Communitarianism’s Fatal Misconception

I’ve recently set myself the project of studying the political philosophies in disagreement with my own. I’m approaching it as an intellectual puzzle, trying to answer the remarkably difficult question, Why do people as smart and educated as I, and with the same data to work with, come to radically different conclusions? This is far more interesting than reading more support for my currently held views. While my first step in the journey was a conservative critique of classical liberalism (Carl Schmitt’s The Concept of the Political, a deeply weird argument), I’m putting off that books’s blog post to focus on a different variety of anti-liberal viewpoint entirely: communitarianism.

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has an excellent entry summarizing this philosophy, which I recommend reading if you’re not already familiar with the communitarian position. To put it simply, however, communitarians reject liberalism (and I use liberal here not in its modern sense of being synonymous with “progressive,” but in the classical sense of limited government, individual rights, private property, and the rule of law) because they see its focus on the individual as the sole chooser of his or her own beliefs and values as myopic. Most of our beliefs and values, communitarians argue, are the result of the community and social circles we are a part of. A politics based wholly on the right of the individual, therefore, is a politics that misses much (or most) of what it means to be human.

But the communitarians have liberalism completely wrong. While it is true that the classical liberal perspective is methodologically individualist (i.e., the unit of understanding is the individual, not the group), that does not mean it is anti-society. Far from it, in fact. Liberals, especially those in the Hayekian mould, are strong supporters of social institutions and complex communities–but their support is more pluralistic than the communitarians’. For the liberal, social institutions that evolve over time are valuable and ought to be respected. But that respect must not be so strong that we don’t allow the institutions to change naturally. Liberals, then, embrace social processes that lead to communities, while communitarians embrace specific sorts of communities and lambast all processes that would lead to varieties outside the chosen few.

Communitarianism can be reduced to a simple claim, one that is at the root of most non-liberal philosophies. The anti-liberal, be he communitarian, conservative, or totalitarian, argues as follows:

I prefer X over Y. Other people prefer Y over X. The fact that some people are doing Y is (1) harmful to me because I don’t like Y and (2) harmful to them because they’d be better off doing X instead of Y.

The only difference between communitarians, conservatives, totalitarians, and the rest of the anti-liberal pantheon is the specific content of X and Y. The communitarian form is to say that “communities” of their favored varieties are better than others–and so the state should promote those favored communities. Take this example:

Critics have objected to residential community associations, or ‘walled communities’, on the grounds that they undermine attachment to the polity at large and erode the social cohesion and trust needed to promote social justice and sustain the democratic process (McKenzie 1994). Might it then be possible to reform urban planning so that people can nurture strong local communities without undermining attachment to the national community, perhaps even strengthening broader forms of public-spiritedness? Many practical suggestions along these lines have been raised. Architects and urban planners in the US known as the New Urbanists, for example, have proposed various measures to strengthen community building—affordable housing, public transport, pedestrian focused environments, and public space as an integral part of neighborhoods—that would not have the ‘privatizing’ consequences of gated communities. The problem, as Gerald Frug points out, is that ‘virtually everything they want to do is now illegal. To promote the new urbanist version of urban design, cities would have revise municipal zoning laws and development policy from top to bottom.’ This points to the need for public policy recommendations explicitly designed to favor complementing forms of communal attachments.

We’ll set aside the deep problems with New Urbanism when conducted in the real world (this paper is a good place to start for those interested) and instead look at the assumptions present in the communitarian position. Because residential community associates are communities, the communitarians are not offering a choice between community and non-community (whatever that would mean), but between two varieties of community. Because both exist, actual people can choose which to live in. I can buy a house in the suburbs governed by a homeowners association, for example, or I can buy a condo in a mixed-use, urban environment. The communitarians are, in effect, saying that one choice many people make–to live in the suburbs–is bad from the perspective of promoting community, and thus municipal zoning laws will have to be changed to affect limits on that choice “from top to bottom.” It doesn’t occur to them that many people don’t live in New Urban towns, not because of laws, but because they just don’t want to.

But more ominous is the inability of communitarians to understand the difference between society and state or, more specifically, between social support for a behavior or belief and state coercion in favor of that behavior or belief. Their entire critique of liberal politics boils down to “Liberals don’t have any appreciation for traditional social structures because they don’t want the state to use its monopoly on violent force to prop up those structures.”

In other words, they’ve never met a Hayekian liberal and, instead, appear to be reacting wholly to the sort of “liberalism” of the turn on/tune in/drop out generation. They don’t understand that social structures can be emergent and self-enforcing without state coercion. Every bit of communitarianism I’ve read makes this fundamental mistake. They simply assume that society and state power are synonymous, and then condemn liberals for rejecting society when, in fact, liberals are rejecting state power. It appears beyond communitarians to acknowledge that strong social institutions can exist without a powerful government subsidizing them and coercing its citizens to join them.

For this reason, I have difficulty seeing the communitarian critique of classical liberalism as anything more than a straw man.

About these ads

39 thoughts on “Communitarianism’s Fatal Misconception

  1. I appreciate the goal — to understand and to make as strong as possible your opponents' positions. Let me offer what I think may be a strengthener to a generic communitarian position.For the sake of simplicity, say that in some community the members of that community can either do either X or Y. (Assume that doing X excludes doing Y and vice versa.) A communitarian might imagine a situation that in which unless the majority of members of the community do X then utility is dramatically decreased for the entire community. That is, every member of the community incurs a loss of wealth, pleasure, benefit, etc. Even so, in this situation, it might be the case that every member of the community reasons that doing Y would maximize his or her own benefit. Indeed, the communitarian might even imagine that in this situation it's the case that in the absence of some action taken in concert — every member's doing X because of an authority's mandate — that it is *true* that a member's doing Y would maximize his or her own benefit. Since we've left indeterminate just how great the loss of utility was if the majority don't do X, we could assume such a loss of utility is very great indeed. In this imagined scenario, it seems that the only way to avoid the greater loss of utility is for an authority to mandate every member's (or at least most member's) doing Y.

