Tuesday, April 25, 2023

More Defenses of Community...

I was going through my ever-expanding trove of books the other day and found a couple of passages about community that I'd like to share. 

Warning: libertarians and those who subscribe to a rugged individualistic worldview will find these passages hard to bear. 

But, regardless of your ideology, there is simply no denying the ubiquity of groups in everyday life. And, furthermore, just because you are a part of a larger collective, doesn't mean your individual character is trivial. 

Here's a bit from Deborah Stone's Policy Paradox:

Influence, cooperation, and loyalty are powerful forces, and the result is that groups and organizations, rather than individuals, are the building blocks of the polis...people belong to institutions and organizations, even when they aren't formal members. They participate in organizations as citizens, employees, customers, students, taxpayers, voters, and potential recruits, if not as staff, managers, or leaders. Their opinions are shaped by organizations, and they depend on organizations to represent their interests.

Stone is not downplaying the role of the individual here, but rather elevating the the reader's awareness of the role of groups. 

I think, from my observations, that there is a misleading and, ultimately, false dichotomy between individualism and communitarianism in American discourse. Though it is true that communitarians see individuals as being part of something larger, and not just atomized, self maximizing units - they don't discredit the role of individuality in society. Communities, after all, are comprised of individuals. And this communitarian view is not out of step with classical liberalism. It is, however, radical libertarians who have far over-emphasized the role of isolated individuals. 

American culture is unique in its susceptibility to radical libertarian thought. Even in the context of the Western world, we represent a unique position. You won't see the English, German, or French, for example, waving around "Don't Tread on Me" flags. Nor did we see them resist the COVID-19 lockdowns anywhere to the extent that we did. 

America, perhaps because of our initial struggle against the monarchical British, has an especially rebellious culture. We are a nation of punk rockers, and that is both good and bad.

On the flipside, there is something immensely admirable about the collectivist nature of other non-Western cultures. 

On that note, here's something from Samuel Huntington's Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order:

For East Asians, East Asian success is particularly the result of the East Asian cultural stress on the collectivity rather than the individual. "The more communitarian values and practices of the East Asians - the Japanese, Koreans, Taiwanese, Hong Kongers, and the Singaporeans - have proved to be clear assets in the catching up process", argued Lee Kuan Yew. 

The lesson here: culture matters. 

As Westerners, we are more inclined to view the world through an individualist lens. This isn't necessarily wrong, but we must also utilize our complimentary communitarian lens. I wrote about this in National Review a while back. 

Before I sign off, I would like to share a great communitarian website I just discovered: https://www.frontporchrepublic.com/

Lots of great content there!


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