When They Aren’t Eating
Us, They Bring Us
Together: Zombies and the
American Social Contract
LEAH A. MURRAY
George Romero’s series of zombie films, Night of the Living Dead (1968), Dawn of the Dead (1978), Day of the Dead (1985), and Land of the Dead (2005), engages one of the fundamental questions of the last two centuries in American political philosophy: which is the superior position, individualism or communitarianism?
Individualism is the idea that the success of a society depends on self-reliance—individual hard work, ingenuity, and entrepreneurship. The individualist’s America is a place where individuals can reach their full potential unfettered by overreaching government or the constraints of traditional societal norms and hierarchies: in essence, a place where the individual shapes society, not vice versa. Individualists tend to reject communism, for example, because it limits individual freedom, especially by placing too much emphasis on the needs of other people.
Communitarianism is the idea that societies prosper most and best when citizens co-operate. The Civil Rights Movement in America succeeded, on this account, because many citizens worked together to put the needs of the society above their own individual desires. Communitarians embrace neighborhood connectedness and group activities. They believe that a good society results from a sense of community and self-sacrifice, according to John F. Kennedy’s famous dictum: “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country."