    Like

  2. I appreciate the goal — to understand and to make as strong as possible your opponents' positions. Let me offer what I think may be a strengthener to a generic communitarian position.For the sake of simplicity, say that in some community the members of that community can either do either X or Y. (Assume that doing X excludes doing Y and vice versa.) A communitarian might imagine a situation that in which unless the majority of members of the community do X then utility is dramatically decreased for the entire community. That is, every member of the community incurs a loss of wealth, pleasure, benefit, etc. Even so, in this situation, it might be the case that every member of the community reasons that doing Y would maximize his or her own benefit. Indeed, the communitarian might even imagine that in this situation it's the case that in the absence of some action taken in concert — every member's doing X because of an authority's mandate — that it is *true* that a member's doing Y would maximize his or her own benefit. Since we've left indeterminate just how great the loss of utility was if the majority don't do X, we could assume such a loss of utility is very great indeed. In this imagined scenario, it seems that the only way to avoid the greater loss of utility is for an authority to mandate every member's (or at least most member's) doing Y.

    Like

  3. I appreciate the goal — to understand and to make as strong as possible your opponents’ positions. Let me offer what I think may be a strengthener to a generic communitarian position.

    For the sake of simplicity, say that in some community the members of that community can either do either X or Y. (Assume that doing X excludes doing Y and vice versa.) A communitarian might imagine a situation that in which unless the majority of members of the community do X then utility is dramatically decreased for the entire community. That is, every member of the community incurs a loss of wealth, pleasure, benefit, etc. Even so, in this situation, it might be the case that every member of the community reasons that doing Y would maximize his or her own benefit. Indeed, the communitarian might even imagine that in this situation it’s the case that in the absence of some action taken in concert — every member’s doing X because of an authority’s mandate — that it is *true* that a member’s doing Y would maximize his or her own benefit. Since we’ve left indeterminate just how great the loss of utility was if the majority don’t do X, we could assume such a loss of utility is very great indeed. In this imagined scenario, it seems that the only way to avoid the greater loss of utility is for an authority to mandate every member’s (or at least most member’s) doing Y.

    Like

    • Jesse, thank you for this explanation. Unfortunately, I don’t think it addresses my broader concern with communitarianism. Namely, if it is true that everyone doing X would increase utility, then an argument could be made for enforcing X.

      But utility is decidedly difficult to measure, the social sciences by no means offer absolute consensus on practically any social issue (and, even if they did, a scientific consensus does not automatically trump other concerns, such as religious faith, cultural preferences, or personal interests). The communitarians are effectively saying “I know what’s best for you and if you don’t do it, I’ll make you.” To put it another way, why should we listen to the communitarians when they tell us we’d be better off doing X, instead of listening to all the other interest groups in our pluralistic society? Why does a communitarian know what’s better for me than I do?

      Communitarianism, it seems to me, runs smack into the critiques of planning and rational policy set out by F.A. Hayek and Michael Oakeshott.

      Like

  4. That's a great argument, Jesse… using communitarian institutions to avoid social dilemmas like the tragedy of the commons and prisoner's dilemma. In the specific example of New Urbanism versus suburban sprawl, one such tragedy of the commons might be global warming, and the increased emissions due to longer car commutes in suburbia.

    Like

  5. That's a great argument, Jesse… using communitarian institutions to avoid social dilemmas like the tragedy of the commons and prisoner's dilemma. In the specific example of New Urbanism versus suburban sprawl, one such tragedy of the commons might be global warming, and the increased emissions due to longer car commutes in suburbia.

    Like

  6. That’s a great argument, Jesse… using communitarian institutions to avoid social dilemmas like the tragedy of the commons and prisoner’s dilemma. In the specific example of New Urbanism versus suburban sprawl, one such tragedy of the commons might be global warming, and the increased emissions due to longer car commutes in suburbia.

    Like

    • Andreas, it’s interesting that you point to New Urbanism as a communitarian solution, as it’s exactly the example I used of a failed policy. My point is ultimately that communitarians are substituting their views of utility for those of others, and using the state to enforce that choice. If their views turn out to be wrong, however, this leads to negative results, often far worse than the social dilemmas they were meant to rectify. If you’re curious about the problems with New Urbanism as a solution to climate change, I strongly recommend this paper by a colleague of mine at the Cato Institute as a place to start:

      http://www.cato.org/pub_display.php?pub_id=10977

      Like

      • I won’t pretend to be an expert on the effects of New Urbanism. However, like you say above, utility is decidedly difficult to measure. That paper may or may not be correct in what is effectively a prediction of the future – what will happen if New Urbanism is embraced on a grand scale.

        I guess we’re essentially discussing the tyranny of the majority, and personally I feel that when the majority is certain enough of the potential synergies of coordination / regulation, then it’s reasonable to regulate. To never try new things implies stagnation.

        Arguing against all “communitarian” coordination/regulation might be an ethically consistent stance for the rights of the supreme individual, but it seems inflexible to me. I guess I’m arguing for a more utilitarian ethics.

        Like

      • There was a time when the majority thought blacks should be slaves. There was a time when the majority thought interracial marriage should be banned. The majority today would probably vote to close America’s borders to trade. The majority can often do terrible things and be terribly wrong.Furthermore, not letting the majority force its will upon the minority is not the same as not trying new things. New things are tried all the time, voluntarily, and without state involvement. Nearly every groundbreaking technological achievement that has improved your life was done voluntarily by people taking risks upon themselves to try new things. There are New Urbanist neighborhoods now that you’re free to move to and try out. If you like it, you can stay. If you find that it doesn’t meet your needs, you can try something else. Voluntarily.I do not argue against all coordination and regulation. I am not an anarchist. I am a classical liberal. I believe the state should protect our rights and provide a safety net. What we do with ourselves once those things are taken care of should be up to each of us, however.

