Communitarian Theory Handout

                                COMMUNITARIAN THEORY

 Attempts to deepen an understanding of communal and social solidarity rather than (as with
   Cosmopolitanism) theorizing about the relationship between the individual and humankind
 Root notion that value stems from the community and the individual and finds meaning in life
   through membership of a political community
 Ethics is a function of politics; universal moral principles cannot be applied to specific
   situations, thus, political action must be judged by the extent to which it achieves its basic
   o The state’s only morality is its survival as a state
 Four phases of communitarian theory development (per Henry Tam)
   o Experiences of life the essential basis for political institutions; no “divine knowledge”
       beyond the understanding of the population (Aristotle)
   o Knowledge based on authoritative claim worthless without proof through
       experimentation (Francis Bacon)
   o The community-based society; participatory democracy essential to promotion of
       representative government (Robert Owen, John Stuart Mill, and others in 1800s)
   o Individual rights can only be understood in relationship with the broader community
       (Henry Tam and others; late 1800s – early 1900s)

Level of Analysis:
 Primarily a state-centric construct formed from the community of individual members

Most Enlightenment figures opposed the communitarian approach:
 Hume: governments are not founded on fairness, but are usurpers; need governments to give
  order, but they are not a source of value
 Kant: a less negative view of the state, but the state can't make men good; moral law is in
  people, to act on or not, as they will; the state is secondary
 Rousseau: society has a corrupting effect on the natural goodness of man; a world society
  would be still worse, since interdependence would create conditions for greater conflicts of
  interest and more damaging wars
 So need "social contract" of a political community where the body politic reflects the
  "general will" of the people and is therefore not external to them
 The "general will" may differ from an individual’s immediate and particular desires, but it is
  closer to their real interests and one must force them to accept it, thus one is thereby obliging
  the individual to be free [seeds of totalitarianism]

 German Enlightenment: Herder was the first to move towards a communitarian view:
 Individuals are shaped by culture; they do not exist prior to culture, but are molded by it; one
   cannot create culture, which is expressed in language and folk traditions
 It is this common culture, rather than the acceptance of a common sovereign power, that
   forms the proper base for a collective political identity
 Nationality is crucial to politics - a common language and culture rather than metaphysical
   views of a general will

Communitarian Theory Handout

   But, Herder's system has the flaw that it envisages distributed powers without central
    administration organs and without judgment or ranking of cultures

The German Romantics
Inherited Herder's desire not to see the richness of culture replaced by cold reason
 They tried to place his approach in the practical sphere, retaining the individual's autonomy
   while placing him in a communitarian setting

Hegel: Start of 19th century - a reaction to the German Romantics and Kant
 Saw Kant's philosophy as purely formal- duty for duty's sake -based on an incorrect view of
   the nature of persons.
 Cannot see individuals isolated from the communities that shaped them; distinguishes
 'Moralitat' (innate morality) from 'Sittlichkeit' (acquired morality)
 Since the community constitutes individuals, the demands of social ethics override
   imperatives of conscience
 Ethical life is base on the three institutions of family, civil society and the state.
 Family: is based on love/feelings, not reason
 Civil Society: is based on: a) a system of needs (economic), b) the administration of justice
   (rule of law), and c) the 'police' (in the sense of policy) and cooperation
   o The sense of individuality is powerful and rules are external to, and restraining on, the
 State:
   o State is sovereign and highest authority
   o Has role of providing context where external rules needed for relations between
       individuals can be internalized and no longer seen as restraints
   o Provides the unity necessary for the individual to overcome the separateness inherent in
       individual society [keep in mind the “when” & “for whom” Hegel wrote]
   o Hegel's 'ethical state' is a constitutional monarchy, giving absolute freedom combined
       with absolute unity
   o International law that controls state behavior is an 'ought-to-be', not an actuality
   o The individuality of citizens demands the individuality of the state. The individuality of
       the state cannot be limited (so perpetual peace is unattainable)
   o The state must promote the economic interests of its society, which may cause conflict
   o The state protects self as an entity, rather than the individuals or property within it
   o War is a necessary feature in a world where you can't limit the individuality of states; it
       is not an absolute evil, but promotes the 'ethical health' of the people, as an opportunity
       to endorse their values
   o The 'ethical' state must be spread throughout the world, but cannot be transcended by a
       world government; there is no individual without other individuals; there is no state
       without other states
 T.H. Green:
   o Takes Hegelian view, but says that it is invalid to equate public-spirited patriotism with
   o The state must be preserved; but there is no need for conflict
   o Has a vision of a 'bond of peace' that doesn't submerge identities
 Bosanquet:

Communitarian Theory Handout

    o The state is the supreme community; however, the state has a will, personality and moral
    o There is no reason to believe that war is inherent in inter-state relations or that it could
      be good in itself

 Chris Brown critique:
  o However plausible Hegel's account of conflict, it doesn't follow that war is a necessary
     feature of relations between Hegelian states
  o It is essential to distinguish between necessary aspects of Hegel's theory (the supremacy
     of states) and contingent interpretations of the necessary features (behavior of states to
     each other)
  o Can see 19th century communitarians as having idealist/Romantic origins, or coming
     from the patriotic tradition and Machiavellian statism
  o Communitarianism can be extended and linked into nationalism. Whilst Herder's states
     were non-competitive and not ranked, and Hegel's ethical states were not necessarily
     national, but from an initialized point of unity…John Stuart Mill took this further:
 John Stuart Mill and nationalism:
  o Stressed not just the value of freedom, but the value of self-liberation per se
  o Saw free institutions as an impossibility in a country made up of different nationalities,
     so nationalities needed their own governments
  o A nation is a nation if it deems itself to be one
  o [Seems to assume that nationalism is caused by subjugation to oppressive regimes or
     empires, the dissolution of which would solve the problem -i.e., self-determination
     mitigates nationalism; contrast reality!!]


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