How Much of Communitarianism Is Left (and Right)?
Communitarianism is a doctrine that seems, at first glance, to cut across the usual categories with which we apportion the political spectrum. Both leftists and rightists are concerned about the excessive individualism of contemporary life. They are apprehensive about the decline of civic knowledge and participation. They are uneasy about the imbalance between what we demand from and what we are willing to give to public life. White they wish to protect our liberties, they have misgivings about the consequences of freedom for the ties that bind us to each other. They would like to see a greater emphasis on virtues rather than rights. And they worry that an excess of individualism threatens the very rights that makes individualism possible.
Trouble begins, however, when communitarians begin to offer specific proposals to enhance civic virtue and communal life. At this point, communitarians often find themselves in the cross-fire that results from two divisions between the left and the right today. First, while some leftists and some rightists are comfortable talking about civic virtue, they often have rather different virtues in mind. Second, leftists and rightists drawn to communitarian ways of thought differ on how economic policies and institutions ought to be reformed so as to strengthen civic virtues and communities in America. These conflicts are so serious that anyone who wants to make a case for communitarianism that has broad appeal would do well to avoid them. That is precisely what so many communitarians do. The difficulty, however, is that, given the seriousness of these conflicts, communitarians will not get anywhere unless they address them.
This chapter is written, in the first place, for those who find the communitarian critique of liberalism plausible, but who wonder how communitarians should act