The Pseudo Utopia Delusion of Communitarianism


"We are witnessing a seizure and redirection of power through legitimate means. This is not a dictatorship but something more complex: the tyranny of popularity."


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Utopian Delusions - Communitarianism 

Utopian Delusions: Communitarianism

World Lance Fairchok, Featured Writer

November 21, 2007  


We are witnessing a seizure and redirection of power through legitimate means. This is not a dictatorship but something more complex: the tyranny of popularity." – Alberto Barrera Tyszka, co-author of a best-selling biography of Hugo Chávez.


In a coup d'état careful to cloak itself in the trappings of legitimacy, Hugo Chavez hopes to become the dictator of Venezuela for life. To accomplish this goal he has subverted, undermined and destroyed the democratic institutions of a once prosperous nation. Using oil money to buy and bribe votes and fuel his appeal to immigrants, government workers and the poor, Chavez will remake Venezuela into South America’s Cuba. Store shelves are already going empty and violent crime has exploded. Peaceful student demonstrations are now being put down with bullets. This latter day Che Guevara can only destroy what has come before, and as all would-be populist dictators will remake something merely flawed into something vile. His supporters, even those breathless ideologues dressed in red, will find that in the years to come their joy in the “dictatorship of the people” will turn to ashes. Utopia is a glittering illusion, a malevolent myth that torments and deludes humanity.


With all of the hard lessons of history before us and with all the evidence that we can uncover about the inevitable catastrophe of totalitarian regimes, we aid and abet and nurture the delusion. Despotism, fascism, communism, socialism, populism and all that will certainly follow them have only one result, come quickly or slowly, they are utter failures and all too often bring misery and ruin. Yet, the delusion returns again and again, garbed in different names, retooled with different moral justifications, seeking to be ever more palatable and becoming ever more insidious. It pops up in the predictable places. In a recent interview with David Yepsen for the Des Moines Register, Hillary Clinton said:


“I was shocked when I heard Iowa and Mississippi have never elected a woman governor, senator or member of congress, there has got to be something at work here…”

I think Iowa poses a special burden or a special obstacle to me because when you look at the numbers, how can Iowa be ranked with Mississippi? That’s not what I see. That’s not the quality. That’s not the communitarianism, that’s not the openness I see in Iowa.”

There is no liberal nuance there, just an off-handed slight of Mississippi. Mississippi is not communitarian; the state is inhabited with a selfish unenlightened people still mired in ignorance and, of course, misogyny. Iowa is much more communitarian. It was an insinuation as narrow-minded and uninformed as it gets. It also revealed a bigotry as ham-fisted as any the left accuses conservatives of harboring. However, she used a word I had not heard before, communitarianism. I had to do some research.


What is communitarianism? The chair of the Institute for Communitarian Policy Studies defines it:


“Communitarians believe with America’s Founding Fathers that it is possible to build the good society based upon the core values of the American people as defined by the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. The values that define the American community include the belief that the society should provide its citizens with equality of opportunity, material well-being and the opportunity for individual self-fulfillment, and that it should operate on the principles of fairness, justice and compassion.”

Communitarianism springs from the recognition that the human being is by nature a social animal as well as an individual with a desire for autonomy. Communitarians recognize that a healthy society must have a correct balance between individual autonomy and social cohesion. Much recent thinking has focused on an assumed conflict between the rights of the individual and the responsibilities of the government. When you put "community" back into the equation, you find that the apparent conflict between the individual and the government can be resolved by public policies that are consistent with core American values and work to the benefit of all members of our society.” – A Message from the Institute Chairman, Norton Garfinkle, Chairman, George Washington University, Institute for Communitarian Policy Studies.


Sounds harmless, though muddled and imprecise; “a healthy society must have a correct balance between individual autonomy and social cohesion” and “apparent conflict between the individual and the government can be resolved by public policies that are consistent with core American values.” Where have we heard this language before? I had to dig deeper. I was in for a surprise. If you go to the George Washington University Institute for Communitarian Policy Studies site, you find a preamble outlining what communitarians believe followed by a long list of endorsers. The preamble is revealing. Communitarianism is a social and political philosophy for a new American society, a “correction” of our current “flawed” constitutional democracy. Apparently, we are a terrible mess and need fixing. Here are some excerpts that give us some insight into a communitarian vision for our future.


“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.”


“The exclusive pursuit of private interest erodes the network of social environments on which we all depend, and is destructive to our shared experiment in democratic self-government. For these reasons, we hold that the rights of individuals cannot long be preserved without a communitarian perspective.”


“Communitarians are not majoritarians. The success of the democratic experiment in ordered liberty (rather than unlimited license) depends, not on fiat or force, but on building shared values, habits and practices that assure respect for one another's rights and regular fulfillment of personal, civic and collective responsibilities.”

“For a community to be truly responsive—not only to an elite group, a minority or even the majority, but to all its members and all their basic human needs—it will have to develop moral values which meet the following criteria: they must be nondiscriminatory and applied equally to all members; they must be generalizable, justified in terms that are accessible and understandable: e.g., instead of claims based upon individual or group desires, citizens would draw on a common definition of justice; and, they must incorporate the full range of legitimate needs and values rather than focusing on any one category, be it individualism, autonomy, interpersonal caring or social justice.”

