The Ethical Dimensions of

Advantages and Disadvantages of Collectivism

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Advantages and Disadvantages of Collectivism


Studies of morality reviewed by Eckensberger128 indicated that all children go through certain stages of moral development.

  • In stage one, the child focuses on punishment, and obedience is considered essential. This is a universal "primitive" view of morality.

  • In stage two, one follows rules only if it is to one’s advantage to do so; what is right is an equal exchange, a good deal. That view is already individualistic, but it is a primitive individualism.

  • In stage three, one does what one is expected to do by the in-group and by one’s role. This is a primitive collectivist position.

  • In stage four, one does one’s duty, and laws must be upheld unless they are in conflict with other fixed social duties. This is a more sophisticated collectivist position.

  • In stage five, the emphasis is on social contract and individual rights. This position argues that people hold a variety of options and that most values and rules are relative to the group one belongs to and should usually be upheld because there is a social contract.

  • In stage six; humans may reach the most individualistic view. In this stage the focus is on universal ethical principles and particular laws and rules.


1Collectivism has disadvantages at both private and public levels. At the private level, we find less willingness to cut the bonds with the family when that is required for study abroad or for occupational achievement. There is evidence of high level of homesickness when a collectivist is away from the family.

At the public level of the relationship of individuals to the state, extreme collectivism has the most disadvantages, for example, both Nazis and the Communists established regimes that strongly subordinated the individual to state goals.

In collectivist cultures people have so many obligations toward their in-groups that they do not have the interest or energy to do volunteer work.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Individualism


Individualists have a sense of high self-efficacy. Because their self-esteem is high, they are more likely to try risky activities, so achievement is often associated with individualism. Individuals insist on equal treatment under the law. This is especially significant in political situations


Individualism is linked to loneliness and poor social support, and high probabilities of family conflict and divorce. Individualism has serious disadvantages in the area of international economic competition stemming from the fact that as jobs become more complex and more demanding, they require more training. In short, for firms in individualistic countries, individualism is making competition in the global marketplace more difficult than it has to be.

Comparative Analysis

Individualism and Collectivism

Collectivism and Individualism deeply pervade cultures. People simply take their culture’s stance for granted. In the US, everything from “self-serve” buffet tables to corporate structures to cowboy movies reflects the deeply ingrained individualism. In China, after a professor gave a lecture on individualist culture, the students asked the professor if what he said could “really be true”.

When we reach a certain age we are encouraged to get a job, go to college, go into the military or travel the world. In other cultures children are closer and more respectful of family values and can stay in the home or in the same neighborhood as long as they wish.

It is a matter of cultural values of course. The main difference between China and America, for example, is that China believes in collectivism and America in individualism. Collectivism means that the group is more important than the individual. Individualism means that the individual is more important than the group.

This is why many Eastern cultures, such as China, Indonesia, Malaysia, etc., have closer-knit and much larger families, as they believe the whole family unit is more important than any one individual within it. That is, even remotely extended family is considered family, and all are included.

Many Native American indigenous cultures were consistently this way before the white man came as well. Now, many Native Americans are working to get back to those roots, but it is difficult. White American culture is addictive, and that is not always a good thing.

In white, middle-class America, the culture stresses independence, and as quickly as possible. But they pay a high price for that value obviously. It is not all bad, but in general, it is not helping American cohesiveness. A little less individualistic obsession and a little more collective care might create a stronger nation. Balance is always healthier.

The culture in which each of us lives influences and shapes our feelings, attitudes, and responses to our experiences and interactions with others. Because of our cultures, each of us has knowledge, beliefs, values, views, and behaviors that we share with others who have the same cultural heritage. These past experiences, handed down from generation to generation, influence our values of what is attractive and what is ugly, what is acceptable behavior and what is not, and what is right and what is wrong. Our cultures also teach us how to interpret the world. From our culture we learn such things as how close to stand to strangers, when to speak and when to be silent, how to greet friends and strangers, and how to display anger appropriately. Because each culture has a unique way of approaching these situations, we find great diversity in cultural behaviors throughout the world.

Many cultures value collectivism, we believe that the group we belong to is the most important part of the society. When we make decision, we consider the groups’ goals and wants. We value the group we belong to more than our individual selves. People are very loyal to the groups they are part of, and they usually stay at the same job all their lives. In our culture, when people make choices about marriage, education, and work, they always make their decisions together with their families. Their decisions are made based on what their families want them to do.

