Thursday, 1 October 2009


There has been a significant correlation between the level of legality of a country and its level of individualism. In other words, the more complex, reliable and encompassing a country's legal system is, the more it shifts from a collectivistic nature to an individualistic one.

There is good reason for this. It explains why western societies, steeped in centuries of legal tradition, are more individualistic. America and Europe have great legal traditions. China, on the contrary, didn't have any laws pertaining to many aspects of modern civilised society, including business and court settlements, until about half a century ago despite its long-drawn glorious history. In eastern, Asian societies, because the legal system is less established and less dependable, relationships are vital to ensuring that agreements are honoured. From a functionalist perspective, as a result, collectivism serves its purpose of keeping people bonded for good reason - trust comes not from a law-abiding contract, but from the honest word of each person involved in the agreement.

On the other hand, a sturdy legal system functions as a good arbitrator to settle disputes; thus people in individualistic societies have shifted the responsibility of ensuring that a deal stays clean to a system that punishes dishonourable people based on a code of objective law. This has allowed them to forgo the bonds of collectivism.

This is why capitalism/individualism and socialism/collectivism are dichotomously opposed. Capitalism is anchored on objective principles, such as individual rights, reason, non-coercion and the protection of property. Socialism is anchored on more fluid principles as altruism, subjective reciprocity and trust, and the subordination of man to the servitude of the greater collective.

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