Communitarianism

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Communitarianism as a group of related but distinct philosophies began in the late 20th century, opposing radical individualism, and other similar philosophies while advocating phenomena such as civil society. Not necessarily hostile to social liberalism, communitarianism rather has a different emphasis, shifting the focus of interest toward communities and societies and away from the individual. The question of priority, whether on the individual or community often has the largest impact in the most pressing ethical questions, such as poverty, abortion, multiculturalism, and hate speech.

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[edit] Terminology

Though the term communitarianism is of 20th-century origin, it is derived from the 1840s term communitarian, which was coined by Goodwyn Barmby to refer to one who was a member or advocate of a communalist society. The modern use of the term is a redefinition of the original sense. Many communitarians trace their philosophy to earlier thinkers. The term is primarily used in two senses:

1) Philosophical communitarianism considers classical liberalism to be ontologically and epistemologically incoherent, and opposes it on those grounds. Unlike classical liberalism, which construes communities as originating from the voluntary acts of pre-community individuals, it emphasizes the role of the community in defining and shaping individuals. Communitarians believe that the value of community is not sufficiently recognized in liberal theories of justice.

2) Ideological communitarianism is a radical middle ideology that emphasises the community, and is sometimes marked by leftism on economic issues and conservatism on social issues. This usage was coined recently. When the term is capitalized, it usually refers to the Responsive Communitarian movement of Amitai Etzioni and other philosophers.

[edit] Philosophical communitarianism

Communitarian philosophers are primarily concerned with ontological and epistemological issues, as distinct from policy issues. The communitarian response to John Rawls' A Theory of Justice reflects dissatisfaction with the image Rawls presents of humans as atomistic individuals. Although Rawls allows some space for benevolence, for example, he views it merely as one of many values that exist within a single person's head.

Communitarians claim values and beliefs exist in public space, in which debate takes place. They argue that becoming an individual means taking a stance on the issues that circulate in the public space. For example, within the United States debate on gun politics, there are a number of stances to be taken, but all of these stances presuppose the existence of a gun politics debate in the first place; this is one sense in which the community predates individualism. Similarly, both linguistic and non-linguistic traditions are communicated to children and form the backdrop against which individuals can formulate and understand beliefs. The dependence of the individual upon community members is typically meant as descriptive. It does not mean that individuals should accept majority beliefs on any issue. Rather, if an individual rejects a majority belief, such as the historic belief that slavery is acceptable, he or she will do so for reasons that make sense within the community (for example, Christian religious reasons, reasons deriving from the Enlightenment conception of human rights) rather than simply any old reason. In this sense, the rejection of a single majority belief relies on a deep tradition of other majority beliefs.

The following authors have communitarian tendencies in the philosophical sense, but have all taken pains to distance themselves from the political ideology known as communitarianism, which is discussed further below.

[edit] Ideological communitarianism

[edit] Communitarian philosophy

[edit] Social capital

Beginning in the late 20th century, many authors began to observe a deterioration in the social networks of the United States. In the book Bowling Alone, Robert Putnam observed that nearly every form of civic organization has undergone drops in membership exemplified by the fact that, while more people are bowling than in the 1950s, there are fewer bowling leagues.

This results in a decline in "social capital", described by Putnam as "the collective value of all 'social networks' and the inclinations that arise from these networks to do things for each other". According to Putnam and his followers, social capital is a key component to building and maintaining democracy.

Communitarians seek to bolster social capital and the institutions of civil society. The Responsive Communitarian Platform described it thus <ref name="platform">The Communitarian Network, Responsive Communitarian Platform Text.</ref>:

"Many social goals . . . require partnership between public and private groups. Though government should not seek to replace local communities, it may need to empower them by strategies of support, including revenue-sharing and technical assistance. There is a great need for study and experimentation with creative use of the structures of civil society, and public-private cooperation, especially where the delivery of health, educational and social services are concerned."

[edit] Positive rights

Central to many communitarians' philosophy is the concept of positive rights, that is, rights or guarantees to certain things. These may include free education, affordable housing, a safe and clean environment, universal health care, a social safety net, or even the right to a job. To this end, communitarians generally support social safety programs, free public education, public works programs, and laws limiting such things as pollution and gun violence.

