What is communitarianism?

Meaning of Communitarianism

Communitarianism is a theoretical current that emerged during the 1980s and aims to rescue the importance of the idea of ​​community (especially in discussions about the philosophical foundations of politics and ethics).

This movement occurs mainly in the United States and its main theorists are Michael Sandel, Michael Walzer, Alasdair MacIntyre and Charles Taylor.

Communitarianism is very present in the discussions about the different principles that govern justice. Appearing in the post-Cold War context, it seeks to counterpoint the heightened individualism present in liberal thought.

However, in no way does communitarianism break with liberalism, being only a critical attempt to restore it by promoting the interests of the community.

Communitarian Thought

Community thought is quite diverse and is divided into two large groups. On one side, we have conservative communitarians , who cultivate a nostalgic tone and lament the decline of the community.

On the other hand, we have progressive communitarians , who believe that it is possible to restore collective bonds for the emergence of a new political format of society.

In common, the different aspects criticize some aspects of the liberal way of conceiving society and justice .

Liberalism sees the individual as endowed with rationality and autonomy , a subject who makes his decisions rationally, regardless of the context in which he lives, and who must be judged by the State without taking into account the specificities of the environment in which he was socialized .

This abstract individual must have his freedom respected and understood as the possibility of assuming only the commitments that he previously and individually agreed upon.

It seems like a vague debate, but it is at the heart of controversial issues of our time, such as the application of affirmative action, the practice of euthanasia and the legalization of abortion.

If we are autonomous individuals with freedom under our bodies, euthanasia and abortion should be decriminalized practices. If we are not committed to the community , but only to ourselves, there is no justification for affirmative action or the need to care for others.

For communitarians, this vision is weak because it puts in the background the influence that the environment in which we live has on us. Individuals are not abstract beings who act only according to reason.

What we are is the result of our history, of what our ancestors made of us. Our opportunities and restrictions are also defined by where we were born and certain commitments to those around us.

Communitarianism and Liberalism

Communitarianism accuses liberal thought of neglecting the role of collectives in political life, leaving the public sphere in the background. It is no coincidence that our legal system , strongly based on liberal paradigms, has difficulty dealing with cases involving collective interests or damages.

Inspired by Aristotle’s discussion of ethics , communitarianism advocates a conception of justice that is based on the values ​​cultivated collectively by a community.

The set of principles that community defines as good, will define what it considers fair or unfair. It seems like a simple change, but it would make a big difference if put into practice. Individual interests and responsibilities would overlap among community members .

According to Sandel, reparation policies, such as the compensation paid by the German state to holocaust survivors, are an example of communitarianism , when society assumes collective responsibility for its actions, strengthening its commitment to the collective to which it belongs.

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