Collective responsibility

Collective responsibility

Collective responsibility is a concept or doctrine, according to which individuals are to be held responsible for other people's actions by tolerating, ignoring, or harboring them, without actively collaborating in these actions.


In religion

This concept is found in the Old Testament (or Tanakh), some examples include the account of the Flood, the Tower of Babel, Sodom and Gomorrah and in some interpretations, the Book of Joshua's Achan. In those records entire communities were punished on the act of the vast majority of their members, however it is impossible that there weren't any innocent people, or children too young to be responsible for their deeds.

The practice of blaming "the Jews" for Jesus' death is the longest example of collective responsibility. In this case, the blame was cast not only on the Jews of the time but upon successive generations. However, the Second Vatican Council essentially absolved the Jewish people from the charge of deicide in Nostra Aetate, the Declaration on the Relation of the Church with Non-Christian Religions.

Collective punishment

Collective responsibility in the form of collective punishment is often used as a disciplinary measure in closed institutions, e.g. boarding schools (punishing a whole class for the actions of a single unknown pupil), military units, prisons (juvenile and adult), psychiatric facilities, etc. The effectiveness and severeity of this measure may vary greatly, but it often breeds distrust and isolation among their members, and is almost always a sign of authoritarian tendencies in the institution or its home society. For example, in the Soviet Gulags, all members of a brigada (work unit) were punished for bad performance of any of its members.

Collective punishment is also practiced in situation of war, economic sanctions, etc., presupposing the existence of collective guilt. Collective guilt, or guilt by association, is the controversial collectivist idea that groups of humans can bear guilt above and beyond the guilt of individual members, and hence an individual holds responsibility for what other members of their group have done, even if they themselves didn't do this. Contemporary systems of criminal law accept the principle that guilt shall only be personal. Others view groups as being entities in themselves (an entitative group), capable of holding guilt or responsibility independent of any of the group's members.

The mass shootings of Nicholas II's family in 1918 may be regarded as an example of such an approach. Another example is when ethnic Germans in Central and Eastern Europe were held collectively responsible for Nazi crimes, resulting in numerous atrocities against the German population, including killings (see Expulsion of Germans after World War II and Beneš decrees).

In business

As the business practices known as Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and sustainability mature and converge with the responsibilities of governments and citizens, the term "collective responsibility" is beginning to be more widely used.

In culture

The concept of collective responsibility is present in literature, most notably in Samuel Taylor Coleridge's "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner", a poem telling the tale of a ship's crew who died of thirst because they approved of one crew member's killing of an albatross. 1959's Ben-Hur and 1983's prison drama Bad Boys depict collective responsibility and punishment.

See also

Further reading

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

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