Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Communitarian Blueprint for a "Good Society"

Guy Fawkes, a symbol for opposition to totalitarianism

Sociologist Amitai Etzioni theorizes in his book The New Golden Rule that the best societies are and were those who managed to find balance. He finds that contradictory forces such as order and freedom, individualism and collectivism, tradition and modernity are not really incompatible, but actually complementary and enhancing if both of them appear in adequate doses.

The "widely held notion that in the West: that more freedom is better than less"  is strongly contested because continuous enhancement of freedom ultimately "undermines the social order upon which freedoms are based." One instance of excessive liberty is the American Civil Liberties Union support for the right to produce child pornography. However, Etzioni's opposition to a libertine society does not mean that he sides with traditionalists and social conservatives who "see few areas of behavior which they are willing to leave open to personal and sub-group choice". In this extreme, the Christian Film and Television Commission proposed a legal ban on any movie that has low moral standards, such as those containing "lustful kissing". In this scenario, the Communitarian approach encourages the protection of freedom of speech as long as there are no physical threats and "community-based, rather than state-based, mechanisms" to protect specific morals (unlike conservative morals).

The need for a good government illustrates the need for order
In addition, he also challenges the traditional right-and-left map for organizing political ideas because it puts opposing intellectuals in the same category. How is it that both religious fundamentalists, who favor strict determination of people's lives, and laissez-faire advocates fall under the right-wing denomination? On the other hand, both civil libertarianism and communism are grouped as left-wing ideologies.

Throughout the book, Etzioni provides numerous specific examples as he develops his thesis for the promotion of the abstract concepts of autonomy and order. Here lies another great theory that endorses the need for equilibrium and the condemnation of extremes. Without some degree of order, there are few choices available for libertarians. Without some degree of freedom, there is no value in norms and morals that are forced upon, and not chosen by individuals.

Etzioni, A. (1996). The new golden rule:community and morality in a democratic society. (1 ed., pp. xiii-118). New York,NY: Basic Books.