Acton Institute Powerblog

Houston’s culture of rugged communitarianism

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In the late 1920s, a primary theme of Herbert Hoover’s presidential campaign was the idea of “rugged individualism,” the practice or advocacy of individualism in social and economic relations emphasizing personal liberty and independence, self-reliance, resourcefulness, self-direction of the individual, and free competition in enterprise

As Hoover said about the era in the U.S. after the Great War, “We were challenged with the choice of the American system ‘rugged individualism’ or the choice of a European system of diametrically opposed doctrines — doctrines of paternalism and state socialism. The acceptance of these ideas meant the destruction of self-government through centralization of government; it meant the undermining of initiative and enterprise upon which our people have grown to unparalleled greatness.”

Since the 1930s conservatives (and our ideological opponents) have tended to see a binary choice similar to the one Hoover presented: we can have either statism or rugged individualism.

Leo Linbeck III offers a third option. As a lifelong resident of Houston he says that despite what the narrative spinners would have you believe, “we are not rugged individualists; we are rugged communitarians“:

Peter Drucker once said that culture eats strategy for breakfast, and Houston’s culture is one of opportunity. People come to this city to build a better life for themselves, to start and raise a family, and to do so with the support and encouragement of neighbors. This culture of opportunity means that Houstonians welcome newcomers, in a way that older or more status-conscious cities do not. Houston may not be a nice place to visit during the summer, but it is a great place to create a life all year round.

This culture really shines through during events like Hurricane Harvey. Despite what the narrative spinners would have you believe, we are not rugged individualists; we are rugged communitarians. We know that when times are tough, you must rely first on family, then friends, then neighbors, and then—and only if you’re one of the few, unfortunate folks who cannot rely on any of those three—on the government. And if we have family, friends, or neighbors who can help, reaching out for government support is actually taking resources away from those who need them more.

In short, the best governance to rely upon is self-governance.

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Joe Carter Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).

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