A common objection is that by providing such rights, they are violating the negative rights of the citizens; that is, rights to have something not done to you. For example, taking money in the form of taxes to pay for such programs as described above deprives individuals of property. Proponents of positive rights respond that without society, individuals would not have any rights, so it is natural that they should give something back to society. They further argue that without positive rights, negative rights are made irrelevant. For example, what does the right to a free press mean in a society with a 15% literacy rate? In addition, with regard to taxation, communitarians "experience this less as a case of being used for others' ends and more as a way of contributing to the purposes of a community I regard as my own" <ref>Sandel, Liberalism and the Limits of Justice, 143.</ref>. Alternatively, some agree that negative rights may be violated by a government action, but argue that it is justifiable if the positive rights protected outweigh the negative rights lost.

What is or is not a "natural right" is a source of contention in modern politics; for example, whether or not universal health care can be considered a birthright, or how far the government can go to protect the environment.

[edit] Comparison to other political philosophies

Communitarianism cannot be classified as being wholly left or right, and many claim to represent a sort of radical middle. Liberals in the American sense or social democrats in the European sense generally share the communitarian position on issues relating to the economy, such as the need for environmental protection and public education, but not on cultural issues. Communitarians and conservatives generally agree on cultural issues, such as support for character education and faith based programs, but communitarians do not share the laissez-faire capitalism generally embraced by American conservatives.

[edit] Libertarianism

Communitarianism and libertarianism emphasize different values and concerns. Libertarianism is an individualist philosophy, with a strong focus on the rights of citizens in a democracy. Communitarians believe that there is too much focus on these concerns, arguing that "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" <ref name="platform" />. They believe that rights must be accompanied by social responsibility and a maintenance of the institutions of civil society if these rights are to be preserved, but libertarians believe that government actions to promote these ends actually result in a loss of individual liberty. In addition, libertarians reject communitarian attempts to promote character education and faith-based initiatives, arguing that government has no business engaging in what they see as social engineering.

[edit] Authoritarianism

Some people have argued that communitarianism's focus on social cohesion raises similarities with communism or authoritarianism, but there are substantial differences between communitarianism and authoritarianism.

Authoritarian governments often rule with brute force, accompanied with severe restrictions on personal freedom, political and civil rights. Authoritarian governments are overt about the role of the government as commander. Civil society and democracy are not generally characteristic of authoritarian regimes. Communitarians, in contrast, emphasize the use of non-governmental organizations in furthering their goals.

[edit] Communitarian movement

The modern communitarian movement was first articulated by the Responsive Communitarian Platform, written in the United States by a group of ethicists, activists, and social scientists including Amitai Etzioni, Mary Ann Glendon, and William Galston.

The Communitarian Network, founded in 1993 by Amitai Etzioni, is the best-known group advocating communitarianism. A think tank called the Institute for Communitarian Policy Studies is also directed by Etzioni. Other voices of communitarianism include Don Eberly, director of the Civil Society Project, and Robert Putnam, author of Bowling Alone.

[edit] Influence in the United States

Reflecting the dominance of liberal and conservative politics in the United States, no major party and few elected officials advocate communitarianism. Thus there is no consensus on individual policies, but some that most communitarians endorse have been enacted.

President Bill Clinton was open about his support for much of Amitai Eztioni's philosophy, though whether this reflected on his actual policy programme is debatable. It has also been suggested that the "compassionate conservatism" espoused by President Bush during his 2000 presidential campaign was a form of conservative communitarian thinking. Cited policies have included economic and rhetorical support for education, volunteerism, and community programs, as well as a social emphasis on promoting families, character education, traditional values, and faith-based projects.

Dana Milbank, writing in the Washington Post, remarked of modern communitarians, "There is still no such thing as a card-carrying communitarian, and therefore no consensus on policies. Some, such as [John] DiIulio and outside Bush adviser Marvin Olasky, favor religious solutions for communities, while others, like Etzioni and Galston, prefer secular approaches." [1]

[edit] See also

[edit] Internal links

[edit] Earlier theorists

[edit] Contemporary theorists

[edit] Concepts

[edit] External links

[edit] Communitarian organizations

[edit] Opposition

[edit] Articles on communitarianism

Some potentially useful references, transported from the Sourcewatch, which also links additional articles of relevance to this topic:

[edit] Notes

<references/>de:Kommunitarismus es:Comunitarismo fr:Communautarisme identitaire id:Komunitarianisme nl:Communitarisme ja:共同体主義 pl:Komunitaryzm sr:Комунитаризам fi:Kommunitarismi sv:Kommunitarism

Communitarianism

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