Social & Economic Issues

The new communitarian movement: What makes it so popular since 1990s

Continuing Erosion-Cum-Disintegration of Moral Order since 1960s
Statistics reveals that proportion of nuclear families in US had decreased from 42 percent in 1960 to 26 percent in 1990; rate of divorce doubled while rates of illegitimacy rose from 21 per 1000 births in 1960 to 42 in 1989. These, according to communitarian leaders, speak amply of gradual erosion-cum-disintegration of moral order in society during the period. Ordinary people find it hard to understand what family stands for; where a child stands in responsibility of parents. This has impacted family, building block of any society, the most. Renewed stress on communitarian movement from the 1990s targets rectifying such crises from families.
US Society during 1950s Marked by High Degree of Moral Suasion

Amitai Etzioni, renowned socialist and influential in making communitarian movement popular, did a study of communitarian trends in US dividing it under distinct time phases. He observes that US society during 1950s was marked by high degree of moral suasion. He recalls a fact that it was compulsory for college students to take a number of prescribed classes, which in his word ‘reflected unabashedly’ dominant set of values. Coercion, according to Etzioni, may be good at times but can be destructive if applied too generously. In Etzioni’s view, low autonomy is not always a bad thing.

Emotional Crisis Because of Too Much Freedom and Dwindling Influence of Religion
At a time when most states do not prohibit abortion and are neutral on homosexual behavior, there is an emotional crisis on part of new-age citizens because of too much freedom. In pursuit of being secular, there is little motivation to adhere to strict lifestyle other than legal rulings by state. A vacuum is felt created in personal life because of failure to adhere to any strict norm of living, be it under banner of religion or any other moral philosophy. Amitai Etzioni observes that while the essence of 1950s was deep sense of obligation, 1960s to 1980s saw growing temptation to eschew from social responsibilities. One main reason cited is dwindling influence of religion in personal life.
Rise of Counter-Feminists 

When it comes to laying foundation of a good family, women naturally takes center stage. Feminism has been a vocal movement over past decades which liberated women of many restrictions. Despite this, there are issues such as pregnancy that cannot be addressed in terms of equal rights for men and women. Huge success for women-rights activists through legal rulings led to so called counter-feminists such as Phyllis Schlafly fighting for against its excesses. The aim is to instill some form of order in family and justice for children who are victims of neglect due to divorce, indifference etc. This movement by counter feminists is often labeled as communitarian conservatism.

Nation One Large Community on Which Welfare Depends 

According to communitarian leaders Maurice Mullard and Paul Spicker, revival of institutions of family, neighborhood, and community would once again lay foundation of a vibrant communal atmosphere. David Miller, another communitarian leader, opines that nation is one large community on which welfare of its people depends. This is in sharp contrast to so-called individualism of America.

Channel to Reform While Remaining Neutral on Religion 

Elsewhere and in the western countries, there has also been a rise in religious fundamentalism. As a result, there is compulsion on part of policy makers to be neutral on religion while promoting good ethics. In a secular setup, only way to bring all people together and make them agree to adhere to good moral behavior is through channels that are religiously neutral. Communitarian movement promises one such powerful channel.

Future Possibility of Community-Based Social Work in International Context 

After judging communitarian movement today and Labor’s distinct ways to project United Kingdom as welfare state, many predict a future possibility of community-based social work in an international context. Community as a basis for social work has attracted renewed interest with popularization of this movement. Community is seen as a point of care and support as well as conflict and discrimination. If one stretches concept of community, it can be all embracing from welfare of a single family to whole nation. The movement has suggestions on ways to improve family life, tackle feminist issues, protect rights of children, rights of mentally and physically challenged, and so on.

No Thin Line of Difference Between Justified Coercion by Communitarian Leaders and Excessive Coercion 

There is, however, no thin line of difference between justified coercion bycommunitarian leaders like Etzioni and excessive coercion. It is feared that if parents and teachers start taking too proactive role in bringing children, the very interest might be counterproductive. It may curtail individual freedom of a child to grow and thrive in realistic ways. Western people are after all known and appreciated for being independent-minded. Experiences of close community in many Asian countries show how rigid their family and society became over time. There was little room for flexibility and society was intolerant to other religion or culture. There were few rights for women, who were exploited in the name of maintaining good family. Children were brainwashed to follow tradition.