        Like

  7. Andreas, it's interesting that you point to New Urbanism as a communitarian solution, as it's exactly the example I used of a failed policy. My point is ultimately that communitarians are substituting their views of utility for those of others, and using the state to enforce that choice. If their views turn out to be wrong, however, this leads to negative results, often far worse than the social dilemmas they were meant to rectify. If you're curious about the problems with New Urbanism as a solution to climate change, I strongly recommend this paper by a colleague of mine at the Cato Institute as a place to start:http://www.cato.org/pub_display.php?pub_id=10977

    Like

  8. Andreas, it's interesting that you point to New Urbanism as a communitarian solution, as it's exactly the example I used of a failed policy. My point is ultimately that communitarians are substituting their views of utility for those of others, and using the state to enforce that choice. If their views turn out to be wrong, however, this leads to negative results, often far worse than the social dilemmas they were meant to rectify. If you're curious about the problems with New Urbanism as a solution to climate change, I strongly recommend this paper by a colleague of mine at the Cato Institute as a place to start:http://www.cato.org/pub_display.php?pub_id=10977

    Like

  9. Jesse, thank you for this explanation. Unfortunately, I don't think it addresses my broader concern with communitarianism. Namely, if it is true that everyone doing X would increase utility, then an argument could be made for enforcing X. But utility is decidedly difficult to measure, the social sciences by no means offer absolute consensus on practically any social issue (and, even if they did, a scientific consensus does not automatically trump other concerns, such as religious faith, cultural preferences, or personal interests). The communitarians are effectively saying “I know what's best for you and if you don't do it, I'll make you.” To put it another way, why should we listen to the communitarians when they tell us we'd be better off doing X, instead of listening to all the other interest groups in our pluralistic society? Why does a communitarian know what's better for me than I do?Communitarianism, it seems to me, runs smack into the critiques of planning and rational policy set out by F.A. Hayek and Michael Oakeshott.

    Like

  10. Jesse, thank you for this explanation. Unfortunately, I don't think it addresses my broader concern with communitarianism. Namely, if it is true that everyone doing X would increase utility, then an argument could be made for enforcing X. But utility is decidedly difficult to measure, the social sciences by no means offer absolute consensus on practically any social issue (and, even if they did, a scientific consensus does not automatically trump other concerns, such as religious faith, cultural preferences, or personal interests). The communitarians are effectively saying “I know what's best for you and if you don't do it, I'll make you.” To put it another way, why should we listen to the communitarians when they tell us we'd be better off doing X, instead of listening to all the other interest groups in our pluralistic society? Why does a communitarian know what's better for me than I do?Communitarianism, it seems to me, runs smack into the critiques of planning and rational policy set out by F.A. Hayek and Michael Oakeshott.

    Like

  11. I won't pretend to be an expert on the effects of New Urbanism. However, like you say above, utility is decidedly difficult to measure. That paper may or may not be correct in what is effectively a prediction of the future – what will happen if New Urbanism is embraced on a grand scale.I guess we're essentially discussing the tyranny of the majority, and personally I feel that when the majority is certain enough of the potential synergies of coordination / regulation, then it's reasonable to regulate. To never try new things implies stagnation.Arguing against all “communitarian” coordination/regulation might be an ethically consistent stance for the rights of the supreme individual, but it seems inflexible to me. I guess I'm arguing for a more utilitarian ethics.

    Like

  12. I won't pretend to be an expert on the effects of New Urbanism. However, like you say above, utility is decidedly difficult to measure. That paper may or may not be correct in what is effectively a prediction of the future – what will happen if New Urbanism is embraced on a grand scale.I guess we're essentially discussing the tyranny of the majority, and personally I feel that when the majority is certain enough of the potential synergies of coordination / regulation, then it's reasonable to regulate. To never try new things implies stagnation.Arguing against all “communitarian” coordination/regulation might be an ethically consistent stance for the rights of the supreme individual, but it seems inflexible to me. I guess I'm arguing for a more utilitarian ethics.

    Like

  13. There was a time when the majority thought blacks should be slaves. Therewas a time when the majority thought interracial marriage should be banned.The majority today would probably vote to close America's borders to trade.The majority can often do terrible things and be terribly wrong.Furthermore, not letting the majority force its will upon the minority isnot the same as not trying new things. New things are tried all the time,voluntarily, and without state involvement. Nearly every groundbreakingtechnological achievement that has improved your life was done voluntarilyby people taking risks upon themselves to try new things. There are NewUrbanist neighborhoods now that you're free to move to and try out. If youlike it, you can stay. If you find that it doesn't meet your needs, you cantry something else. Voluntarily.I do not argue against all coordination and regulation. I am not ananarchist. I am a classical liberal. I believe the state should protect ourrights and provide a safety net. What we do with ourselves once those thingsare taken care of should be up to each of us, however.

    Like

  14. There was a time when the majority thought blacks should be slaves. Therewas a time when the majority thought interracial marriage should be banned.The majority today would probably vote to close America's borders to trade.The majority can often do terrible things and be terribly wrong.Furthermore, not letting the majority force its will upon the minority isnot the same as not trying new things. New things are tried all the time,voluntarily, and without state involvement. Nearly every groundbreakingtechnological achievement that has improved your life was done voluntarilyby people taking risks upon themselves to try new things. There are NewUrbanist neighborhoods now that you're free to move to and try out. If youlike it, you can stay. If you find that it doesn't meet your needs, you cantry something else. Voluntarily.I do not argue against all coordination and regulation. I am not ananarchist. I am a classical liberal. I believe the state should protect ourrights and provide a safety net. What we do with ourselves once those thingsare taken care of should be up to each of us, however.

    Like

  15. Communitarianism – like all ~isms, beliefs… and belief systems – is either a simple tyranny of the majority, oppression, or conditioned enslavement. I can't think of a single example today… where I have the “right” to choose a contrarian course… without being subjected… to the communitarian state. Even if I mean no harm to other life-forms whatsoever, I'm forever “forced” to seek some faceless someone's [more enlightened than myself] permission before I'm able to go my own way.The recently-released book, “They Own It All (Including You!): By Means of Toxic Currency”, conclusively illustrates just how low we've all been forced to bow down before a cabal… of liars, thieves, murderers, and counterfeiters. It's almost as if we should be grateful to their plantation slave-state apparatus [communitarian] for even the number of breaths we're permitted to take per minute.It's also very sad the level of indoctrination today's American university students will accept. Very sad indeed.

