I have often heard that collectivism and individual rights can't co-exist because they are opposites. On the surface this appears to be accurate, but is there any historical examples of societies which have managed to preserve the full rights of the individual, while successfully maintaining a collective economy?

To clarify, when I say 'individual rights' I am referring to the natural rights as philosophically developed & articulated by Western philosophers from Aristotle to Locke. The ideas of the Magna Carte to the US Constitution & Declaration of Independence. The fundamental philosophy of the "enlightenment" that all men are born free & equal and all posses the rights endowed by nature. The idea that legitimate leadership (governance) is dependent on the consent of the governed. The concept that a free man cannot be compelled to perform under threat, duress or coercion, but rather that he participates and contributes to society, by his own free will. That he enters the social contract by his own determination and cannot be forced to do so.

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    Once you have 200 rep you can access Meta and this post, "How do I ask a great political theory question?". Can you clarify whether this is a theory question or not? It's unclear because you tagged it as theory and discussed some theoretical concerns, but then asked for a historical example. Commented Jan 11, 2019 at 5:56
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    The crux here is which "full individual rights" do exist. You seem to take for granted that the "full individual rights" are somewhat standard (everyone agrees to them), universal (it does not depend of your region) and intemporal (it does not change with time). Yet a cursory research shows you that slavery has been legal for a lot of time in a lot of countries (so freedom is not part of the "full individual rights"?), in some times and parts of the world members of a class(e.g. samurais) could kill members of lower classes at will (so no "right to life"?)...
    – SJuan76
    Commented Jan 11, 2019 at 8:55
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    ... forced mariages were common place, and do not get me started about "freedom of religion" or "freedom of press". It follows from logic that collectivist movements would be less likely to consider "right of ownership" as one of such rights, so the answer from someone siding with those movements would be "yes", and the answer from someone who values "ownership" and "private enterprise" as a right would be "no". Yet you do not define which are those "full rights of the individual" in your POV.
    – SJuan76
    Commented Jan 11, 2019 at 8:59
  • Good question, but could be better formulated. You probably want examples (or ideas) how one can maximize individual rights (according to some commonly agreed measure of maximization) while keeping the economy collectivist. Some kind of compromise seems in order there. Modern Cuba might be one example. Commented Jan 11, 2019 at 9:06
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    While one may guess as to what is meant by "collectivism", "individual rights", "full rights", and "collective economy" the lack of any reference links, examples, or further clarifying details will mean these terms rule how an answer is made and will be specific to the answerer's definition of the terms. "Rights" as we know them are not universally accepted.
    – David S
    Commented Jan 11, 2019 at 17:56

6 Answers 6


There is an example of a collective economy that values at least some level of individual rights: the Kibbutz (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kibbutz)

Kibbutzim are very small and tend to emphasize work that is easy for other people to observe to discourage various forms of shirking. They are entirely voluntary societies; everyone who joins a kibbutz knows what the rules are and if they don't want to stay they can just leave.

The reason why you don't see larger collective economies that are voluntary like this is because the mechanisms Kibbutzim use to keep people honest (mostly social stigma) don't scale past a couple hundred people. Eventually you have to resort to coercion if you want a collective economy because it's the only tool that works for larger collective economies in practice.

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    Some will argue that this answer isn't thorough enough, but this is the only example sited of an actual society that has accomplished the criteria in the question. Good answer
    – Aporter
    Commented Feb 22, 2019 at 2:50
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    @Aporter Kibbutzim are essentially cooperatives, not self-contained societies. Perhaps my answer did not describe the case of Mondragon clearly enough, but I’m not sure the kibbutzim are so fundamentally different?
    – Brian Z
    Commented Feb 22, 2019 at 11:20

Your definition of Individual rights can not coexist with any society at all.

Both Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau, despite varying views on social contract, note that social contract gives up freedoms (like freedom to murder anyone and everyone as you see fit) to gain security (not be randomly and arbitrarily murdered, to serve as counterpart to prior example). Considering that social contract is agreed to to gain safety from threat, it is taken under duress, where threat is not explicit from any particular ruler, but all-encompassing existential threat.

