Collectivism is the central meme of his column today. It has two meanings, but he is really using the second one 2: emphasis on collective rather than individual action or identity, rather than the more common meaning. 1: a political or economic theory advocating collective control especially over production and distribution; also : a system marked by such control
I say this since his discussion uses China as an exemplar of "Collectivism" which is certainly not the first definition of this very capitalistic state. But, in his use, based on his essay, the Democratic party fits his definition. A collectivist society is one that demands universal health care, while the whole of society ensures the health of the individual. As progressives we feel so strongly about this that we are willing to subordinate the desire of the individual who says he would rather have a faster car than guaranteed health care. In this important area we say the collective will trumps the individual.
He is not talking about democracy v. autocracy as much as differences in orientation:
You can create a global continuum with the most individualistic societies — like the United States or Britain — on one end, and the most collectivist societies — like China or Japan — on the other.
The individualistic countries tend to put rights and privacy first. People in these societies tend to overvalue their own skills and overestimate their own importance to any group effort. People in collective societies tend to value harmony and duty. They tend to underestimate their own skills and are more self-effacing when describing their contributions to group efforts.
He describes some recent psychological studies that illustrate this difference in social orientation, along with some historical explanations. (Unfortunately the N.Y. Times hasn't gotten the idea of links to sources yet.) And then he continues:
Either way, individualistic societies have tended to do better economically. We in the West have a narrative that involves the development of individual reason and conscience during the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, and then the subsequent flourishing of capitalism. According to this narrative, societies get more individualistic as they develop.
But what happens if collectivist societies snap out of their economic stagnation? What happens if collectivist societies, especially those in Asia, rise economically and come to rival the West? A new sort of global conversation develops.
And here is his conclusion, which, refreshingly, is more an invitation for discussion.
..............Meanwhile, human brains turn out to be extremely permeable (they naturally mimic the neural firings of people around them). Relationships are the key to happiness. People who live in the densest social networks tend to flourish, while people who live with few social bonds are much more prone to depression and suicide.
Or stated another way: with saturation media controlled by those who possess power in all its incarnations, is the ideal of the individual as aggregates controlling their destinies by the democratic process reality or myth.
The rise of China isn’t only an economic event. It’s a cultural one. The ideal of a harmonious collective may turn out to be as attractive as the ideal of the American Dream.
Is he saying here that the progressive movement to the degree it elevates the common will over the individual a worthwhile competitor to the traditional conservative exaltation of the heroic individual?
It’s certainly a useful ideology for aspiring autocrats.
And he leaves us coming full circle......or does he?