    Like

  16. Communitarianism – like all ~isms, beliefs… and belief systems – is either a simple tyranny of the majority, oppression, or conditioned enslavement. I can't think of a single example today… where I have the “right” to choose a contrarian course… without being subjected… to the communitarian state. Even if I mean no harm to other life-forms whatsoever, I'm forever “forced” to seek some faceless someone's [more enlightened than myself] permission before I'm able to go my own way.The recently-released book, “They Own It All (Including You!): By Means of Toxic Currency”, conclusively illustrates just how low we've all been forced to bow down before a cabal… of liars, thieves, murderers, and counterfeiters. It's almost as if we should be grateful to their plantation slave-state apparatus [communitarian] for even the number of breaths we're permitted to take per minute.It's also very sad the level of indoctrination today's American university students will accept. Very sad indeed.

    Like

  17. Communitarianism – like all ~isms, beliefs… and belief systems – is either a simple tyranny of the majority, oppression, or conditioned enslavement. I can’t think of a single example today… where I have the “right” to choose a contrarian course… without being subjected… to the communitarian state. Even if I mean no harm to other life-forms whatsoever, I’m forever “forced” to seek some faceless someone’s [more enlightened than myself] permission before I’m able to go my own way.

    The recently-released book, “They Own It All (Including You!): By Means of Toxic Currency”, conclusively illustrates just how low we’ve all been forced to bow down before a cabal… of liars, thieves, murderers, and counterfeiters. It’s almost as if we should be grateful to their plantation slave-state apparatus [communitarian] for even the number of breaths we’re permitted to take per minute.

    It’s also very sad the level of indoctrination today’s American university students will accept. Very sad indeed.

    Like

  18. You don't even seem to know what a straw man is. Nor do you understand the difference between the state and the community. Communitarianism is just democracy in action. It says that the many are sovereign and not the few. Take notice of Switzerland's recent decision to ban minarets. The liberal position would be that the Swiss people don't have the authority, in their own community, to say that minarets can't be built. They are a slave to a philosophy of law they don't agree with. They have to let Islam change their entire society. Nevermind if they disagree with the violent, misogynist teachings of Islam. They have to accept it. Well… why?Communities should have the power to be what they want to be. Of course people have fundamental rights. Of course. But we're just saying that ultimately the few can't deny the many, because it is the many's society. Minority rule was ultimately decided against when we overthrew monarchs and said that legitimate government is dependent on the consent of the governed. Community and state are not synonymous. State is often co-opted by special interests. Special interests being minority interests. If libertarianism is the pre-eminence of the individual, and majoritarianism is the pre-eminence of the majority, communitarianism is the pre-eminence of both. It's the co-operation of the two. Ultimately, you support dictatorship, because you deny the community's right to choose. And you likely support using state power to enforce this minority power. Which is just glorified hierarchist subjugation. Liberalism has a fatal misconception, not communitarianism. Try to catch up.

    Like

  19. You don't even seem to know what a straw man is. Nor do you understand the difference between the state and the community. Communitarianism is just democracy in action. It says that the many are sovereign and not the few. Take notice of Switzerland's recent decision to ban minarets. The liberal position would be that the Swiss people don't have the authority, in their own community, to say that minarets can't be built. They are a slave to a philosophy of law they don't agree with. They have to let Islam change their entire society. Nevermind if they disagree with the violent, misogynist teachings of Islam. They have to accept it. Well… why?Communities should have the power to be what they want to be. Of course people have fundamental rights. Of course. But we're just saying that ultimately the few can't deny the many, because it is the many's society. Minority rule was ultimately decided against when we overthrew monarchs and said that legitimate government is dependent on the consent of the governed. Community and state are not synonymous. State is often co-opted by special interests. Special interests being minority interests. If libertarianism is the pre-eminence of the individual, and majoritarianism is the pre-eminence of the majority, communitarianism is the pre-eminence of both. It's the co-operation of the two. Ultimately, you support dictatorship, because you deny the community's right to choose. And you likely support using state power to enforce this minority power. Which is just glorified hierarchist subjugation. Liberalism has a fatal misconception, not communitarianism. Try to catch up.

    Like

  20. Thank you for taking the time to read my critique of communitarianism and respond. I fear, however, that your response only highlights the deep confusion at the heart of (your brand of) communitarianism. On the one hand, I applaud you for actually giving a definition of “the community.” Very few communitarians seem to have any idea what they mean by that term except that the community is something wonderful that we should support. If I read you correctly, however, you define “the community” as, simply, “the majority.” We should let the community decide what it wants to do and what it wants to be — and the community is 51% of the people in the political unit.Normally, I'd point out that the tyranny of the majority is just that and bring up examples such as slavery or Islamic honor killings. But you temper your majoritarianism with the tossed off — and probably superficially considered — “of course people have fundamental rights.” So instead of giving a standard critique of absolute majority power, let me ask, what are those rights? Let's say the Swiss people, instead of banning minarets, had banned Muslims. A slight majority (as was the case with the minarets) vote that it is illegal to be Muslim in Switzerland, with violation punishable by death. It's the will of the community by your definition, but I'd wager it violates those fundamental rights. Yet, in this case, the majority rejects at least one of those rights (the right of Muslims not to be murdered). The majority's will is thwarted. Who's doing the thwarting? By what right do they override the will of the majority?The community has every right to decide what it wants to be. But deciding can be an organic process, like the development of a language, or it can be a state driven system of violently compelling compliance with the desires of some (even if that some is the majority). I embrace the former. You embrace the latter. I fail to see how your version is one of cooperation, though. It seems more like some people getting their way at the expense of others.Which brings me back to the definition of community. Maybe I was too charitable in granting you clarity in your conception of that concept. For you, community is the majority, which can do whatever it wants, except when it can't.Let me close, then, with some questions. What are the fundamental rights that you admit exist? Can they be overridden by majority rule? If so, why are they rights? If not, then why do you focus so much on communities and not the constituent rights that give those communities power and legitimacy?

