Do you think the federal government in Washington has too much power?
Do you think government regulations are sometimes nonsensical and inappropriate?
Do potholes in the roads and other public service failures bother you?
Do you believe family is important?
You might already be a Communitarian!
When people encounter the word “Communitarian,” many are turned off because the word ends with “–ism” and because it starts with “Communi—.” They react without knowing what Communitarianism is. But many would find that Communitarianism supports what they already believe.
As an American, you are free to go pretty much wherever you wish. At any time, you can go to work, to a museum, fishing, or anywhere else on the map. That is individual liberty. (The fact is, most people in most other countries of the world have as much freedom of mobility as we do. But for the moment let’s view mobility as a treasured American value.)
Because even in America, there are rules. Society insists that you keep to the right side of the road except when passing, that you travel at proscribed speeds and obey rules like signaling, stopping for school buses and ambulances, etc. That is societal control. The rules constrain individual liberty. But they bring such benefit with them that even lovers of liberty accept them. The rules of the road aren’t even a trade-off. The individual’s goal of arriving somewhere is better attained because they and everyone else follow the rules. If the highway were a purely libertarian Road Warrior free-for-all, timely arrivals would be rare.
Cheering for your favorite sports team is more enjoyable when hundreds or thousands of other people are doing the same thing. Each fan cheers, claps, and shouts when he wishes. But the general enthusiasm makes it more enjoyable for everyone. The same with work. You have your own job to do, but your productivity links to that of others and makes the final outcome more than the sum of its parts.
Without this kind of cooperation, productivity in the workplace would suffer. But cooperation is necessary to accomplish any sort of goal. Want to make the property values on your block rise? It isn’t enough to keep your own house in good repair. Everyone on the block must do the same. One house with peeling paint can negate the effect of all the rest.
The preceding shows in a simply way that society requires (in some matters, not all) a balance between individual liberty and social norms. Everyone should agree with that.
Communitarianism is the name given to the idea that people thrive best in relation to other people – in communities. This might seem wacky if you leap to the conclusion that “community” means an ashram or kibbutz or something. But the leaders of Communitarianism don’t say that. When they say “community” they mean first of all the family, and then the neighborhood, the workplace, the church, the sports arena, etc. These institutions already play a role in most people’s lives. Communitarians say those familiar groups are important, and should be strengthened. Communitarians don’t say the community is all-important. Individual choices and rights are also very important and inviolable. The best society is one that balances liberty and community.
According to the website called The Communitarian Trap, Communitarianism is a codeword for big government. It says, “Communitarianism is a global agenda toward world government. It uses a coalition of government, business, and church who shore up the social, moral, and political environment, while slowly robbing the freedom of the participants.”
This is wrong. Big government is what happens when important local and voluntary associations are neglected or circumvented. A federally funded youth program governed by a thick code of regulations written by lawyers is what happens when families, churches, workplaces and neighborhoods fail to play their proper role. Such failures are common, of course. The liberal response is to create those federally funded government programs I mentioned. The Communitarian response would be to shift focus back to the family, the workplace, the church, and other local and immediate groups.
The emphasis is on community, but the goal is that more individuals should live as they wish. Who could be against that?
Read more at the Institute for Communitarian Policy Studies.