Friday, December 02, 2005

Communitarianism

Yet another 'ism' boys and girls, one that's called Communitarianism. Just what does this 'ism' offer and is it beneficial to the human race? It seems from the surface that communtarianism is built around core values of character, individual responsibility, and community based alternatives toward crime, education, and families, although it deals with the political and the economical aspects of society also. Communitarians recognize that it's a human tendency to act in self-serving ways, but they also believe it's possible to construct a good social community based on the human being's willingness to cooperate in order to achieve community goals which are based on these same core values.

As we can see in the Communitarian Platform, the communitarians believe that our very existence or our rights can not exist without the cooperation of our independent and interconnected communities. And in turn, our communities will not exist very long without a certain amount of communal contribution by the individual members within their respective community.

American men, women, and children are members of many communities--families; neighborhoods; innumerable social, religious, ethnic, work place, and professional associations; and the body politic itself. Neither human existence nor individual liberty can be sustained for long outside the interdependent and overlapping communities to which all of us belong. Nor can any community long survive unless its members dedicate some of their attention, energy, and resources to shared projects. The exclusive pursuit of private interest erodes the network of social environments on which we all depend, and is destructive to our shared experiment in democratic self-government. For these reasons, we hold that the rights of individuals cannot long be preserved without a communitarian perspective.....

Although it may seem utopian, we believe that in the multiplication of strongly democratic communities around the world lies our best hope for the emergence of a global community that can deal concertedly with matters of general concern to our species as a whole: with war and strife, with violations of basic rights, with environmental degradation, and with the extreme material deprivation that stunts the bodies, minds, and spirits of children. Our communitarian concern may begin with ourselves and our families, but it rises inexorably to the long-imagined community of humankind.


Communitarianism seems to occupy ground somewhere between the conservative and the liberal values, drawing ideals from both sides, although the values do seem to be more liberal at first appearance. Their perspective does recognize the individual human dignity as well as the social aspect of human existence. In other words, a balance is sought between the people's rights and responsibilities. Communitarian's call for strong non-governmental institutions in order to achieve the necessary communities which will foster a return to a more moral, value based world. I've noticed that a great deal of the communitarians place emphasis on the necessity of the churches and in their support of morals as they are related to marriage, divorce, and the importance of the 'family' as an institution in and of itself. While I'm not a follower of the traditional European religions, I do consider myself a religious man and I firmly believe in the individual's responsibility to the family and even to the extended family. By extended family I mean I personally feel I have a responsibility to my brother's and sister's children and my neighbor's children. But that's a different subject in and of itself I suppose. But then again, maybe it's not!

To provide for the full enjoyment of liberty, a society needs strong non-governmental institutions--solid families, good schools, friendly neighborhoods, vibrant churches and synagogues, active charities and voluntary associations. All of these institutions are built out of a tissue of mutual responsibility and caring.


The communitarian's support 'moral education' in our schools and universities without violating church-state separation and without engaging in "culture wars", claiming that the base of good character is rooted in two core values: self-discipline and empathy. This is discussed in greater detail at this page entitled "On Character Education," The School Administrator. And the question of "Whose morals should be taught?" comes to play especially within communities who are so diverse, not just politically but also religiously. This is the communitarian's response to the question:

We ought to teach those values Americans share, for example, that the dignity of all persons ought to be respected, that tolerance is a virtue and discrimination abhorrent, that peaceful resolution of conflicts is superior to violence, that generally truth-telling is morally superior to lying, that democratic government is morally superior to totalitarianism and authoritarianism, that one ought to give a day's work for a day's pay, that saving for one's own and one's country's future is better than squandering one's income and relying on others to attend to one's future needs.


As far as criminal justice is concerned, the communitarian adheres to the concept of community policing, whereas along with police action, the community must will a change in crime areas taking a very active role. An article which relates to this is Broken Windows.

These rules were defined and enforced in collaboration with the "regulars" on the street. Another neighborhood might have different rules, but these, everybody understood, were the rules for this neighborhood. If someone violated them the regulars not only turned to Kelly (police officer within the community) for help but also ridiculed the violator. Sometimes what Kelly did could be described as "enforcing the law," but just as often it involved taking informal or extralegal steps to help protect what the neighborhood had decided was the appropriate level of public order. Some of the things he did probably would not withstand a legal challenge.


And how do communitarians plan to construct a society which will protect it's members from one another, either through civil war or violent crime, while not oppressing them? Well, according to Amitai Etzioni, what is needed is not a "melting pot" nor a "rainbow," but a mosaic. It is possible to preserve diversity in unity through a "community of communities." Etzioni's views can be read in his work pertaining to The Responsive Community.

The way I understand the term "social services" within the communitarian's view, is like this: The primary belief is that there should be less governmental institutions and more nonprofit and faith-based organizations involved in community based social problems, but the government should be utilized only when community social systems fail. This is closely related to what is called subsidiarity. But they do believe there are plenty of enviromental urgencies that do require national and even international action. I keep seeing some of the conservative as well as liberal views scattered throughout the communitarian belief system. Perhaps it's about balancing and finding some middle ground?

The economy structure within the communitarian platform is the free market system but with a call for a balance--between free enterprise and the social good, between the marketplace and government, between economic freedom and society's broader needs. Etzioni says more on this in his essay on How to make a humane market.

American families, for example, work much more to maintain their standard of living than they did a generation ago. True, the length of the working week has barely budged. But instead of one breadwinner per family, most American families now have two, with the majority of mothers working outside the household. Individual workers do not work many more hours - the members of any one family do. The result has been an enormous decrease in the quality of life. People have much less time for their children, for one another, for community life and voluntary work, and for practically everything else that is not work-related.


As far as politics are concerned, it seems the communitarians believe political institutions can only contain morality if sustained by and criticized by active citizens within the communities who are concerned about morality. They support political reforms and believe there should be a reduction in private monetary contributions, but that all candidates should receive a certain amount of support from the public, as well as equal access to media. Etzioni spells all this out in more detail in his book entitled, The Spirit of Community and I'll end this piece with a critique of Etzioni and the views maintained by communitariansm. Edward W.Younkins offers his critique of Etzioni in his piece entitled, A Flawed Paradigm.

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