    Like

  21. Thank you for taking the time to read my critique of communitarianism and respond. I fear, however, that your response only highlights the deep confusion at the heart of (your brand of) communitarianism. On the one hand, I applaud you for actually giving a definition of “the community.” Very few communitarians seem to have any idea what they mean by that term except that the community is something wonderful that we should support. If I read you correctly, however, you define “the community” as, simply, “the majority.” We should let the community decide what it wants to do and what it wants to be — and the community is 51% of the people in the political unit.Normally, I'd point out that the tyranny of the majority is just that and bring up examples such as slavery or Islamic honor killings. But you temper your majoritarianism with the tossed off — and probably superficially considered — “of course people have fundamental rights.” So instead of giving a standard critique of absolute majority power, let me ask, what are those rights? Let's say the Swiss people, instead of banning minarets, had banned Muslims. A slight majority (as was the case with the minarets) vote that it is illegal to be Muslim in Switzerland, with violation punishable by death. It's the will of the community by your definition, but I'd wager it violates those fundamental rights. Yet, in this case, the majority rejects at least one of those rights (the right of Muslims not to be murdered). The majority's will is thwarted. Who's doing the thwarting? By what right do they override the will of the majority?The community has every right to decide what it wants to be. But deciding can be an organic process, like the development of a language, or it can be a state driven system of violently compelling compliance with the desires of some (even if that some is the majority). I embrace the former. You embrace the latter. I fail to see how your version is one of cooperation, though. It seems more like some people getting their way at the expense of others.Which brings me back to the definition of community. Maybe I was too charitable in granting you clarity in your conception of that concept. For you, community is the majority, which can do whatever it wants, except when it can't.Let me close, then, with some questions. What are the fundamental rights that you admit exist? Can they be overridden by majority rule? If so, why are they rights? If not, then why do you focus so much on communities and not the constituent rights that give those communities power and legitimacy?

    Like

  22. You don’t even seem to know what a straw man is. Nor do you understand the difference between the state and the community.

    Communitarianism is just democracy in action. It says that the many are sovereign and not the few. Take notice of Switzerland’s recent decision to ban minarets. The liberal position would be that the Swiss people don’t have the authority, in their own community, to say that minarets can’t be built. They are a slave to a philosophy of law they don’t agree with. They have to let Islam change their entire society. Nevermind if they disagree with the violent, misogynist teachings of Islam. They have to accept it. Well… why?

    Communities should have the power to be what they want to be. Of course people have fundamental rights. Of course. But we’re just saying that ultimately the few can’t deny the many, because it is the many’s society. Minority rule was ultimately decided against when we overthrew monarchs and said that legitimate government is dependent on the consent of the governed.

    Community and state are not synonymous. State is often co-opted by special interests. Special interests being minority interests. If libertarianism is the pre-eminence of the individual, and majoritarianism is the pre-eminence of the majority, communitarianism is the pre-eminence of both. It’s the co-operation of the two.

    Ultimately, you support dictatorship, because you deny the community’s right to choose. And you likely support using state power to enforce this minority power. Which is just glorified hierarchist subjugation.

    Liberalism has a fatal misconception, not communitarianism. Try to catch up.

    Like

    • Thank you for taking the time to read my critique of communitarianism and respond. I fear, however, that your response only highlights the deep confusion at the heart of (your brand of) communitarianism. On the one hand, I applaud you for actually giving a definition of “the community.” Very few communitarians seem to have any idea what they mean by that term except that the community is something wonderful that we should support. If I read you correctly, however, you define “the community” as, simply, “the majority.” We should let the community decide what it wants to do and what it wants to be — and the community is 51% of the people in the political unit.

      Normally, I’d point out that the tyranny of the majority is just that and bring up examples such as slavery or Islamic honor killings. But you temper your majoritarianism with the tossed off — and probably superficially considered — “of course people have fundamental rights.” So instead of giving a standard critique of absolute majority power, let me ask, what are those rights? Let’s say the Swiss people, instead of banning minarets, had banned Muslims. A slight majority (as was the case with the minarets) vote that it is illegal to be Muslim in Switzerland, with violation punishable by death. It’s the will of the community by your definition, but I’d wager it violates those fundamental rights. Yet, in this case, the majority rejects at least one of those rights (the right of Muslims not to be murdered). The majority’s will is thwarted. Who’s doing the thwarting? By what right do they override the will of the majority?

      The community has every right to decide what it wants to be. But deciding can be an organic process, like the development of a language, or it can be a state driven system of violently compelling compliance with the desires of some (even if that some is the majority). I embrace the former. You embrace the latter. I fail to see how your version is one of cooperation, though. It seems more like some people getting their way at the expense of others.

      Which brings me back to the definition of community. Maybe I was too charitable in granting you clarity in your conception of that concept. For you, community is the majority, which can do whatever it wants, except when it can’t.

      Let me close, then, with some questions. What are the fundamental rights that you admit exist? Can they be overridden by majority rule? If so, why are they rights? If not, then why do you focus so much on communities and not the constituent rights that give those communities power and legitimacy?

      Like

      • The tyranny of the majority argument is fundamentally impotent because it’s one or the other, isn’t it? It’s either tyranny of the 49% or tyranny of the 51%. Except it’s not tyranny. Not every majority decision is a violation of fundamental human rights, and I believe that the higher the number of people the less likely it is to support the violation of fundamental human rights. certainly you can’t say the opposite is true. Pick a human off the street and you’re bound to find someone with any number of prejudices and biases that a majority of people don’t have.

        My statement that people have fundamental human rights was in no way superficially considered. I support a court system to protect these rights. To be selected by lot from a group of qualified individuals is probably the best way to appoint them, much like a jury is selected from the general populace. But ultimately, the people making all the decisions in society has to be the majority.

