Communitarians who include social and political advocates argue that a society should be able to defend and maintain community life. Communitarians are against classical liberalism’s theory, which argues that to uphold and sustain freedom and fairness should be a major concern of the political organization. They are also against the severe use of conceptual and collective rules for individuals who have diverse personal and social attributes for the sole reason of maintaining personal justice.
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Communitarians also oppose the legal structure that contains specific laws and justice that have certain outcomes for particular people. Communitarians feel that human beings are social beings who can only prosper in a steady community. Communitarians further state that the community paved the way for human beings and therefore they cannot live without the community. (Frazer, & Lacey, 1993, p.123)
Communitarians feel that liberalism goes against the morals of a good society and that modern society is turning away from the duty of looking for an inclusive universal good that goes beyond personal welfare. They believe that shared values, customs, interests, and purpose put a community together for all. They also feel that these values have been replaced by individualism that advocates for personal interests instead of companionship, social organization, and the search for common interests.
Further, they feel that society today has turned into selfish individualism, social breakdown, and immoral relationships. To them, people should look back at the virtues of the past to attain a good community. They also advocate for social responsibility to have steadiness in civil liberties and responsibility for human beings and the community in general. (Bell, 1993, p.94)
The benefit of communitarianism is reflected in the way it advocates for individual responsibility to the community. Unlike liberalism, which advocates for individual freedom and rights without any regard for other people in the society, communitarians believe, human beings are social and that they interact closely with other members of the community. Communitarians believe that maximizing human freedom is not good for the welfare of the community. Communitarians have a major belief in positive rights that assure the security of positive things. Today, communitarians still promote the concept of government support in social security, public programs, and laws that alleviate issues like pollution. They support the safe and communal protection of all individual rights in the community. (Sandel, 1982, p.73)
In the political arena, communitarian’s states that a community is built by the involvement of its members. They believe in communities that are established in free, pluralistic environments. To the communitarian, a person will stay with their friends because of what they do together and not on what they believe in common. This includes public discussions, shared knowledge as well as communal understanding.
They also advocate for making decisions freely by going to public meetings and debates and supporting tissues that have a common good above self-welfare. This is against liberalism take in which they believe an individual should make their self-decision without any influence from the community. Liberalism decision-making depends on the well-being of the individual who is making the decision. Communitarians believe that an individuals’ way of thinking is a communal occurrence. (Rose, 1999, p.178)
Communitarianism also believes in promoting good values of responsibility to the community in the families. Building communal appreciation within the institutions of the society is what they advocate for most. This is possible through the teaching of common values that are shared within the community. Communitarians argue that the modern world should be able to recreate traditional customs to ensure the community is well defined.
However, Liberalism does not feel that traditional customs are as good as portrayed by communitarians. To them, some traditional customs and practices were oppressive and not practical. Communitarians argue that traditional customs were fair to all and that they should be instilled in our modern society. They also feel that a community should have shared values that are worth sacrificing. These are meant to protect and sustain the community. (Goodin, &, Pettit, 1996, p.55)
The problem with the communitarian theory is that it does not view the community as a tool to help human beings achieve their goals. Either, it does not give room for individuals to choose what they want in the community. To a communitarian, the community is seen as a good thing that has the authority to demand what is right for the people. The contemporary community is very complex and diverse thus very difficult to adhere to in an all-encompassing society.
This theory may not work in modern society that is filled with many risks and uncertainties in almost every area. Traditional societies did not embrace change and were rigid meaning that they could accept such domination. However, the liberalism theory gives freedom for people to choose what they want, unlike communitarians. Human beings in liberalism theory have a choice of what they want in their community without outside interference. (Rose, 1999, p.180)
The other critique of communitarian theory is the way it suggests that people should assume traditional customs to solve problems in modern society. The theory argues that modern society has lost the value of community thus becoming individualists. However, scholars argue that traditional communities did not have public good and common values. They argue that what was seen as the common community was full of discrimination.
This is because many groups like women and the disabled were marginalized. This made the togetherness of the society to be lost and placed in the hands of a few individuals. Traditionally, people did not choose what they wanted to do. The communal aspect of the community was not voluntary but rather something they did to fulfill the customs of the society. However, this is not the case today and people have the right to choose whom to associate and work with. (Bell, 1993, p.96)
Communitarians argue that when the traditional values of family, religion, and community are lost, it will lead to the loss of communal standards. This may not be true because many problems arise from intimidation like curfews. Communitarians advocate for a morally uniform society, which is impossible to accomplish for an individual. Modern society has realized the need to have choices when forming social relationships.
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A balanced community cannot be fixed by force but rather it is created through a collection of free relationships. People should have the power to control the decisions they make to allow free and fair judgments. Human beings should be able to do things out of their own free will to allow satisfaction and fulfillment for everyone. A real community does not involve controlling the geographic or social allocation. (Sandel, 1982, p.75)
Community formation incorporates all the people involved in its creation. Traditionally, women were discriminated against in many community activities and were not equal to men. For a community to be complete, the needs of all people should be considered. Likewise, modern society does not remember the disabled in many areas. These people are part of society and should be involved in the formation of the community. A community should be able to allow people to make their own decisions without any intimidation. The political decision that one makes does not have to be influenced by what other people in society are doing.
The choice lies in the individual making the right decision that will benefit society. Today, society has given the freedom to everyone. This includes the freedom given to women to choose what they want. Today’s women hold high positions in the country and various corporations. This makes them more significant unlike in the past. The community should be able to take everyone in the society as equal thus including all minorities in community affairs. (Frazer, & Lacey, 1993, p.123)
An individual cannot be isolated from other people to be an independent person like liberalism advocates. People need other people in society to be able to live a complete life. The communitarian ideal of social community is very logical and forms a balanced society. This is because people need unity to achieve more in life. It is also important to be concerned for the interests of other people and not to be self-centered.
However, this does not mean that a community can be planned and put together. Human beings should be able to make decisions on how to associate with others in society. It is almost impossible to have a society that is homogenous in all aspects. Changes and innovations come up every day and thus it will not be possible to have everyone doing the same thing all the time. Morality is a choice for everyone and therefore the communitarian theory should not expect human beings to be perfect in every way.
Bell, D. (1993). Communitarianism and Its Critics, New York, Oxford University Press. pp. 92-99.
Frazer, E, & Lacey, N. (1993). ‘The communitarian critique of liberalism’, The Politics of Community: A Feminist Critique of the Liberal-Communitarian debate, New York: Harvester Wheatshearf, pp. 101-129.
Goodin, R, &, Pettit, P, (Eds) (1996). A Companion to Contemporary Political Philosophy, Oxford, Blackwell. pp. 45-58.
Rose, N. (1999). ‘Community’, Powers of Freedom: Reframing Political Thought, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 167-196.
Sandel, M. (1982). Liberalism and the Limits of Justice, New York, Oxford University Press, pp. 65-78.