Solidarity vs. Individualism

… a core concept in Socioeconomic and Political Context and Atlas105

Concept description

The Cambridge Dictionary (references below) defines solidarity as “agreement between and support for the members of a group, especially a political group” and individualism as “the idea that freedom of thought and action for each person is the most important quality of a society, rather than shared effort and responsibility.”

The contrast between solidarity and individualism plays out in many public policy areas. For example, in their examination of vaccination policy in Israel, Boas, Rosenthal, and Davidovitch (2016, reference below) write:

“Public health policies often stand at odds with our contemporary zeitgeist of individualism. Whereas individualistic conceptions place personal self-gain as both incentive for action and a desired result, public health policies address the personal self-gain as the end result of a collective benefit. Vaccinations are perhaps the paradigmatic example of this interplay. Individuals calculate whether or not to be vaccinated by considering their own self-interest in relation to the type and quantity of vaccines to which they are ready to be exposed. Public health policy-makers, in contrast, order vaccination programs by applying a set of considerations that extends the individual level and refers to the group, to the collective, as their main reference unit … In contrast to the personal balance of risks and benefits that individuals weigh when considering vaccinations, policy-makers think of vaccinations in terms of “herd immunity”, vaccination rates, and consider individual self-gain as a predictive outcome of the public good.

“In the various public health ethical codes, solidarity is one of the foundations of public health practice, in the context of understanding humans as interdependent within communities – both at the national and global levels. Solidarity is especially used in cases of emergencies, persuading communities to take collective action and to suspend self-gain in favor of promoting collective good. This could be the case in collective responses in cases such as pandemics, for instance. …

“Solidarity, a value mentioned in various public health ethical codes of major public associations such as the American Public Health Association, European Public Health Association as well as the Israeli Association of Public Health Physicians, is not merely an abstract concept – it has public health policy implications and it points to the need to be more aware of the interplay between individualism and social structures. In the US, scholars have been discussing the unfashionable place of solidarity in the American value system. In the context of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) debates, attempts were made to introduce solidarity in a way that reflects “American nature”, and interpreted to include within solidarity issues such as mutual assistance, patriotism and coordinated investment.”

Atlas topic, subject, and course

The Study of the Socioeconomic Context for Politics and Policy (core topic) in Socioeconomic and Political Context and Atlas105.


Cambridge Dictionary, solidarity, at, accessed 12 December 2018.

Cambridge Dictionary, individualism, at, accessed 12 December 2018.

Hagai Boas, Anat Rosenthal, and Nadav Daviovitch (2016), Between individualism and social solidarity in vaccination policy: the case of the 2013 OPV campaign in Israel, Isr J Health Policy Res, 2016, 5:64, at, accessed 12 December 2018.

Page created by: Ian Clark, last modified on 12 December 2018.

Image: Ben Peterson & Alison Pennington, Solidarity is still the issue, Green Left Weekly, 17 August 2012, at, accessed 12 December 2018.