        Private property is violent because it allows people to use violence to prevent other people from using things that they’re not using and that others desperately need. Ownership is dominion over things and over people. There’s nothing organic about a market. It’s forced onto people and maintained through violence. It’s just individual acts of violence, and not community-authorized acts of violence.

        There has to be co-operation and true communication between the majority and the minority, but ultimately the right to choose is with the majority. If your system depends on hierarchy, your system depends on subjugation, and that’s unjustifiable.

        Go to about 4:04 on this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1JlxHAOPIdI

        What he’s saying of secularism is similar to what we’re saying of communitarianism. Special (i.e. minority) interests have every right to exist and every right to have their say (business owner interests, for example), but no greater right than other special interests and certainly no more a right to public policy than the majority interest. Majority rule is organic, to me. Anything less is minority rule, and that is inorganic, to me. The role of minority interests is existence, but not rule, and, quite frankly, private property rights are nothing more than a set of biases and even discriminations. They are not natural law. To assert such is a logical fallacy.

        It’s asking too much of me to ask me what peoples’ fundamental human rights are. People have a right to a good quality of life and to be free from harm. I’m not going to list all the things I think they have a right to. Situations change. Nothing is absolute except that human and non-human life has immense worth and should be treated as such. I think you’re asking what gives people the right to have the consequences of their votes apply to you. To that, I would say contracts. But in the absence of an agreement/contract, what we’re dealing with is anomie, and community rule is based on a monopoly on violence in a certain region.

        Like

  23. The tyranny of the majority argument is fundamentally impotent because it's one or the other, isn't it? It's either tyranny of the 49% or tyranny of the 51%. Except it's not tyranny. Not every majority decision is a violation of fundamental human rights, and I believe that the higher the number of people the less likely it is to support the violation of fundamental human rights. certainly you can't say the opposite is true. Pick a human off the street and you're bound to find someone with any number of prejudices and biases that a majority of people don't have.My statement that people have fundamental human rights was in no way superficially considered. I support a court system to protect these rights. To be selected by lot from a group of qualified individuals is probably the best way to appoint them, much like a jury is selected from the general populace. But ultimately, the people making all the decisions in society has to be the majority. Private property is violent because it allows people to use violence to prevent other people from using things that they're not using and that others desperately need. Ownership is dominion over things and over people. There's nothing organic about a market. It's forced onto people and maintained through violence. It's just individual acts of violence, and not community-authorized acts of violence. There has to be co-operation and true communication between the majority and the minority, but ultimately the right to choose is with the majority. If your system depends on hierarchy, your system depends on subjugation, and that's unjustifiable.Go to about 4:04 on this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1JlxHAOPIdIWhat he's saying of secularism is similar to what we're saying of communitarianism. Special (i.e. minority) interests have every right to exist and every right to have their say (business owner interests, for example), but no greater right than other special interests and certainly no more a right to public policy than the majority interest. Majority rule is organic, to me. Anything less is minority rule, and that is inorganic, to me. The role of minority interests is existence, but not rule, and, quite frankly, private property rights are nothing more than a set of biases and even discriminations. They are not natural law. To assert such is a logical fallacy.It's asking too much of me to ask me what peoples' fundamental human rights are. People have a right to a good quality of life and to be free from harm. I'm not going to list all the things I think they have a right to. Situations change. Nothing is absolute except that human and non-human life has immense worth and should be treated as such. I think you're asking what gives people the right to have the consequences of their votes apply to you. To that, I would say contracts. But in the absence of an agreement/contract, what we're dealing with is anomie, and community rule is based on a monopoly on violence in a certain region.

    Like

  24. The tyranny of the majority argument is fundamentally impotent because it's one or the other, isn't it? It's either tyranny of the 49% or tyranny of the 51%. Except it's not tyranny. Not every majority decision is a violation of fundamental human rights, and I believe that the higher the number of people the less likely it is to support the violation of fundamental human rights. certainly you can't say the opposite is true. Pick a human off the street and you're bound to find someone with any number of prejudices and biases that a majority of people don't have.My statement that people have fundamental human rights was in no way superficially considered. I support a court system to protect these rights. To be selected by lot from a group of qualified individuals is probably the best way to appoint them, much like a jury is selected from the general populace. But ultimately, the people making all the decisions in society has to be the majority. Private property is violent because it allows people to use violence to prevent other people from using things that they're not using and that others desperately need. Ownership is dominion over things and over people. There's nothing organic about a market. It's forced onto people and maintained through violence. It's just individual acts of violence, and not community-authorized acts of violence. There has to be co-operation and true communication between the majority and the minority, but ultimately the right to choose is with the majority. If your system depends on hierarchy, your system depends on subjugation, and that's unjustifiable.Go to about 4:04 on this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1JlxHAOPIdIWhat he's saying of secularism is similar to what we're saying of communitarianism. Special (i.e. minority) interests have every right to exist and every right to have their say (business owner interests, for example), but no greater right than other special interests and certainly no more a right to public policy than the majority interest. Majority rule is organic, to me. Anything less is minority rule, and that is inorganic, to me. The role of minority interests is existence, but not rule, and, quite frankly, private property rights are nothing more than a set of biases and even discriminations. They are not natural law. To assert such is a logical fallacy.It's asking too much of me to ask me what peoples' fundamental human rights are. People have a right to a good quality of life and to be free from harm. I'm not going to list all the things I think they have a right to. Situations change. Nothing is absolute except that human and non-human life has immense worth and should be treated as such. I think you're asking what gives people the right to have the consequences of their votes apply to you. To that, I would say contracts. But in the absence of an agreement/contract, what we're dealing with is anomie, and community rule is based on a monopoly on violence in a certain region.