As such, I argue, that within your, staggeringly XVIII century philosophy, individual rights can not coexist with any society at all. Note that social contract philosophers did not argue that social contract taken under threat is invalid like you do. You are attempting to reconcile incompatible concepts: anarchic freedom and society, while taking collectivist society as scapegoat target where in fact no society can function within your framework.

To address what I see as implied compatibility of capitalist economics: implied threat of starvation (that poor people are facing and are particularly susceptible to) is among the factors driving supply of unskilled labour and thus, factors into low wages in unskilled labour. As such, any low skill employment is not taken freely, it's taken under duress, with said duress explicitly factoring into lower wage than would be agreed upon without threat. For people with families, economic coercion is even greater, in form of threat of starvation or sickness of their loved ones.

To finally reiterate: your definition of individual rights is not compatible with any from of economy or society.

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    You just completely distorted the meaning of Natural Rights. Anyone who understand Natural Rights knows that 1 individuals rights end where the next individual's begins. You do NOT give up any rights because you can't violate the rights of someone else. As far as the social contract goes, you clearly have a serious misconception. The idea that freedom & liberty is an outdated concept speaks volumes about the mindset from which this answer stems, but you're correct that freedom and liberty cannot co-exist with collectivism
    – Aporter
    Commented Feb 22, 2019 at 2:42
  • @Aporter No, YOU have some serious misconceptions. Which definition of "Natural Rights" to begin with? Hobbes defines natural laws as whatever is in your physical power to further your survival (including giving up liberties). Can't go more natural than that. if you are trying to call upon Locke, then funnily enough, you should know that Locke's liberty can exist only within collectivist society with planned market. And finally, "social contract" as moral and social philosophy is primitive, outdated and should have became obsolete long ago in favour of either Kantianism or Utilitarianism.
    – M i ech
    Commented Feb 22, 2019 at 7:53
  • @Aporter About Locke's definition: "Persons have a right or liberty to (1) follow their own will in all things that the law has not prohibited and (2) not be subject to the inconstant, uncertain, unknown, and arbitrary wills of others.". Any not centrally planned by government economic activity is "arbitrary will of others" to which I'm subject, because they impact, say, prices of goods, for example. As such, the only way to have Locke's liberty is to have centrally planned economy (because it's completely under governing law) ran and decided by collective. So, which definition again?
    – M i ech
    Commented Feb 22, 2019 at 8:00
  • @Miech you conveniently left out "of nature". You are paraphrasing which changes the meaning. The 2nd Treatises of Government says: "... all men are naturally in a state of perfect freedom to order their actions & dispose of their possessions & persons as they think fit within the bounds of the law of nature; without asking leave or depending on the will of any other man". The laws of government doesn't = the law of nature. Also in a free market the price of goods is determined by the market(supply & demand) not the "will of any other man" I don't think Hobbes is mentioned in the question
    – MolonLabe
    Commented Feb 22, 2019 at 11:42
  • Actually the definition of Natural Rights fits perfectly into a true free enterprise capitalist society and there are multiple historical examples of this, but that's not what the question asks for
    – MolonLabe
    Commented Feb 22, 2019 at 11:48

It's a logical impossibility, since one of the rights of an individual is the ownership of property, including earnings. Thus if you're a productive person, yet the produce of your labor is taken away and given to others, that's a violation of your individual rights.

