Is there a conflict between individual and society?

Ruut Veenhoven Erasmus University Rotterdam, The Netherlands, E-mail: veenhoven@fsw.eur.nl
Social Indicators Research, 2009, 91: 5-21,
DOI 10.1007/s11205-008-9323-7

Human societies cannot exist without human beings and human beings cannot exist without a society. Still there can be a conflict of interest between the individual and society and there are historical examples of societies prospering at the cost of its members, and examples of people thriving at the cost of society. The degree of conflict or synergy will vary over time. This begs the question: How it is today? To what extent does the well-being of contemporary nations go together with the well-being of their inhabitants?
In a system theoretical perspective one can distinguish four kinds of being ‘well’: 1) good external conditions, 2) appropriate internal functioning, 3) positive external effects and 4) system maintenance. At the level of nations these aspects of well-being cannot be meaningfully combined in one measure, hence each aspect is measured separately. At the level of individuals a fairly comprehensive measure is how long and happily people live.
Data were available for 92 nations in the early 2000s. Analysis of these data shows much correspondence between the well-being of contemporary nations and average well-being of citizens in these nations. The well-being of citizens, as measured with Happy Life Years, appears to be strongly correlated with: a) the position of the nation in the world system, b) the functioning of public institutions in the nation, c) the productivity of the nation, and d) the stability of the system. There are plausible explanations for this connection, one is that modern society fits human nature fairly well and another that happy citizens make a better society. So, there is no great conflict between the individual and society, at least not at this moment.

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