Thursday, March 30, 2023

Etzioni, Freedom Summer, and Community


Israeli-American sociologist and author Amitai Etzioni, one of the few active advocates for communitarianism, aptly said that "The I needs the We-to Be."

This clever little maxim perfectly and succinctly encompasses the crux of communitarian thought. We are not just atomistic individuals, deracinated from a larger collective; we are members of groups. Those groups could be as small as an immediate family, or as big as a nation. 

When we connect with others and forge bonds, we open the door to incredible opportunities. These bonds could, over time, turn into lifelong friendships. 

Doug McAdam, who wrote about the Freedom Summer demonstrations in the 1960s, discovered that social activists, who frequented civil rights protests, established networks of trust and continued civic engagement. These young freedom fighters, who courageously worked together to combat racial segregation in Mississippi, needed a team effort to make a meaningful and effective impact. 

Freedom Summer was all about the "We"; emphasis on the "Me" would have been woefully insufficient. Civil rights activists understood that they needed each other in order to make a difference. 

Can you imagine isolated individuals effectuating civil rights reform? Of course you can't. The idea is preposterous. These activist networks were an integral part of the success of the movement. Again, "The I needs the We-to Be!"

The civil rights movement of the 1960s was a bottom-up effort, driven by dedicated groups who passionately believed in the cause. The bottom-up approach, however, only works in a collective capacity, where there is trust and delegation. 

While there were, of course, charismatic individuals who provided the movement with direction and morale, it was the voluntary groups of civic-minded men and women who, ultimately, changed the course of American history. 

They accomplished far more than any one solitary individual could ever dream of doing. 

Thursday, March 23, 2023

The State of Liberal Democracy In America

Language is a nuanced thing.  Too often, readers will gloss over terminology without stopping to dissect it.  This kind of passive reading is deceptively expedient and ultimately detrimental to a capacity to learn on a deeper level.  Words and phraseology should always be studied and questioned if our goal is to grow as thinkers.

When we examine the term "liberal democracy," what we find is a blatant contradiction.  Liberalism, as it is commonly understood, stresses the primacy of the individual over the collective.  Democracy, conversely, connotes a collective.  How, then, could these two seemingly antithetical ideas coincide in a way that makes sense?  For decades, America (and Great Britain to a comparable degree) has possessed the unique capability of synthesizing the two.  When Alexis de Tocqueville visited the United States in the 1830s, what he found was a people who cherished liberty and individual freedom while also recognizing the importance of civic participation and association.  This balance, however, has proven to be quite precarious.

Since the 1960s or thereabouts, Americans have begun to embrace a dangerous ideology that is seriously harming the well-being of our democracy: libertarianism.  Libertarianism, in excess, has a deleterious effect on what Robert Putnam commonly refers to as "social capital."  Putnam hypothesizes that social capital, which facilitates norms of trust and togetherness, is an integral part of robust democracy.  It is when individuals cease to recognize the importance of togetherness that we, as a nation, fall. 

In effect, what we have today is a surplus of liberalism, in the classical sense, and a serious deficit in participatory democracy.  Americans today are spoiled by options and choice.  They can work remotely, browse Netflix for hours on end, play videogames, and effectively opt out of real-world interaction.  Though this is, unquestionably, convenient (especially in the era of COVID), it has brutal repercussions.  How can America properly function as a democracy if its inhabitants are introverted, asocial housecats (to borrow a phrase from Owen Benjamin)?

What America needs is a return to 1950s-style communitarianism.  Liberals, and even a great deal of neocons, will of course call this a reactionary idea.  What, though, is reactionary about prosperity?  Nineteen-fifties America was civically bonded in a way that is unthinkable today.  That is not to say, however, that there wasn't significant illiberalism in the form of racial segregation.  It should go without saying that I am not a proponent of returning to that aspect of American society.  Rather, I am arguing for the return of religious institutions and voluntary associations.  The restoration of grassroots, bottom-up civic society, not the state, is my prescription to the problem of mass civic disengagement and unfettered libertarian ideology.  In short, America must return to the Tocquevillian ideal. 

