posted on May 22, 2013 13:16
These next blogs will look at the basic positions of collectivism and individualism mentioned in the previous post. We’ll start first with collectivism, which is captured within the philosophies of Plato and Aristotle. We’ll use these two philosophers for a number of reasons. First, Plato was viewed by both Clement of Alexandria and Augustine as the Greek philosopher who came closest to understanding truth. Second, their writings have historically been used by many other philosophers to construct their own arguments, or used others work who had in turn had relied upon Plato and Aristotle. Scholasticism was an attempt to use Aristotle’s logic and metaphysics frameworks to create a systematized Christian logic from the Middle Ages up to the time of our country’s founding. The philosophic notions underlying the –isms of today also can be traced to the notions expressed by these philosophers.
Collectivism can be defined as a system in which the people as a whole, usually represented by a State, owns and controls the materials, means of production, and distribution of goods. Collectivism is concerned with both the ends and the method(s) used to obtain them. It has changed its words over the years, but not its goals; from the use of terms such as ‘central planning’ and ‘production for use’, to the ‘urban crisis’ and ‘poverty in the midst of plenty’, to the ‘social justice’ and ‘economic justice’ of today. These are just different wrappings over the same ideas. Collectivism can be understood by looking at some of its basic concepts and notions. These include:
- The State is the lowest level of existence which matters. All exists to support the State in its goals and objectives. It in turn is to protect and care for its people.
Our rights come from the State through the laws it enacts.
- Some individuals excel in their abilities to lead and govern, and these should create and administer the laws for the rest of a society.
- Rule can be by one, a few, or many. However, the power to rule is to be concentrated and absolute.
- As it is the State which matters, it is the society as a whole which also matters. There is a sense of collective morality. An individual only matters to the extent that it supports the collective.
- As individuals only matter in accordance with their ability to support the State, there is no innate sense of having an equal nature. Some are naturally better than others. Those who are not as endowed are meant to be ruled by those who are so gifted—their betters. This is both ‘expedient and right’ in the words of both Plato and Aristotle, and both persuasion and compulsion are acceptable means to acquire this end.
- Citizenship is not for everyone, only those who are deemed to be better.
- As we are not all equal, the acquisition of knowledge is only for those who have the ability, and leisure, to use it.
These ideas were not new with Plato or Aristotle. There were the basic ideas which existed throughout the ancient world, and were generally incorporated into Greek philosophy. However, there are also some very different ideas expressed by both of these philosophers. This is captured in Raphael’s ‘The School of Athens’. The scene portrayed is a room filled with the most significant Greek philosophers engaged in thought and discussion. In the center of the portrait, Plato and his student Aristotle are seen walking together. An extract of that portion of the painting is shown below.
The painting beautifully points out a very basic difference between these two men. Plato is pointing to heaven and First Cause (God). Aristotle has his hand extended over the Earth and creation—representing man and his abilities. Clement clearly demonstrated that Plato knew the Hebrew Old Testament, but that he did not understand it. Plato saw the Old Testament writings as another truth to be incorporated into his own view of truth. As Aristotle was Plato’s student, he was also likely exposed to those same ideas by his mentor. However, Aristotle chose a more traditional Greek philosophic framework to express his own thoughts and ideas.
In the next post we’ll take a similar look at individualism. Then we’ll begin with an area which both sides agreed was critical to the success of any society, the topic of education.