idea of ​​the individual, which completely detaches individuals from the ontological dimension, contains anthropological flaws according to collectivists. First of all, the liberal individual is a universal figure detached from his historicity and sociality. Michael Sandel, who has made one of the harshest criticisms of such an anthropology, defines the individual of liberalism as a fleshless and boneless being, an unencumbered self that is not engaged, or a soul that has no existence at all (Sandel 2006, p. 214). In his work Liberalism and the Limits of Justice, Sandel, especially by criticizing Rawls’ theory of “justice as fairness”, shows the error of the idea of ​​the individual, who determines the principles of justice outside any social context only with the guidance of reason. According to Sandel, the first error of Rawls’ theory is in the normative aspect. Rawls could not see that any ethical purposiveness is not valuable per se (Berten, et al. 2006, p. 190). Individual identity cannot be the sum of actions chosen by a pure consciousness. Valuing some ethical goals requires the individual, who decides on the ground as a social being. In other words, it requires some other principles and values ​​that make the principles of justice, which Rawls believes to be taken with pure consciousness, valuable and guide that these principles are valuable. According to Sandel, Rawls’ second mistake is his determination of individual identity in the anthropological dimension. According to collectivist theorists, the individual does not precede social institutions and values; on the contrary, it is the social institutions and values ​​that create individuals (Barry 2003, p. 28). In this respect, “Who am I?” The answer to the question is not related to a universal individual image, but to the individual’s own private history (Tuncel 2010, pp. 66-67). An individual’s identity is an identity created by the society in which he socializes and learns its values. Although the individual of liberalism is nowhere to be found, the collectivists’