The Communitarian Vision
Americans have been struggling during the 1990s to restore the integrity of our basic institutions and turn back disturbing trends toward crime, social disorder, and family breakdown. The past decade has been an era of important social reforms: in the public schools, in the criminal justice system, in family policy. In states and localities across the nation, citizens have fought for greater emphasis on character, individual responsibility, and virtues and values in the public square. Partly as a result, on a host of “leading social indicators”—rates of violent crime, rates of youth crime, levels of teenage pregnancy, even student test scores—the nation is showing incremental but significant improvements.
Communitarian ideas and policy approaches have been playing a major role in this growing movement of cultural and institutional regeneration. Communitarian thinkers are in the forefront of the Character Education movement, which is fostering a return to the teaching of good personal conduct and individual responsibility in thousands of public schools around the country. Likewise, communitarians have been played a role in the new community-based approaches to criminal justice, which are showing solid success in restoring neighborhood order and achieving real reductions in violent crime. In the area of family policy, communitarians have worked for policies to strengthen families and discourage divorce. They have led in devising fresh, incentive-based policies designed to discourage a casual approach to marriage and to promote “children-first” thinking and family stability–while at the same time preserving the rights of women and men.
In contrast to conventional “right” or “left” approaches to social policy, communitarians emphasize the need for a balance between rights and responsibilities. Communitarians believe that strong rights presume strong responsibilities and that the pendulum of contemporary society has swung too far in the direction of individual autonomy at the expense of individual and social responsibility. One key to solving contemporary America’s social problems is replacing our pervasive “rights talk” with “responsibility talk.”
In finding solutions to our social problems, communitarians seek to rely neither on costly government programs nor on the market alone, but on the powerful “third force” of the community. By reawakening communities and empowering communities to assert their moral standards, communitarians seek to hold individuals accountable for their conduct.
Communitarianism is essentially an optimistic approach to issues of public policy. While mindful of human tendencies to act in self-interested ways, Communitarians believe that it is possible to build a good society based on the desire of human beings to cooperate to achieve community goals that are based on positive values. This has been the essential optimistic view that has animated Americans throughout our history. New times raise new issues, but the communitarian focus on the values of the good society provides a vital guide to maintaining the good society.
Innovative, deadlock-breaking policy ideas that promote a fresh consensus around positive social action–such has been the hallmark of the communitarian movement over the past decade.
Learn more about communitarianism and become a part of one of the most innovative movements working to renew and revitalize American society: