The Communitarian Nightmare We Feared is Here

Imagine a crowded planet, overpopulated to the point where babies threaten the environment (we’re there already) and corporations and the state say that women must go on birth control. Either go on birth control or be subjected to weekly pregnancy tests, the President says. You need to wear a condom when you have sex. Sex without protection can make you pregnant. If found pregnant you’ll be excluded from employment and other highly prized life activities and opportunities. It’s time we get serious about making sure women are on birth control. There have to be consequences for sex without protection. Yes, there are breakthrough pregnancies even if you’re on birth control. That’s why you still need to wear a condom even if you are on the pill. Your body, your choice, right? No. The community is more important than your individual desire to go unprotected, to exercise reproductive freedom. Your decisions affect all of us. What, you disagree? Are you one of those anti-birth controllers? You sound like an extremist.

* * *

Back in the 1990s, Democrats wanted to debate communitarianism verses libertarianism. They wanted to discuss abandoning America’s founding in the liberal principles of civil rights, personal liberty, and small government for the sake of big intrusive government and community standards. Maybe you don’t remember Israeli sociologist Amitai Etzioni, endorsements by neoliberals such as Bill Bradley adorning his books, but I do. (See Etzioni’s The Spirit of Community: Rights, Responsibilities, and the Communitarian Agenda.) He rooted his ideas of the good moral order in the structural functionalist tradition of his discipline.

At the time, America politely told Etzioni and the Democrats to go fuck themselves. But now, without any debate, with corporate power at their backs, Democrats have decided the matter for us: we will be a nation of communitarian values—our libertarian founding and traditions be damned. All this while they stealthily colonized the minds of enough of the public (especially the new middle class) to prepare them for willing submission to state corporate control. They even turned many into woke scolds who patrol the Internet and college campuses attacking those who still hold on to liberal values.

Communitarianism is ostensibly an ideology that emphasizes the responsibility of the individual to the community. At best, its advocates argue, individual rights must be balanced with community rights—as if abstractions have rights. But what communitarianism really is is an ideology that attaches the label “community” to powerful controlling and exploitative organizations, such as the “business community,” and then emphasizes responsibility of individuals to those communities. This is why Etzioni’s movement so neatly dovetails with neoliberalism. This is what lies behind government officials beseeching the “business community” to mandate vaccines. And now governments are doing the mandating, too. Axios alerts us to the coming troubles: The floodgates have opened for vaccine mandates.

Business is not a community. Government is not a community. A university is not a community. Facebook is not a community. These entities don’t have standards. They have rules. In the age of corporate governance and technocratic fiat, these rules are arrived at neither deliberatively nor democratically. And the old communitarian appeal to the social importance of the family unit, of real community? Forget about those things. They have your children now.

They don’t much call it communitarianism anymore. They don’t have to. They have normalized totalitarianism. (For some writings on freedom and risk, see Life is Risky. Freedom is Precious; A Dark and Authoritarian Path is Paved by Pathologizing Humanity; Populist and Secular Humanist in the Face of a Virus.)

Published by

Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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