In individualist culture, people are encouraged to base their decisions on their personal goals and wants. They feel that each individual is special and different from others. People in this culture believe that they are the most important thing in their environment. Individualistic culture encourages people to do things because they want to do them and to make decisions based only on their wants. If people are not happy at their jobs, they are encouraged to look for jobs that will make them happier.

Power Distance

One may realize that in collectivist culture people believe in high-power distance, which means that people who have more power and have higher positions are treated more formally than other people. In this culture, people are taught that we are not all equal. Some people have more power and authority than others do, and we should treat these people with more respect. In this culture, students do not call their teachers by their names, and teachers and students do not spend time together outside of the classroom.

Individualist culture also believes in low-power distance. This means that the individualistic culture people believe all people are equal and should be treated equally regardless of their positions and authority in the society. In this culture, supervisors and people in power and their subordinates perceive each other to be the same kind of people. Many students call their teachers by their first names, and many teachers socialize with their students outside of the classroom.

In individualist culture society is future oriented, which means that people are very optimistic and excited about the future. In this culture, people have discussions about the future and they believe that the future will bring them more happiness and good things. Note that the United States and Canada exemplify the culture profile for individualism and future-orientation. Finland, Denmark and Norway fit the individualistic culture profile for low power distance.129

Collectivist culture is past oriented, which means that people stress the importance of history. They believe that the events of the past determined what the society is today. When society makes decisions, the events of the past should be considered and respected. The people in the collectivist culture do not easily make changes in their culture because they want to hold on to the past. Note that China, Japan and Korea are examples of the collectivist culture profile for time orientation and collectivism.


In collective cultures, on the other hand, individuals are very loyal to all the groups they are part of, including the work place, the family, and the community. Within collectivism, people are concerned with the group’s ideas and goals, and act in ways that fulfill the group’s purposes rather than the individual’s. Samovar believe that it is important to note that while individualism and collectivism can be treated as separate dominant cultural patterns, and that it is helpful to do so, all people and cultures have both individual and collective dispositions.

Persons in collectivist societies are taught a sense of group responsibility and belongingness unlike children in individualistic ones, where children learn to become quickly self-reliant and individual growth and success lies in direct contrast to group benefit; hence, the concept of profit-making capitalism. Respect towards others, again, is viewed differently in these two societies. Collectivist societies are strongly hierarchical, both with respect to gender and age. Younger people are not expected to express independent opinions or share their knowledge; such roles are reserved for people of higher status, mainly older people. This is in direct contrast to an individualist society like America, where self-expression and exhibiting one’s knowledge is usual. These two modes often create confusion in social interactions, where Americans tend to take their counterparts as lacking in intelligence because those traits have not been publicly exhibited, and collectivists thinking of Americans as showing disrespect and arrogance because they have.

There are two objections to collectivism. One is that in collectivist societies, individuals tend to loose their identity and drive for self-expression and self-growth. Promotion of state-power at the cost of the individual, and its subsequent historical misuse is another criticism against collectivism. Individualism, on the other hand, is vilified because it is taken to lead to social anarchism if pursued to its logical end. Morally, too, critics point out the lack of family values and loss of a healthy sense of belonging that is promoted by individualistic societies. The subjugation of individual will to the greater good is a higher moral ideal than the pursuit of individual success and happiness.

Individualist Cultures

Individualistic cultures like USA and France are more self-centered and emphasize mostly their individual goals. People from individualistic cultures tend to think only of themselves as individuals and as ″I” distinctive from other people. They make just a little different between in-group and out-group communication. They prefer clarity in their conversations to communicate more effectively and come in general directly to the point. An exception here is the Germans who indeed are an individualistic culture but their communication style is different. First details will be named and discussed, and only after that will they come to the point. Americans might feel annoyed because they say first what it is about and explain afterwards.

People in individualistic cultures emphasize their success and or achievements in job or private wealth and aiming up to reach more and a better job position. It just counts to get there, regardless of who it will leave behind. In business they try to improve their connections and to be involved in a calculative way. Employees are expected to defend their interests and to promote themselves when ever possible.

Collectivist Cultures

Asian collectivist cultures as in China view other companies with less collectivistic philosophy as cold and not supportive. Collectivistic cultures have a great emphasize on groups and think more in terms of “we”. Harmony and loyalty within a company is very important and should always be maintained and confrontation should be avoided.