    Like

  25. Aaron, I would like to first applaud your project.I do have a couple of points/questions regarding your position:1. You mentioned the notion of “organic growth” (as opposed to “state coercion”). Could you clarify your position on this further? I fear that in accepting a notion of “organic growth”, you are either being nihilistic or overly optimistic in terms of the development of social institutions. It seems to me that, in the care of the former, you are unconcerned with how the community develops, only that it develops in a natural manner. In the case of the latter, it seems the notion of “organic growth” becomes teleological. You would then be committed to the thesis that things are unequivocally getting “better and better”. Clarification of this notion may help me to interpret your position in a more sympathetic manner. 2. You mentioned Hayek and Oakeshott as influences of yours I believe. This seems an odd pairing to me in many ways (unless you simply draw on their critiques of planning). What are some of the other thinkers you are drawing in the development of your position?

    Like

  26. Aaron, I would like to first applaud your project.I do have a couple of points/questions regarding your position:1. You mentioned the notion of “organic growth” (as opposed to “state coercion”). Could you clarify your position on this further? I fear that in accepting a notion of “organic growth”, you are either being nihilistic or overly optimistic in terms of the development of social institutions. It seems to me that, in the care of the former, you are unconcerned with how the community develops, only that it develops in a natural manner. In the case of the latter, it seems the notion of “organic growth” becomes teleological. You would then be committed to the thesis that things are unequivocally getting “better and better”. Clarification of this notion may help me to interpret your position in a more sympathetic manner. 2. You mentioned Hayek and Oakeshott as influences of yours I believe. This seems an odd pairing to me in many ways (unless you simply draw on their critiques of planning). What are some of the other thinkers you are drawing in the development of your position?

    Like

  27. Aaron, I would like to first applaud your project.

    I do have a couple of points/questions regarding your position:

    1. You mentioned the notion of “organic growth” (as opposed to “state coercion”). Could you clarify your position on this further? I fear that in accepting a notion of “organic growth”, you are either being nihilistic or overly optimistic in terms of the development of social institutions. It seems to me that, in the care of the former, you are unconcerned with how the community develops, only that it develops in a natural manner. In the case of the latter, it seems the notion of “organic growth” becomes teleological. You would then be committed to the thesis that things are unequivocally getting “better and better”. Clarification of this notion may help me to interpret your position in a more sympathetic manner.

    2. You mentioned Hayek and Oakeshott as influences of yours I believe. This seems an odd pairing to me in many ways (unless you simply draw on their critiques of planning). What are some of the other thinkers you are drawing in the development of your position?

    Like

    • 1) Generally speaking, I’m a minimal state libertarian (though the margins can become complicated as I am, for example, in favor of some sort of limited social safety net). But in the context of organic versus coerced growth/society, what I mean is that I see the role of the state as providing a legal framework in which society can function. This means the rule of law, rights, and respect for private property. The state’s role, then, is to make sure that each of us is free from violence by others. Outside of that, the state shouldn’t decide what the good life is. I’m not allowed to beat you up, and I’m not allowed to take your stuff, but I’m also not allow to force you to join a particular church or support the arts or attend a certain school. So long as you are not directly harming me or my property, why are my choices about how you should live better (in the sense that the should be forced upon you by the state) than your own? So by “organic growth,” I mean whatever sort of society emerges in a system of human rights, property rights (though I see those as the same thing), the rule of law, and the institutions to support them.

      2) The Hayek/Oakeshott reference was in response to a comment about planning to produce greater utility, so you’re right that I was speaking only about their critiques of planning. As to other thinkers, my position is informed by much of the classical liberal/libertarian tradition. I came to my libertarianism by way of studying economics first, which lead to Hayek and similar critiques of socialism and, more broadly, centralized knowledge. I also draw on public choice, rights theory, Nozick, Smith, Hume, etc. The argument in this blog post isn’t based on any of them in particular but, rather, a general view that communitarianism, as I understand it, often boils down to some elite or some majority forcing everyone else to be a member of or support whatever that elite or majority thinks is “community.” And I see that move as ignoring problems of knowledge, violations of rights, economic constraints, and human dignity. In short, each of us has the right to live the kind of life we want, provided we don’t aggress against others in their person or property. That life will (almost always) involve participation in a multitude of communities, but that participation must be voluntary if it is to be meaningful and just. Communitarians, so far as their political philosophy goes, seem to want to use the coercive power of the state to restrict freedom — to force others to be subject to the arbitrary will of whoever is deciding what the “community” is and wants.

      Like

  28. 1) Generally speaking, I'm a minimal state libertarian (though the margins can become complicated as I am, for example, in favor of some sort of limited social safety net). But in the context of organic versus coerced growth/society, what I mean is that I see the role of the state as providing a legal framework in which society can function. This means the rule of law, rights, and respect for private property. The state's role, then, is to make sure that each of us is free from violence by others. Outside of that, the state shouldn't decide what the good life is. I'm not allowed to beat you up, and I'm not allowed to take your stuff, but I'm also not allow to force you to join a particular church or support the arts or attend a certain school. So long as you are not directly harming me or my property, why are my choices about how you should live better (in the sense that the should be forced upon you by the state) than your own? So by “organic growth,” I mean whatever sort of society emerges in a system of human rights, property rights (though I see those as the same thing), the rule of law, and the institutions to support them.2) The Hayek/Oakeshott reference was in response to a comment about planning to produce greater utility, so you're right that I was speaking only about their critiques of planning. As to other thinkers, my position is informed by much of the classical liberal/libertarian tradition. I came to my libertarianism by way of studying economics first, which lead to Hayek and similar critiques of socialism and, more broadly, centralized knowledge. I also draw on public choice, rights theory, Nozick, Smith, Hume, etc. The argument in this blog post isn't based on any of them in particular but, rather, a general view that communitarianism, as I understand it, often boils down to some elite or some majority forcing everyone else to be a member of or support whatever that elite or majority thinks is “community.” And I see that move as ignoring problems of knowledge, violations of rights, economic constraints, and human dignity. In short, each of us has the right to live the kind of life we want, provided we don't aggress against others in their person or property. That life will (almost always) involve participation in a multitude of communities, but that participation must be voluntary if it is to be meaningful and just. Communitarians, so far as their political philosophy goes, seem to want to use the coercive power of the state to restrict freedom — to force others to be subject to the arbitrary will of whoever is deciding what the “community” is and wants.