This blog post was originally published in American Thinker

Thursday, March 16, 2023

Conservatism Is Love


On today's menu: a hodge-podge of different ruminations regarding conservatism and love.

Let's start with a salient question: is conservatism a philosophy of love? My response: absolutely, yes! Or at least it is meant to be. Further question: if conservatism = love, than what is it a love of? Answer: conservatism is a love of tradition, history, the past, the present, the future, family, friends, neighbors, community, strangers, the poor, the affluent, sinners, and on and on...

This is the tweet that prompted that little thought experiment:

Dr. Pitt is, of course, correct. Conservatism, as a political philosophy, is inextricably linked to tradition, which is, in turn, linked to faith. In the Western context, that faith is an Abrahamic one (i.e. Christianity and Judaism). And, though I am no theologian, doesn't the Bible teach us to love?

And love requires more than one party; unless you are okay with only loving yourself. So who should we love? A good starting point: family and friends. Family should anchor us in a distinct way. Friends, too, should build upon this foundation of love and acceptance. 

But, beyond your immediate circle, one should have a deep love for their community. This, though, requires an element of trust. I write about that here.

When we learn to trust others and to welcome "outsiders" into our circles, we grow as humans. Though this may sound cold and self-maximizing, there is a rational utility in association. When we learn to socialize with people outside of our inner-family and close friend group, we can (potentially) gain a great deal: economic-connectedness (wherein associating with an individual of higher socio-economic status could benefit you financially or occupationally), a feeling of belonging, deeper connectedness to the fabric of society, increased civic awareness, and - I think most importantly - established norms of trust with like-minded people. This last point is the essence of the term "social capital". 

Often, we throw the term social capital around a little too willy nilly; I, too, have been guilty of this. But what does it really mean? Eh, I'll save that for another post...

Anyway, follow Dr. Daniel Pitt on Twitter @DanJTPitt for some worthwhile and thought-provoking political commentary.

Signing off... 

Monday, March 13, 2023

Comments Open to All

Frank Filocomo

So as to encourage dialectic, I have enabled commenting privileges to all, including those without Blogger or Google accounts. 

So please, feel free to opine on my posts. I do not claim to have all the answers. I, like you, am just another inquisitive mind. 

Ideally, comments will be thoughtful and substantive. That way, we can engage in a productive back and forth. 

That said, I have always considered myself to be a free speech absolutist; censoring opposing views, or even speech I find to be utterly rebarbative, has never been my thing. 

Trolls, too, will be welcome. I may later regret this...

But the point of this blog, you see, is to encourage community. And community requires interaction. Therefore, it would be counterproductive for me to prohibit speech of any kind, or to put up barriers that require people to create an account in order to comment. 

Now, being that this is the internet, I use the word "community" somewhat loosely. Some may call an online community an oxymoron; I'm not sure I would totally disagree. But we'll have to make do. So while this may be a sort of pseudo-community, I intend on it to be a community nonetheless.

All of this to say, COMMENTS ARE OPEN TO ALL!!! 

Tuesday, March 7, 2023

We Need Each Other


America cannot function as a hodge-podge of individuals; liberalism makes this faulty claim.

We need more; we need purpose. 

The America of Tocqueville was not made up of individuals, but of communities. In the 19th century, libertarianism took a back seat to communitarianism. 

Conservatives, regrettably, associate collectivism with leftism. Populists and non-libertarian rightists, though, seem to be rejecting this erroneous conflation. 

While I can sympathize with libertarian angst to a degree, it is not enough to declare "don't tread on me!" I would alter it to "don't tread on us!". My summation: us>me. 

Individual liberties are, of course, important; don't get me wrong! But, in this life, it isn't prudent to go it alone. We need friends, family, neighbors, reading clubs, church congregations, and soft ball leagues (I just joined one. Batter up!)

But enough from me. You should consult my intellectual mentors. Among them are Francis Fukuyama. Alan Ehrenhalt, Marvin Olasky, and - of course - Robert Putnam. 

Sunday, March 5, 2023