Amish Community Model: Against for Diversity? 
One concept of community as perceived by ordinary laymen is depicted through Amish community in the movie ‘The Witness,’ directed by Peter Weir, 20th Century Fox. The Amish have their ancestral roots to Switzerland of the 18th century. They live in close group and avoid strangers. Farming is their main source of sustenance. As Christians, they believe they should live as brethren, that their faith is distinct from State, and that they are committed to live peacefully. They live a simple life and wear modest clothes. Sunday evening ‘sing’ is attended by all teenagers. Men do outside work like farming while women do household work. Amish believe that their faith calls for good work. Children receive education in Amish schools. In the movie, they are seen taking care of each other. People in this water-tight community do not like police. They do not follow rules of any other community because they see their own rules well and sufficient. If this is one perception of community, it is only natural to have some form of skepticism while examining if communitarian movement can adequately recognize, support, and promote moral and cultural diversity. After all, it is one thing to recognize, support, and promote moral and cultural values, which, as we could see, is found in plenty in the Amish community model; and other, when question of diversity comes in. The same in Amish community model is found to be against for diversity.
Imposing Strict Guidelines May Backfire 

One of the goals of communitarian leaders is to form an ideology where people adopt moral ethics in their day-to-day life without religious discourse. But any guideline which call in adopting good ethics may ultimately take a form of religion; even in a way of extreme religion which does not recognize any religion, as we see in case of socialism and communism in many countries empirically. If communitarian movement gets huge popularity, it is doubtful whether it can resist that trend.

Risk of Dictatorship When Intermixed with Politics and Economics

Giving importance to individual satisfaction and personal autonomy is important; otherwise, there will be tendency on part of communitarian leaders to dictate their own philosophy, which at some point, might restrict society to exercise diversity in thoughts, religion, and everything which such communitarian leaders will not be comfortable with. Empirically, this is found true with erstwhile USSR, which was formed on huge hopes of founding a big community where community goals will take precedence over individual interests. Over time, it ruthlessly sanctioned practice of religion and any philosophy which stood against its perception of ideal community. When intermixed with politics and economics, this has been a problem with traditional communitarian movements. Gradually, focus shifts on dictating ordinary people in community.

Communitarian Movement Overlaps with Other Initiatives in Society 

The communitarian movement often overlaps with other initiatives in society such as welfare and applied ethics. Philosophers such as Tony Fitzpatrick have explored how ethical theories can be relevant to social policy in a welfare community. The economic concept of welfare state is not new. The same age-old concept of welfare state is approached by many philosophers in community setup, making a case for good family and increased happiness for all its members. This, however, makes its doctrine rather some form of wishful thinking than few practical things that can be done and delivered. While communitarian leaders address feminist issues keeping it under context of a good family, others like Johanna Brenner argue that they must be set in political and economic context.

Good Community: Gimmick to Woo Voters? 

For many political leaders, talking about good community is just a gimmick to win audience and gain votes. We see in United Kingdom that this has become a battleground for political parties. It is important to discern facts from rhetoric without which this term can be open to lose interpretation and not help serve any meaningful community reform. For instance, the following Blair’s speech appears in its tone yet another of likes that he was used to while building a case for going to war in Iraq: At the heart of my beliefs is the idea of community. I don’t just mean the villages, towns and cities in which we live. I mean that our fulfillment as individuals lies in a decent society of others. My argument to you today is that the renewal of community is the answer to the challenges of a changing world.

Independent Standing Contested and Accused of Being Non-Inclusive 

Whether communitarian movement has any independent standing or it is just a repeat of basic moral lessons that children have been taught during their primary classes over the years can be open to debate. What we see as examples of good community in Scotland, Wales, and Norway cited by communitarian leaders is perhaps result of refinement on part of citizens through a long history that started with the renaissance. The fact that these countries give asylum to political refugees may also be because of vested interests. If a state gives incentive to so-called ‘good people’ in community, it will obviously indirectly penalize those who do not match its version of definition. It could be predicted to be non-inclusive because anyone who will not be seen ‘good’ in this model will be left out of its benefits. Also, many of the notions put forward by communitarian leaders are fuzzy and cannot be taken without a grain of salt. For instance, intense obsession of Etzioni with US society before 1950s and sarcasm for decades that follow till 1990s appears to be a personal way of viewing things that old days were good days. The fact of the matter is that over the years US society has become more open, more diverse, and more receptive to new culture. If communitarian leaders have objection to that, then this may be because of some form of nostalgia: returning to old days where Church visit was an integral part of living. Communitarian leaders are not comfortable with mainstream economic culture of too much stress on individualism and Spencerism. They usually suggest a middle path. But this is nothing new.

Inspiring for Good Family and Good Community; Citizen Journalism Should Stop the Movement Taking Conservative Route 
The new communitarian movement perhaps seeks to moderate aspirations of extreme socialists and prods those who are too individualistic in their personal life to take a family and community approach. By putting stress on moral responsibility of each individual, it appears that goal of current communitarian movement is to address some of excesses of human behavior which has made personal, family, and social life of modern citizens miserable in qualitative terms. There is no doubt that communitarian movement has become popular over the last decade or so. Right now, the movement broadly is not geared on changing any political structure. Repeated association of western philosophers like John Mcmurray and Christian socialism with this movement does, however, raise concern whether it is just that limited in scope or crossing its limit. Will it be another western crusade to revive its past culture which has been threatened by influx of mass arrival of immigrants over the years? This may be an exaggerated fear today. So long as it induces people for good moral behavior, there is little to be intimidated. Right now, it appears that communitarian movement is actually serving to make a case for good family and good community under a secular setup. New-age citizen journalism and disinterested scrutiny should stop the movement taking any conservative route that makes it vulnerable to faults like the one evident from the erstwhile USSR experience.
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