    Like

  29. 1) Generally speaking, I'm a minimal state libertarian (though the margins can become complicated as I am, for example, in favor of some sort of limited social safety net). But in the context of organic versus coerced growth/society, what I mean is that I see the role of the state as providing a legal framework in which society can function. This means the rule of law, rights, and respect for private property. The state's role, then, is to make sure that each of us is free from violence by others. Outside of that, the state shouldn't decide what the good life is. I'm not allowed to beat you up, and I'm not allowed to take your stuff, but I'm also not allow to force you to join a particular church or support the arts or attend a certain school. So long as you are not directly harming me or my property, why are my choices about how you should live better (in the sense that the should be forced upon you by the state) than your own? So by “organic growth,” I mean whatever sort of society emerges in a system of human rights, property rights (though I see those as the same thing), the rule of law, and the institutions to support them.2) The Hayek/Oakeshott reference was in response to a comment about planning to produce greater utility, so you're right that I was speaking only about their critiques of planning. As to other thinkers, my position is informed by much of the classical liberal/libertarian tradition. I came to my libertarianism by way of studying economics first, which lead to Hayek and similar critiques of socialism and, more broadly, centralized knowledge. I also draw on public choice, rights theory, Nozick, Smith, Hume, etc. The argument in this blog post isn't based on any of them in particular but, rather, a general view that communitarianism, as I understand it, often boils down to some elite or some majority forcing everyone else to be a member of or support whatever that elite or majority thinks is “community.” And I see that move as ignoring problems of knowledge, violations of rights, economic constraints, and human dignity. In short, each of us has the right to live the kind of life we want, provided we don't aggress against others in their person or property. That life will (almost always) involve participation in a multitude of communities, but that participation must be voluntary if it is to be meaningful and just. Communitarians, so far as their political philosophy goes, seem to want to use the coercive power of the state to restrict freedom — to force others to be subject to the arbitrary will of whoever is deciding what the “community” is and wants.

    Like

  30. 1) Generally speaking, I'm a minimal state libertarian (though the margins can become complicated as I am, for example, in favor of some sort of limited social safety net). But in the context of organic versus coerced growth/society, what I mean is that I see the role of the state as providing a legal framework in which society can function. This means the rule of law, rights, and respect for private property. The state's role, then, is to make sure that each of us is free from violence by others. Outside of that, the state shouldn't decide what the good life is. I'm not allowed to beat you up, and I'm not allowed to take your stuff, but I'm also not allow to force you to join a particular church or support the arts or attend a certain school. So long as you are not directly harming me or my property, why are my choices about how you should live better (in the sense that the should be forced upon you by the state) than your own? So by “organic growth,” I mean whatever sort of society emerges in a system of human rights, property rights (though I see those as the same thing), the rule of law, and the institutions to support them.2) The Hayek/Oakeshott reference was in response to a comment about planning to produce greater utility, so you're right that I was speaking only about their critiques of planning. As to other thinkers, my position is informed by much of the classical liberal/libertarian tradition. I came to my libertarianism by way of studying economics first, which lead to Hayek and similar critiques of socialism and, more broadly, centralized knowledge. I also draw on public choice, rights theory, Nozick, Smith, Hume, etc. The argument in this blog post isn't based on any of them in particular but, rather, a general view that communitarianism, as I understand it, often boils down to some elite or some majority forcing everyone else to be a member of or support whatever that elite or majority thinks is “community.” And I see that move as ignoring problems of knowledge, violations of rights, economic constraints, and human dignity. In short, each of us has the right to live the kind of life we want, provided we don't aggress against others in their person or property. That life will (almost always) involve participation in a multitude of communities, but that participation must be voluntary if it is to be meaningful and just. Communitarians, so far as their political philosophy goes, seem to want to use the coercive power of the state to restrict freedom — to force others to be subject to the arbitrary will of whoever is deciding what the “community” is and wants.

    Like

  31. 1) Generally speaking, I'm a minimal state libertarian (though the margins can become complicated as I am, for example, in favor of some sort of limited social safety net). But in the context of organic versus coerced growth/society, what I mean is that I see the role of the state as providing a legal framework in which society can function. This means the rule of law, rights, and respect for private property. The state's role, then, is to make sure that each of us is free from violence by others. Outside of that, the state shouldn't decide what the good life is. I'm not allowed to beat you up, and I'm not allowed to take your stuff, but I'm also not allow to force you to join a particular church or support the arts or attend a certain school. So long as you are not directly harming me or my property, why are my choices about how you should live better (in the sense that the should be forced upon you by the state) than your own? So by “organic growth,” I mean whatever sort of society emerges in a system of human rights, property rights (though I see those as the same thing), the rule of law, and the institutions to support them.2) The Hayek/Oakeshott reference was in response to a comment about planning to produce greater utility, so you're right that I was speaking only about their critiques of planning. As to other thinkers, my position is informed by much of the classical liberal/libertarian tradition. I came to my libertarianism by way of studying economics first, which lead to Hayek and similar critiques of socialism and, more broadly, centralized knowledge. I also draw on public choice, rights theory, Nozick, Smith, Hume, etc. The argument in this blog post isn't based on any of them in particular but, rather, a general view that communitarianism, as I understand it, often boils down to some elite or some majority forcing everyone else to be a member of or support whatever that elite or majority thinks is “community.” And I see that move as ignoring problems of knowledge, violations of rights, economic constraints, and human dignity. In short, each of us has the right to live the kind of life we want, provided we don't aggress against others in their person or property. That life will (almost always) involve participation in a multitude of communities, but that participation must be voluntary if it is to be meaningful and just. Communitarians, so far as their political philosophy goes, seem to want to use the coercive power of the state to restrict freedom — to force others to be subject to the arbitrary will of whoever is deciding what the “community” is and wants.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s