“The fear that our children will be "brainwashed" by a few educators is farfetched. On the contrary, to silence the schools in moral matters simply means that the youngsters are left exposed to all other voices and values but those of their educators. For, one way or another, moral education does take place in schools. The only question is whether schools and teachers will passively stand by, or take an active and responsible role.”


“A person who is completely private is lost to civic life. 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.”


“The Second Amendment, behind which the NRA hides, is subject to a variety of interpretations, but the Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled, for over a hundred years, that it does not prevent laws that bar guns. We join with those who read the Second Amendment the way it was written, as a communitarian clause, calling for community militias, not individual gun slingers.”


In communitarianism, majority rule, private enterprises and individual rights are replaced with the public interest and communalism. The communitarian community is the essential component to success in our “experiment with democracy.” Its citizens participate, they establish unity and work for the shared goals of the community. What is not clear is what the community in this improved democracy will look like. Communitarians think our system needs an “intervention,” we need to build a national “consensus.” From the preamble, I can surmise that our ethics need improvement also. Our children need a moral education from their teachers as the parents have neglected it. They will define what that morality is.


What lurks between the blurry lines they have so carefully crafted? Except for their clear contempt for the NRA, they seem to think Americans are too individualist, yet also too “majoritarian.” Two thirds of our citizen’s feel alienated from the “polity.” One must assume they have called two thirds of us to find that tidbit. I doubt two thirds of America knows what “polity” means, or cares. Nor should they, it is a word used by academics in their most incomprehensible papers and tracts. Our communitarian friends are fond of obscure words such as “normless” and “generalizable” and “particularism.” It is the language of elites not meant for commons. But they are clever with their use of words and patriotic images, always referring to the Constitution, The Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence; always claiming to be spiritually aligned with the founding fathers, but between the symbolism-laden phrases is the truth, half revealed. America must be revoked, redefined and remade.


So, it is understandable that most of the endorsers of the communitarian preamble are academics. A good portion of them are life-long academics, meaning a career that went from undergraduate to graduate to doctorate without ever leaving the rarified air of the university. Their lists of accolades are long, their papers and books voluminous, their intellectual bona fides are solid.

Yet how many of these visionaries have ever met a payroll, run a business or built a house? How many have answered the call as a volunteer firefighter, pounded the pavement for votes for elected office or sat on a county commission? Few have served in the military or gone in harm’s way in the service of their country. Fewer still have contributed to a potluck at their neighborhood church or VFW or attended a town hall meeting about sewers and streetlights. Few seem to have actually participated in America and know her people.


Those of us who build, maintain and defend this nation are transparent to them. They do not understand that much of what they propose about citizenship and community already exists, and the things they wish to change are a large part of our success. Their America is one filled with trouble, a nasty greedy place, with ignorant and petty citizens, a dingy stereotype wracked with injustice, desperately in need of their enlightened rescue. They have lost what they call their “connectedness” and assume that we have also.


The greater number of endorsers to the preamble is from the political left, some from the far left and some are more centrist, but overwhelmingly they represent the ideological imbalance of academia where ideas like communitarianism are born. Many are defined by their criticisms of all things American. Theirs is the community that so easily embraced dictators such Ho Chi Min and Pol Pot, idolizes Chavez and Castro and legitimized terrorists like Yasser Arafat. Theirs is the community that coddles frauds like Ward Churchill, Michael Moore and Noam Chomsky. These people would rewrite our constitution, rearrange our institutions and redefine who we are with their vision of social justice.


The America they see is a crude parody of how the American citizen lives and what we believe. Where we find success, they see failure. Where we are generous, they call us selfish. Where we claim prosperity, they call it poverty. Where we feel pride, they accuse us of arrogance. They are convinced that what is wrong with America is greater than what is right. In the echo chamber of academia, history is twisted and the truth torn, they reinvent what perpetually fails. A new utopian delusion is born to vex us.


At a confidential location in Seattle a month or so ago, Hillary Clinton rallied one hundred credulous liberal wealthy with the pure rhetoric of her campaign, that version of her public pandering purified to its ideological foundations. Who knows how much money flows into her campaign coffers from these influential post-modern leftists or how it will be funneled, concealed and laundered away from the public eye. No cameras or recorders were allowed while the anointed rich munched on expensive hors d’oeuvres. No press was there; as ideological bedfellows, they allow themselves to be manipulated along with the rest of the liberal faithful. Hillary is a great speaker when she is in the warm embrace of the socialist left. She knows that what she has to say in their back rooms will not go over well with your average Mom and Pop. No matter, in her eyes, the public is stupid and shortsighted, and does not realize the enlightened leadership of Hillary will pull them out of this terrible mess called America. Hillary slips though, every once in awhile, and just enough to remind those that are paying attention where her ideological roots go and how deep. Communitarianism is now part of her lexicon. It is a soft “ism,” one that promises utopia with an American face, within American institutions, within a national consensus. If it takes hold, it will end as all these delusions inevitably do, very, very badly.