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    I agree that wages are property, but if you believe in the idea of the 'social contract', then aren't you consenting under certain conditions? Is that not how taxation is justified in the US where people are supposed to possess individual rights? Is it not conceivable that the collective could consent to the sharing of the fruit of their labor?
    – MolonLabe
    Commented Jan 11, 2019 at 5:11
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    Can you back up this claim? Sometimes it's plausible to answer theory questions from logic alone, but you haven't developed that argument here. If that's what you want to do, can you more formally define both kinds of rights and show that they are incompatible? Commented Jan 11, 2019 at 5:50
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    @Jonita when you voluntarily participate in the exchange of goods and/or services nothing is "taken away". You have a choice to purchase that good or service. If the price is too high, then you purchase something else that suits your needs. Of course true 'free enterprise' Capitalism, isn't really the same as corporatist, crony Capitalism, so there's some considerations there for the government's collusion with corporations(like in healthcare), that you could pose an argument that there's an element of theft being involved.
    – Aporter
    Commented Jan 12, 2019 at 2:51
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    @MolonLabe: You assume that I believe in the so-called "social contract". Show me where I signed it :-) Of course it's possible that a group could consent to sharing the products of their labor. We have plenty of examples, from marriage to communes to religious communities, but all of those are (at least in the West) voluntary associations. If you don't want to share, you can leave. Note that AFAIK all attempts at collectivist governments have placed heavy restrictions on emigration.
    – jamesqf
    Commented Jan 13, 2019 at 19:08
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    @jamesqf Every collectivist system I've heard of grants the rights of property to individuals. How you can aquire property under those systems may vary, and it may be impossible for a certain individual, but that's the same under free market systems where you have the right of having a work, or a home, but no provisions are made to make sure you have them.
    – Rekesoft
    Commented Jan 14, 2019 at 11:45

There is no inherent, theoretical or logical contradiction between the Enlightenment theories of individual rights and economic collectivism. Individuals can (and do) voluntarily enter into collective economic arrangements like cooperatives. There is again no logical or theoretical reason why those cooperatives cannot in turn contractually obligate themselves to be part of a democratic, planned economy.

However, there are also no really solid historical examples of this happening though, certainly not on a national scale. The largest modern federation of cooperatives I am aware of is Mondragon, which you may want to look into. It is collectivist in many ways, but does not substantially violate classical liberal ideas when it comes to individual rights.

You may also want to look at the theory and practice of anarcho-communism. Generally speaking, their views of individual liberty are much more radical, but closest to Rousseau among the theorists you mention, and they argue that economic collectivism is fully compatible with that vision of liberty. But again there are no large-scale examples of this put in to practice in a stable way.

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    Note that cooperatives have historically not been the vehicle of choice for organization, even when a viable and socially acceptable option. In the U.S. for business organizations for example, corporations predominate even though the government subsidizes cooperatives with even larger tax breaks than corporations. Commented Feb 21, 2019 at 15:19

I think that due to human nature the way we run any economy types will have a problem with individual rights. Take a look at the following part of the declaration of independence.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal

In theory this sounds great but how does it work in actual practice? I would argue that it fails more often then it works and factors out of a persons control, such as who their parents are and where they where born play a major role in the persons entire life.

If you look back in US history you can see that during the Vietnam war it was families that were able to afford sending kids to college (or afford to donate to send a kid with bad academics) that where better able to avoid the draft. Would you consider the possibility of being drafted into a war based on the ability to be able to get into and afford college fair and equal?

Or if you look at school district (and individual schools) around the US it can be seen that where you are able to go to school can have a big impact especially if you can get into an area where the schools have access to more resources. Would you consider the quality of education you get based on the zip code you where born or raised at fair and equal?

The problem that people forget in a western style economy it doesn't always matter if someone deserves or earned something but if they can afford it or not which can easily be influenced by matters outside of their control. For example just look at how many of the super rich families that have passed wealth down to their children giving them many opportunities that they may not have had if they had been born into another family.


Collectivism and individual rights are antithetical and cannot co-exist. It is impossible and that's why nobody has been able to provide an example of a society where it has existed.

  • Show your work please. You stating that something is a fact is insufficient to prove correctness. N.B. I'm not saying you're wrong. Commented Feb 21, 2019 at 15:16
  • I agree, but this is a poor quality post. Weak on length, supporting arguments, and sources.
    – John
    Commented Feb 22, 2019 at 0:32

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