The argument that ‘society is more important than the individual’ is the pillar of fascism, and it was earlier promoted by people like Mussolini and Stalin. Yet, it is a widely shared conclusion by different people of different backgrounds and ideologies. This argument starts by drawing a clear dichotomy of ‘society vs. individuals’ (which is not realistic) and then argues for the favor of society using certain cultural sentiments (such as dress codes, family structures, and specific religious believes).
The conclusion then says that individual rights and freedoms need to be suppressed – by force if needed – for the sake of society. Limited privileges can be offered to individuals in society as conditions permit, but these are subject to society’s determination – which means they can also be recalled. ‘Society giveth and society taketh away.’
In response to this argument, we can say:
1- The norms of society are always dynamic – never static – and they are always carried on by individuals, not by groups. We must always remember that social groups do not have a collective heart and mind. Minds and hearts belong to individuals. This means that any prevailing opinion and mindset in society – i.e., culture – is essentially reflective of a group of individuals who make their views dominant in their society (whether by force or by consensus).
2- The ultimate purpose of society is not to reproduce itself; rather to foster individuals. individuals engage in ‘social contracts’ for their own interests, not for the interest of a vague entity – which has no soul and ambitions of its own – called society. It follows that if society fails to foster individuals then it’s a failed society.
3- While I certainly agree with living and promoting my embraced culture, religion and socioeconomic system (federal cooperative socialism for me), I understand that the only sustainable way is to promote them through reason and democratic engagement with the public opinion. Force can never sustain a social system, because it always creates and recycles conditions of tension.
4- This is not to say that society can never have interests other than those of individuals, because there are collective/shared interests and private/personal ones. For example, while everyone in society would agree that they want good security, physical infrastructure, food and public services for themselves, these qualities can only be achieved by a coherent social system. However, some individuals think they can have these ‘good conditions’ and at the same time be totally absolved of the responsibility of contributing their fair share to creating and sustaining these conditions. These individuals still want to ‘keep their own wealth’ to themselves and have no boundaries on their freedoms (even when they result in violating other people’s freedoms). These individuals simply want to be well-accommodated by the group without having to reciprocate the favour. These are unrealistic and irresponsible individuals, and irresponsibility does not go well with freedom, in any environment. I do not identify with such immature definitions of individual freedom.
Those who want to enjoy the benefits of living in society without sharing efforts in building it should try living out of it. It is not freedom to be parasitically dependent on the group when you can be a positive contributor (in whichever capacity available to you); unless there are genuine objective conditions that constrain your ability. Important measures of social justice need to be established in order for individuals to realize their true freedoms and potentials.
“Individuality – our personal treasure – expresses itself in social contexts. Without society, a manifestation of individuality is virtually meaningless. Here lies the difference between ‘chaotic autonomy’ and ‘individual freedom’. A free individual recognizes that social good enhances the potential of his/her own individuality.” [Gussai H.S., “Statements that matter (to me)”]
5- There is – realistically – a balance that can be pursued, and relatively achieved, between individual freedoms and societal interests. this balance is called ‘the constitutional framework’ in the modern legal language. It is far more productive to engage in defining and implementing this framework than to take the extreme positions of ‘individuals vs. society.’