Friday, May 25, 2012

Whose Community?

"Community" is one of those words and ideas contemporary liberals often use to pummel conservatives.  As in, we humane progressives/liberals are for instilling and encouraging a sense of community, while you selfish and heartless conservatives are against it.

Reliably silly Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne, Jr., has thrown the latest punch charging conservatives with an anti-communitarianism of relatively recent vinage, an un-American, a-historical embrace of the rugged, asocial, alienated actually, self-reliant but self-absorbed individual over against the more stable and emotionally healthy citizen who recognizes the debt he owes his alma mater, his "nurturing mother", not his real mom mind you, but the society that spawned him and within which he was reared.  Think Howard Roark in Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead.

Good grief.  There is so much wrong with Dionne's piece, not to mention his thinking, that it's hard to know where to begin.   How about these three quick counter-punches?
First, as Dionne's brand of community always involves more government spending, the easiest response is to say simply, "Hey E.J., haven't you heard, WE'RE BROKE!"

Second, confused but still ultimately secular liberals like Dionne apparently can only imagine community in material terms, where, a la Marx and Engels, "the government of persons is replaced by the administration of things."  Whether it's infrastructure, socialized medicine, entitlements, whatever, for them it's always and only a government program redistributing wealth that can effectively create community where it's absent, or demonstrate its health where it's present.  There is apparently no vertiginous anomie the isolated and alienated individual suffers that it can't be successfully mollified if not cured with a large enough welfare check.  This is so ridiculous it serves as its own rebuttal.  (Oh, and by the way E.J., a Civil War veteran's pension is not the same thing as a contemporary entitlement, but rather of payment or reward for services rendered.)

Third, the idea of "community" is actually being used in two very different ways by liberals and conservatives.  For liberals, and this is where they really are in a sense classical liberals, society or community is not something that occurs naturally, or at least it does not occur very well naturally.  Left alone, individuals remain, well, individual.  Whatever communities they do manage to form are purely instrumental and short-lived, satisfying or attaining some immediate need or goal (securing rights perhaps?, but I digress), but always at the expense of other individuals or other communities.  As their loyalties are ultimately to themselves alone, the communities thus created are, paradoxically, hostile to community.  Hence, the liberal need to supply what nature lacks, that is, to create, nay, to manufacture community, top-down, homogenized, one-size-fits-all, Esperanto-speaking community. Such a community would presumably provide everything... but liberty.

When conservatives use the word "community", we think instead of something that occurs, although not perfectly, quite naturally nonetheless, a product of family ties and extended family ties, of blood and of marriage that produces new blood, of a common language, of a common faith, of a common culture, of propinquity (look it up), of the shared search for solutions to common problems that arise because of propinquity, etc.  The succor afforded, the advice offered, the restraints required, yes, restraints, to my liberty by such a community is effectual because it is provided by family and friends, men and women I am more likely to know and therefore trust and not by some nameless bureaucrat from far-away Washington who I most assuredly do not know and therefore will not trust.

Finally, the distinction is this: conservatives have faith in a "community" formed of free individuals, liberals do not.  Conservatives are sometimes dismissed by liberals/progressives as simplistic libertarians because we share with them a similar commitment to liberty.  The difference is that we conservatives embrace liberty in large measure because it is only at the most basic level of the free individual that genuine community abides and abounds, providing what Dionne thinks he's providing when he isn't justifying yet another big-government program..    

To be fair, this is really a very BIG issue and warrants a much bigger response, but the bell just sounded and I need to rest up for the next round.

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