The Spirit Of Community
a book by Amitai Etzioni
(our site's book review)
The Communitarian Thesis is that “Americans, who have long been concerned about the deterioration of private and public morality, the decline of the family, high crime rates, and the swelling of corruption in government—can now act without fear. We can act without fear that attempts to shore up our values, responsibilities, institutions and communities will cause us to charge into a dark tunnel of moralism and authoritarianism that leads to a church-dominated state or a right-wing world.” This sounds like an excellent opportunity, but in a polarized, black and white, left and right, Democrat and Republican world of politics, is there a way to vote for a Communitarian candidate and expect him or her to win? No, so one has to look for candidates of the major parties that will support Communitarian thinking.
The author points out that if people would take better care of each other in their communities—being their brothers’ and sisters’ keepers to an extent, then there wouldn’t be so much need for government regulations and government aid. He feels that the average young American understands and enjoys the many freedoms that their nation offers them, but doesn’t understand the other side of the equation: responsibility. We maintain freedom because of taking the responsibility for vigilance, political participation in the responsibilities of citizenship, and contributing to the community in ways consistent with our abilities and situations. He wants there to be a balance between rights and responsibilities. He feels that free individuals require a community (“it takes a village”) which backs them up against encroachments by the state and sustains morality by drawing on the gentle prodding of kin, friends, neighbors and other community members rather than building on government controls or fear of authorities.
A real community sustains morality by drawing on the gentle prodding of kin, friends, neighbors and other community members rather than building on government controls or fear of authorities
As Etzioni says, when social scientists look into what doesn’t work to deal with most moral and many social problems, they see that the answer is more government. And when these same scientists are asked what forces succeed at reshaping values and social lives, usually to everyone’s benefit, they come up with this answer: social movements. He concludes: “What America needs now is a major social movement dedicated to enhancing social responsibilities, public and private morality, and the public interest.” So movements—such as the MC movement—are what can turn around the deterioration. See Why Register for an MC?.
Registering for MC search and match
Perhaps tax-and-spend liberalism has had its day and we need a better idea (MCs)
Movements are what is needed. Not programs. Not social engineering. Not tax and spend. Not agencies. And not bureaucracies. What’s needed, he says, is for both parents to raise their young, and for them to act democratically and authoritatively, not permissively or autocratically.
We need better communities and fewer bureaucrats
The authoritarians have wrecked morality until it has become the M-word. They’ve managed to associate it with their authoritarian extremism and with hot-button Culture War issues like abortion, pornography, and prayer in school. When citizens concerned with morality begin to think and what comes up are images of bigots and extremists trying to censor our literature, rescind the Bill of Rights, abolish women’s right to choose and remove the separation of church and state, one can rightfully conclude that the extremist Right has usurped the morality issue. Etzioni warns that unless we establish safe streets and schools through effective communities that instill good citizenship, we will end up invariably creeping toward a police state and the radical authoritarians will have their (ugly) day. He also warns that radical individualists—such as some conservatives and some libertarians and cults—play right into the hands of the authoritarians by not balancing rights with responsibilities: they therefore “set the stage for a major right-wing, authoritarian backlash.”
U.S. is a police state and a predatory power abroad, imposing thousands of deaths on our troops and hundreds of thousands of deaths on others, and wasting trillions of dollars of American taxpayers' money
Like MCs, the good parenting models that Etzioni creates for the reader include not only shared parenting in a context of supportive kin and neighbors, but parents who, if they utilize childcare facilities, are responsible to be one of the childcare workers that work there sometimes. Of course, MCs say do childcare in the hub around kids you love, not in a childcare center around kids you tolerate. The difference between being watched over and being truly cared for is very significant. Etzioni agrees with this type of thinking, but just has not heard of the MC movement.
Etzioni, in testifying before the a U.S. Senate committee about childcare, was asked: “Are you saying that single parents cannot bring up a child properly?” and he answered: “As I read the social science findings, it would be preferable to have three parents per child . . .” (MCs will have only two parents per child, but many—as many as a dozen or more—adults will care about each child almost as much as if s/he was their own. This is the proven historical norm for subcommunities, and nations that have forgotten such facts should be embarrassed.)
In a good community people will heed their children more and their social status less
“In the long run, parents will find more satisfaction and will contribute more to the community if they heed their children more and their social status less,” says Etzioni, referring to the tendency of people to attempt to advance their social standing at the expense of their children. He advocates communication, parenting and relationship training in schools and active listening and conflict resolution, so that parents parent well and so that the citizens of communities don’t get litigious over every disagreement but instead find win-win solutions.
Real community members act decently from commitment, not because they fear lawsuits
He points out that social science has shown that people who are unconnected from community, isolated, and not involved in sustained relationships will be less mentally and physically healthy than those with commitments to relationships.
The author says that it isn’t just mothers that should stay home and take care of kids; fathers should too. And by this he means parents should share in childcare even if they both work. They should arrange flextime during the first two years of caring for a new offspring, and whatever this means about slowing down their careers for a couple of years and prioritizing child over career, this should be done. Of course, in the real world, this is often unrealistic and childcare centers usually take up the slack. But he warns that centers are a poor substitute for parental care. He goes on to describe how kids that have been inadequately cared for end up in our public schools but have inadequate character development and therefore disrupt class rather than contribute and learn. They go on to become incompetent workers with no work ethic and little sense of responsibility.
Prioritizing child over career is often unrealistic and childcare centers usually take up the slack
He recommends many things that dovetail with MC thinking: dump both authoritarian and permissive parenting and authoritarian and permissive school discipline; form effective relationships and connections with family, kin and neighbors; develop a sense of “we”-ness about the community one lives in; don’t wait for better communities to spring up—develop your own; stress choices; support divergent subcommunities within the context of community; provide a common space for mingling; share childcare environments; respect seniors and allow them to be relevant to the challenges of childcare; design the physical environment to facilitate connectedness and good childcare; let “welfare” be a function of the local community—not big government; build a strong democracy; keep all social tasks the responsibility of the smallest institution that can handle them; and begin all community concerns within ourselves and our families—enhancing values and morals as we go, but expand them as needed toward the community of mankind.