Friday, February 17, 2012

In The Beginning

In American political life, there is an obsession with choice. Choice is not a bad thing. It should not however be valued for its own sake. Unfortunately this has been what has happened in much discourse. Often, the obsession over choice is treated as the same as the desire for freedom. Freedom is different from choice though. Freedom is about being able to get your legitimate desires. For the man who can't walk, a wheelchair is freedom. For the poor, the freedoms they seek often have little to do with choice. I believe the civic life should be about improving the lives of the poor and marginalized.

For me, communitarianism is the philosophy that sees the flourishing of the person in the flourishing of his community. An academic would put this as social capital being more important than personal capital. As a political program it is about privileging the interests of the community, particularly the poor, over those of the rich. This is not communism, socialism, or for that matter capitalism or democracy. Each is good when it represents the interests of the poor. Each is bad when it represents the interests of the elite. This is also not a third way. This is about working within systems as they are. It is pragmatic.

Philosophically, this is a direct confrontation with libertarianism. Libertarians treat as axiomatic that poor people are better off in a society with greater choice. Communitarians believe poor people are better off when they have maximal freedom. Powerful people are the ones who enjoy choices. This has been true throughout history. Those who defend choice unreflexively inevitably are defenders of the powerful.

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