In China it is out of the question to disagree with someone’s opinion in public. You will do that in a more private and personal atmosphere to protect a person from the “loss of face”. In collectivistic cultures a direct confrontation will always be avoided. Expressions or phrases are used which describe a disagreement or negative statement instead of saying no. Saying no would mean to destroy the harmony in the group. The relationship between employer and employee or business partners is based on trust and harmony and a deep understanding of moral values. The wealth of the company and the groups inside are more important than the individual ones.

David Yaou-Fai Ho, a Hong Kong social scientist is quoted as defining “losing face” as follows: “Face is lost when the individual, either through his action or that people closely related to him, fails to meet essential requirements placed upon him by virtue of the social position he occupies”.131 This can be compared with “self-respect” in individualistic cultures. There is understanding and help for employees who have poor performance.132

It seems likely that some form of balance between individualism and collectivism is optimal. The great stage of the past, such as Confucius and Socrates, emphasized balance. Many of the knee-jerk proponents of the free market have forgotten this. Balance requires cognitive complexity. Any extreme position is simple, couched in terms that the crowd can support and the voters can understand.

The lack of balance is corrected in democracies by switching from one side of the argument to the other, that is, by changing parties in power. That is the strength of democracies. But it may be more profitable to develop middle courses that can be steady and provide predictability for social and economic planners. These considerations suggest that neither individualism nor collectivism is desirable unless one is balanced by the other.


To conclude, most people prefer living in a society that embraces individualism. Because the more technology and wealth people create the less generosity it would take to address their needs, and more than enough generosity would be available. And the more individualized the nation, the more citizens enjoy their life. In this regard, this suggests that the benefits of individualization are greater than the costs. One acquires the knowledge and skills needed to create the values that promote his or her survival and happiness.

On the other hand, collectivism can be regarded as an important concept because respectfulness and cooperation are common collectivist features. One can advise that even where there is teamwork each member of the group should be given an opportunity of leading a group, for example, maybe a month as a leader to get knowledge, ability and skills. This will help to avoid a society of malevolence and poverty, and thus be well prepared to deal with emergencies.

This distinction is particularly important at a time when states subscribing to individualist cultures are focusing their accusations about human rights violations on states with collectivist cultures. Not much of a dialogue is possible between them, as the one sees human rights as the rights of individuals, and the other sees human rights as the rights of society. This is for no reason other than the history of their respective intellectual and cultural development. In a way, neither is right, and neither is wrong,; they are just different.

One would therefore suggest that if individualist and collectivist cultures get their priorities straight, and get to know each other a little better, they will not only see that they are not as far as they thought, but they will also see that there is a lot they can learn from each other. As so often happens in good marriages, each might see in the other a part that is missing in them. They can learn that they are complementary and necessary pieces of the whole system.

International Criminal Court

This paper attempts to show that the establishment of the International Criminal Court, which is considered by many as a turning point for justice and rule of law, may turn out to be no more than another attempt to reduce the sovereignty of states. Since that will be resisted by the large majority of states, the Court is unlikely to succeed.

Following the Nuremberg and Tokyo tribunals that came after the World War II, the United Nations General Assembly first recognized the need for a permanent international court to deal with the kind of atrocities that had taken place during the war. Since then, the need for such a court has been discussed off and in the UN. The scope, scale and hateful nature of atrocities that have taken place during the last 20 years in many parts of the world gave a further impetus to create a permanent mechanism to bring to justice the perpetrators of such crimes as genocide, ethnic cleansing, sexual slavery and maiming, including amputation of limbs of non-combatants, even women and children, and to finally put an end to the impunity so often enjoyed by those in positions of power.

