The Political Process

We need to revitalize public life so that the two-thirds of our citizens who now say they feel alienated or that the polity is not theirs, will again be engaged in it.

Campaign contributions to members of Congress and state legislatures, speaking fees, and bribes have become so pervasive that in many areas of public policy and on numerous occasions the public interest is ignored as legislators pay off their debts to special interests. . . . . It is said that money buys only access to the politician’s ear; but even if money does not buy commitment, access should not be allotted according to the depth of one’s pockets. It is said that every group has its pool of money and hence as they all grease Congress, all Americans are served. But those who cannot grease at all or not as well, lose out and so do long-run public goals that are not underwritten by any particular interest groups.

To establish conditions under which elected officials will be able to respond to the public interest, to the genuine needs of all citizens, and to their own consciences requires that the role of private money in public life be reduced as much as possible. All candidates should receive some public support, as presidential candidates already do, as well as some access to radio and TV.

–The Responsive Communitarian Platform

There are politicians of communitarian spirit in both political parties.  In politics, the communitarian emphasis is on mitigating the impact of pure self-interest by reminding both political leaders and citizens of their obligations to the common good.  A state cannot live by self-interest alone.  “A person who is completely private is lost to civic life,” declares the Responsive Communitarian Platform. “The exclusive pursuit of one’s self-interest is not even a good prescription for conduct in the marketplace; for no social, political, economic, or moral order can survive that way. Some measure of caring, sharing, and being our brother’s and sister’s keeper, is essential if we are not all to fall back on an ever more expansive government, bureaucratized welfare agencies, and swollen regulations, police, courts, and jails.”

Readings and Links

The communitarian case for campaign finance reform is spelled out in Amitai Etzioni’s The Spirit of Community.

The Responsive Communitarian Platform details at length the communitarian political vision.


For Further Exploration

Barber, Benjamin. Strong Democracy: Participatory Politics for a New Age. Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 1984.

Vincent Blasi, “How Campaign Spending Limits Can Be Reconciled with the First Amendment,” The Responsive Community 7, Issue 1 (Winter 1996/97)

Kemmis, Daniel. “Democracy on a Human Scale.” The Long Term View 2 (1998): 51-55.

Lichterman, Paul. The Search For Political Community. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

Sandel, Michael J. Democracy’s Discontent. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Harvard University Press, 1996.

Tolchin, Susan J. the Angry American: How Voter Rage is Changing the Nation. Boulder, Co.: Westview Press, 1996