Recently I've been receiving in my campus mail box information from The Communitarian Network, founded by Amitai Etzioni and others. Who are the communitarians? The following is from their website:
In the late 1980s, a growing number of academicians and social commentators began to notice a breakdown in the moral fabric of society. Attributing this condition to an excessive emphasis on individualism in the public sphere, they recognized the need for a social philosophy that at once protected individual rights and attended to corresponding responsibilities to the community. Transcending the stalemate between left and right, this new "responsive communitarian" philosophy articulated a middle way between the politics of radical individualism and excessive statism.
Its founding document is the Responsive Communitarian Platform, which emphasizes, among other things, the following:
A communitarian perspective recognizes that the preservation of individual liberty depends on the active maintenance of the institutions of civil society where citizens learn respect for others as well as self-respect; where we acquire a lively sense of our personal and civic responsibilities, along with an appreciation of our own rights and the rights of others; where we develop the skills of self-government as well as the habit of governing ourselves, and learn to serve others -- not just self.
The primary argument of the communitarians is against a fragmenting individualism that too easily emphasizes rights at the expense of responsibilities. Their quarterly journal is, appropriately enough, called The Responsive Community: Rights and Responsibilities.
Etzioni runs his own weblog, which tackles some of the more weighty issues of the day, including the same-sex marriage controversy.
The communitarians bear watching. I find myself in considerable sympathy with their aims. Yet I wonder whether their approach really constitutes a genuine alternative to the predominant liberalism of North America or whether it represents little more than a modification of liberalism while maintaining liberal first principles. It is not immediately apparent that they are working with a normative approach that is sufficiently different from the liberalism whose effects they wish to combat.