International Criminal Tribunals and Special Courts

Nuremberg and Tokyo trials

In many ways, the ICC is a legacy of the Nuremberg trials of Nazi officials after World War II. These were the first ever convened by multiple states for the purpose of trying individuals accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity.133 In the Moscow Declaration of November 1943, the Allies affirmed their determination to prosecute the Nazis for war crimes. The United Nations Commission for the Investigation of War Crimes, composed of representatives of most of the Allies, and chaired by Sir Cecil Hurst of the United Kingdom, was established to set the stage for post-war prosecution. The Commission then prepared a Draft Convention for the Establishment of a United Nations War Crimes Court, basing its text largely on the 1937 treaty of the League of Nations, and inspired by work carried out during the early years of the war by an unofficial body, the London International Assembly.134

But it was the work of the London Conference, convened at the close of the war and limited to the four major powers, the United Kingdom, France, the United States and the Soviet Union, that laid the groundwork for the prosecutions at Nuremberg. The Agreement for the Prosecution and Punishment of Major War Criminals of the European Axis, and Establishing the Charter of the International Military Tribunal (IMT) was formally adopted in August 1945. It was promptly signed by representatives of the Four Powers. The charter of the International Military Tribunal was annexed to the Agreement. This treaty was eventually adhered to by nineteen other states who, although they played no active role in the Tribunal’s activities or the negotiations of its statute, sought to express their support for the concept and indicate the wide international acceptance of the norms the charter set out.

Doubts about the legitimacy of the Nurnberg and Tokyo Tribunals focused on two points: Firstly, that the law that was being applied by these tribunals was retro-active, since it had had been enacted after the crimes were actually committed. Secondly, that it was only the law of the victors that was being applied, since there was no agreement or consensus about international law on the subject. Both these objections lie at the basis of the subsequent work on the establishment of the International Criminal Court.

International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia

The Bosnian war in the early 1990s saw ethnic cleansing, genocide and other serious crimes. In May 1993, the UN Security Council established the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia (ICTY) to try those responsible for violations of international humanitarian law in the territory of the former Yugoslavia since 1991. The tribunal seeks to bring justice to the victims of the conflict and deter future leaders from committing similar atrocities. The ICTY has also begun to take on cases from the Kosovo crisis of the late 1990s.

The court was the UN’s first special tribunal. Not surprisingly it has come under intense security. Critics argue that the tribunal is a political tool rather than an impartial judicial institution. Slobodan Milosevic, the court’s highest profile defendant, has argued that the court is unfair, but critics also point to troubling examples of politicization and bias.

International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda

Torn by ethnic conflict between the Tutsis and the Hutus, Rwanda experienced the worst genocide in modern times. The conflict had origins in Belgian rule, which favored the minority Tutsis and fostered differences between the two groups. In 1962, when the country gained independence, Gregoire Kayibanda headed the first recognized Hutu government. Juvenal Habyarimana seized power in a military coup a decade later, following the massacre of thousands of Hutu in neighboring Burundi. For nearly twenty years under Habyarimana, ethnic relations simmered with sporadic outbreaks of violence. In 1993, Habyarimana signed a short- lived power –sharing agreement with the Tutsis, aiming to end the fighting. In April 1994, the plane carrying Habyarimana and the President of Burundi was shot down.135 The event triggered the notorious genocide. Extremist Hutu militia aided by the Rwandan army launched systematic massacres against Tutsis.

.Despite reports of mass killings, the UN failed to take immediate action to stop the massacres, reportedly due to opposition from France and the US. As a result, around 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed in a short period of 100 days, and over three million people fled to neighboring countries. In 1995 a UN appointed International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) began trying those responsible for the 1994 atrocities. However, Rwanda’s efforts at recovery have been marred by its involvement in the conflict in Democratic Republic of Congo.

Special Court for Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone suffered a gruesome, ten-year civil war. The Revolutionary United Front (RUF), led by Foday Sankoh, used amputations and mass rape to terrorize the population and gain control of the country’s lucrative diamond mines. Charles Taylor, then president of neighboring Liberia, backed the insurgency by providing arms and training to the RUF in exchange for diamonds. The pro-government Civil Defense Force (CDF), under the leadership of Sam Hinga Norman, committed serious offenses as well. In 1999, the UN eventually brokered the Lome Peace Accord between the warring parties.

In January 2002, the UN approved the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) to try those responsible for the crimes committed during the civil war. Based in the country where the atrocities were committed and combining international and domestic law, the SCSL ushers in a new generation of international tribunals. Experts believe this model will deliver justice faster and at a lower cost then its counterparts for Rwanda and Yugoslavia.

Since the trials opened in June 2004 the SCSL has received both criticism and praise. Some argue that the Court is too constrained in terms of its time frame, jurisdiction and enforcement powers, which will weaken its ability to deliver justice. Others see the Court as an exemplary model for other international tribunals.

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