Republicanism for Democrats?

If you keep up with American politics, you know that politicians
from Bill Clinton to Helmut Kohl are embracing a political theory
called communitarianism. Arguing that our
society’s emphasis on individualism — both the live-and-let-live
social policies of liberalism and the conservatives’
every-man-for-himself economics — has gone too far, communitarians
advocate neighborliness and civic virtue as a cure for modern woes.
But while actions like voting, volunteering, and using public
transportation no doubt contribute to a more connected society,
many critics suggest that communitarianism is out of touch with the
times; a giant leap backward that pines for a social order that
never was.

Writing in The Nation (July 25, 1994) Katha
Pollitt fires off a few good shots, decrying communtarians’
romanticized view of marriage (two parent households are good;
divorce, bad) and nostalgia for traditionally differentiated sex
roles as ‘antifeminism redux.’ Pollitt also skillfully deconstructs
the communitarian passion for good neighborliness as a happy-faced
blame game. ‘The communitarians like to speak of balancing rights
with responsibilities, which sounds good,’ she writes. ‘But somehow
the objects of this trade-off tend to be others: the young (curfews
and national service), the poor (checkpoints in drug-ridden
communities, work requirements for welfare), women (family values
— and what about that silence on abortion?).’

Besides, the problem most people have to deal with in today’s
world isn’t about having an absence of community, but a surfeit of
communities. Writing in the Pacific News Service
(Feb. 20, 1995) Walter Truett Anderson asserts that given people’s
commitments to many different communities (i.e., ones created by
their job, neighborhood, race, sexual preference, etc.) the
communitarians are hopelessly out of sync with the realities of
modern life: ‘As Americans develop multiple loyalties…they have
less and less sense of how to fulfill them. In an era when
community is no longer rooted in place, sermonizing about voting or
serving on juries offers no solution. The real question is how to
sustain lasting ties in the absence of proximity, how to find
intimacy in a world where borders no longer exist.’

Original to Utne Reader Online

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