Community and Political Thought Today

By Peter Augustine Lawler; Dale McConkey | Go to book overview

5
Universal Benevolence, Adjective Justice, and the Rousseauean Way

BRAD LOWELL STONE

The introduction to the recently published "updated edition" of Habits of the Heart displays the humane spirit of the original work.1 Robert Bellah and his coauthors make several concessions to their critics but mainly inspect American life over the ten years since the publication of Habits of the Heart for additional evidence of what the book called an American individualism "grown cancerous."2 The approach of the new introduction, however, is quite different from the book itself. For whereas the analysis contained in Habits of the Heart is more "cultural" than "institutional," the approach of the new introduction, like that of The Good Society -- the sequel to Habits of the Heart -- is more "institutional" than "cultural."3 The new introduction analyzes American individualism in light of changes in the American class structure. The analysis conveys certain insights but it is, alas, far from entirely successful or enlightening.

The introduction informs us that individualism today is promoted by, and most visibly expressed in, a "neocapitalist ideology more impervious to discomformation than the most dogmatic Marxism."4 The evidence provided in the introduction, however, suggests that the materialist republicanism of Bellah and his co-authors is an ideology as impervious to discomformation as any form of neocapitalism or Marxism. I say this because the new introduction is replete with false or distorted claims.

These claims are hardly accidental or random. They issue from a tenaciously held and largely misconceived world view that has been at the center of Robert Bellah's work since at least the mid-1960s.5 (Indeed, this is so clearly true that one is tempted to relieve Bellah's co-authors of any responsibility for misstatements.) The main features of this world view are a Rousseauean-styled belief in

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