Posts tagged with: Communitarianism

Alexis_de_tocqueville_croppedWhat is social justice? Is it a vision of a perfectly just society? Is it an ideal set of government policies? Is it a particular theory or practice? Is it a virtue? A religious concept? A social arrangement?

In a lecture at Acton University on his forthcoming book, Social Justice: What It Is, What It Isn’t, Michael Novak sought to answer some these questions with a particular framework around intermediary institutions.

Offering a broad survey of the term’s origins, history, and modern use and application, Novak countered modern misconceptions of social justice (e.g. as another word for equality), and sought to outline a definition that’s (1) connected to the original understanding, (2) ideologically neutral, and (3) applicable to current circumstances.

Leaning first on Pope Leo XIII for an original understanding, he proceeded to channel Alexis de Tocqueville, describing social justice in terms of our activity in basic, day-to-day associations. This begins with religion, of course, which “dominates our hearts,” he said, without the support of the state, and in turn, transforms our orientations and imaginations toward citizens, institutions, and law. With this as the basic order of things, social justice begins when the individual rightly understands his relation to God, and proceeds to engage with civilization accordingly. (more…)

The problem with communitarianism, claims Bradley C. S. Watson, is that it views religion as an instrumental good and individual virtue as destructive:

Communitarianism comes to sight as a movement that sees, far more clearly than liberalism, that the private sphere and private goods are rooted in, and in turn have an effect on, public goods. President Clinton, as a “new” Democrat, has effectively enlisted the intellectual backing of the communitarian theorists in his efforts to distance himself and his party from the more extravagantly individualist claims of the old left. However, communitarianism is but a liberal wolf in communal clothing. This is a central claim of Bruce Frohnen, a political scientist who is currently a speechwriter for U.S. Senator Spencer Abraham. In The New Communitarians and the Crisis of Modern Liberalism, Frohnen argues that the new communitarians eschew the authority of what they see as oppressive tradition, natural law, or traditional religion. For these, they seek to substitute a desiccated, politically nationalizing civil religion, communal loyalty to which will help ensure that their particular vision of the future comes to pass.

Although the precise contours and extent of civil religion are not always fleshed out (by Frohnen, or by the communitarians themselves), it is clear that traditional religion is an instrumental good only, useful to the extent it teaches the intertwined liberal social goods of tolerance, equality, authenticity, and participation in community life. Communitarian virtues are not the Aristotelian ones-courage, moderation, prudence, justice, and so forth-but liberal ones. Indeed, in Frohnen’s interpretation of Bellah, the promotion of individual virtue is at once atomizing and hegemonic, destructive therefore of both liberal community and authenticity.

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