Collective responsibility

philosophical, social and political concept describing responsibility of organizations, groups and societies

Collective responsibility also known as collective guilt is a concept in which individuals are responsible for other people's actions by tolerating, ignoring, or harboring them, without actively collaborating in these actions.


  • The Lord anciently enjoined the people of Israel that they should repeat the words after the priest, and make public confession of their iniquities in the temple; because he foresaw that this was a necessary help to enable each one to form a just idea of himself. And it is proper that by confession of our misery, we should manifest the mercy of our God both among ourselves and before the whole world. It is proper that this mode of confession should both be ordinary in the Church, and also be specially employed on extraordinary occasions, when the people in common happen to have fallen into any fault. Of this latter description we have an example in the solemn confession which the whole people made under the authority and guidance of Ezra and Nehemiah (Neh. 1:6, 7). ... And it matters not though in one assembly it may sometimes happen that a few are innocent, seeing that the members of a languid and sickly body cannot boast of soundness. Nay, it is scarcely possible that these few have not contracted some taint, and so bear part of the blame.
  • All white men are responsible for white oppression. It is much too easy to say, "Racism is not my fault," or "I am not responsible for the country's inhumanity to the black man. ... But insofar as white do-gooders tolerate and sponsor racism in their educational institutions, their political, economic and social structures, their churches, and in every other aspect of American life, they are directly responsible for racism. ... Racism is possible because whites are indifferent to suffering and patient with cruelty. Karl Jaspers' description of metaphysical guilt is pertinent here. "There exists among men, because they are men, a solidarity through which each shares responsibility for every injustice and every wrong committed in the world, and especially for crimes that are committed in his presence or of which he cannot be ignorant."
  • I can no longer clothe myself, whether in good clothes or cheap, without the likelihood that my clothes are made under sweat-shop conditions. ... If I send my students to pursue further study upon subjects to which I have introduced them, I must send them to receive the benefits of endowments from the hands of a besotted philanthropy, drunken and sated with the wine of life pressed from the crushed and exhausted millions who feed the modern industrial wine press. ...

    Whatever I do, whichever way I turn, I can neither feed nor clothe my family, nor take part in public affairs as a citizen, nor speak the truth as I conceive it, without being stained with the blood of my brothers and sisters; without putting my hands into the wickedness that prostitutes every sacred national and religious function.

  • The economic system denies the right of the sincerest and most sympathetic to keep their hands out of the blood of their brothers. We may not go to our rest at night, or waken to our work in the morning, without bearing the burden of the communal guilt; without being ourselves creators and causes of the wrongs we seek to bear away. At every step, when we would do good, evil is present with us, and exacts its tribute from the very citadel of the soul.
  • A new feeling of freedom is something we can only receive from our collective repentance for collective guilt.

See also

Wikipedia has an article about: