Collectivism and individualism describe two values that lie on a spectrum apart from each other, and these two values have an immense impact on a country’s culture. Many Western countries tend towards individualism, as they value individual liberty and freedom and see it as the key to human flourishing. However, other countries see the individual as embedded within social relationships and appreciate the collective well-being of the group over the rights of the individual. Cultures in non-Western countries, such as South America, Central America, Asia, and Africa, tend towards collectivism and the well-being of the interconnected web of social relationships over the unbridled rights of the individual.
An extreme level of collectivism is found in the political ideology of communism, which forms the basis of several state governments. In a communist country, the individual has no rights, and human life is expendable. For example, in the communist Soviet Union, the dictator Josef Stalin collectivized farming so that all farmers worked on massive state-owned, state-run farms instead of working their land. In the process, millions of peasant farmers and their families starved to death. Political discontents were sent to the Gulag, a set of forced-labor camps, and millions died there. Today, North Korea and China are communist countries known for repressing any political opposition and killing many of their citizens. The reason for killing so many people was that their lives had to be sacrificed for the good of the communist state.
Nevertheless, collectivism does not always mean that a country espouses communist values or has a communist government. Many countries in Europe have socialist governments, which prioritize the well-being of all members of society rather than those who are wealthy enough to afford private services. The socialist country of Finland has the highest rate of happiness in the world, and many other socialist countries also have high levels of bliss.
Collectivism is not a government system or political ideology but rather a cultural value. Studies show that when cultures value groups of people and see individuals as social beings who are part of a web of relationships, the result is higher levels of happiness and well-being. Families recognize the need to take care of each other, and neighbors make sure that those in their communities have what they need. Some countries with collectivist values have higher rates of mental illness, such as in South America. However, this incidence could be attributed to other factors, such as political corruption and high levels of poverty.