The philosophy was born in the late 20th century in response to the observation of a “breakdown in the moral fabric of society” dominated by individualism. In 1990, proponents of this philosophy gathered to formulate the core ideas. In 1993, Amitai Etzioni formed the Communitarian Network. They see themselves as promoting social movement similar to the Progressive movement in the start of twentieth century.
Pros and Cons
In a communitarian society, the communities and the polities must be responsible to its members and their needs while the members within the society-that’s us, should dedicate some of their attention, energy and resources to the communities and for the welfare of other members in them. In some sense, the idea can be summed up into a common slogan, “One for all, all for one.” The communitarian stresses that individual rights should be appreciated and preserved, but should be balanced with the interests of the community. You can say that communitarian philosophy is a compromise between left and right politics. Communitarian does not always stand up against liberty and democracy (in fact he claims himself to be highly democratic and do not restore values using coercion but persuasion and implementing legitimate measures), but emphasizes on the social side of human nature, that no independent individual can survive long outside the community. Communitarian also seeks to restore and revive the moral voices that lost and eroded away in a community greatly dominated by individualism, self-interests and greed. Communitarians thus proposed that we would have to restore these voices by providing education to the young fellow citizens, starting with the family first; the parents bear the responsibility of attending to their offspring’s moral education. The schools and institutions also play a major role in nurturing the youths to be morally strong citizens in the future by instilling them the shared values.
In a communitarian society, citizens should be more active in managing their society and take their initiative to set up the social subsystems instead of removing the tasks to be assigned to the government or other larger institutions. Communitarians suggest instead of replacing these systems, it should aid them by various strategies of support. The people are also encouraged to raise their concerns and share their experiments with others. They are also urged to create their service or engaged in voluntary work; the communitarians believed that by doing so, mutual respect, spirit of corporation and tolerance will be greatly promoted in a larger sphere. Citizens are urged to be more participatory in polity by voting as this keeps the candidates reflective of their views and community. Another way of being responsive is by paying taxes for their rights and volunteering oneself to serve on juries. People should treat the community as larger family in which mutual aid and support is required among individuals. Freedom of speech should be preserved while non-legal measures can be conducted to clear the unwanted problems it has created such as hate speech of racism. Communitarians also urge the citizens need to be responsible of themselves as well as others in the aspect of public health and public safety. For example, refusing to accept a sobriety check for the sake of privacy and self-liberty is being irresponsible for the safety of one as well as posing a burden for the community (when he or she is injured) and threatening the lives of others.
The Philosophical Communitarians
The communitarian rejects the idea of human being as “atomistic individuals” and that shared values is just a tiny element in a human being’s brain. They stressed that ideas, beliefs and values are generated and exist in the community and being individual merely means taking a stance on a certain value and issues that existed in the public. To determine which is the proper moral stance, we have to depend on the circumstances of time and place. This gives an idea that community existed earlier before individuals. These communitarians with such beliefs are called the philosophical communitarian who discusses this doctrine within it’s philosophical traditions, emphasizing more on the theory part.
In a CPN article, it is stated that communitarian philosophy has a great influence on the academia and receive great support from the USA president Bill Clinton. However, communitarian receives criticisms from others. They have described by some liberalists to be collectivists “ in stealth”. This is because that their economic aim is marked with a tinge of leftism. Communitarian hopes to reduce the role of private money and capital in life as it creates a situation where public interests are ignored as “legislators pay off their debts to special interests.” Etzioni was also criticized as being contradictory about restoring traditional values. He put an emphasis on neighbourhood and families while opposing to traditional communities of authoritarianism. He was open to any form of community but displaying a bias on the current economic institutions and not including corporatism as a form of community. Etzioni also focused on tolerance, neutrality and mutual respect for beliefs of others while using ostracism to express disapproval of those who were not in line with the society simply because they are anti-social. As you can see , the social mechanism employed by Etzioni is very contradictory towards the idea of tolerance. Another criticism is that communitarian rejects negative rights (freedom to make decisions without interfering by others such as freedom to speak) in favor of the positive rights (moral obligation for someone to do something (the rights) for another person, such as education subsidy), this translates into to investing the society the power to regulate individuals for the sake of reducing their burden on it. Other critics simply view communitarian philosophy as another form of conservatism.
School of Thoughts
Communitarianism is related to the "Asian soft authoritarianism". Though many Asian political structure very much represent a western constitutional democracy, they nevertheless share some characteristics that are not present in western democracy-a hierarchical society that stressed on conformity to group interests. From my experience staying in Singapore, the government plays a role of paternalistic person and guiding spirit of society while the people are encouraged to serve the community and the group rather living individually(as Mentor Lee Kuan Yew had referred Singaporeans as "one happy family") , much like the system of communitarian society. Therefore, maybe we can say this "Asian soft authoritarianism" can be attributed to a school of communitarinism as it shares many common characteristics with the latter.
The Communitarian Network. (n.d.). Retrieved Mar. 22, 2008, from http://www.gwu.edu/~ccps/platformtext.html.
The Communitarian Network. (n.d.). Retrieved Mar. 24, 2008, from http://www.gwu.edu/~ccps/about_us.html.
Communitarianism - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. (2008, March 12). Retrieved Mar. 22, 2008, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Communitarianism .
Sirianni , C., & Friedland, L. (n.d.). CPN - Tools. Retrieved Mar. 23, 2008, from http://www.cpn.org/tools/dictionary/communitarian.html.
Younkins, E. W. (2001, September 1). AMITAI ETZIONI'S RESPONSIVE COMMUNITY:. Retrieved March 23, 2008 from , Web site: http://www.quebecoislibre.org/010901-13.htm