Communitarianism and the Emergence of Radical Politics

This article was originally published at Freedom Democrats.

Regarding this post that expressed some discomfort with the my use of the term “communitarianism” in discussing a return of radical politics, I would like to clarify a few points. First, Communitarianism, just as, say, the term libertarianism, can mean different things to different people, so let me take this time to state that by communitarianism, I’m generally not referring to non-propertarian forms of voluntary governance. The disputes between individualist and communitarian anarchists are another thing entirely, totally divorced from any context of political discussions. For the record, however, I will state that I’m a bit of centrist when it comes to these type of intellectual debates; although I take an obvious individualist approach, I nonetheless believe that social orders that have a rich concept of public property(i.e., the commons) better serve the cause of liberty. Now, of course, by public property, I do not mean “collective property,” by which it is meant property that some ruling class defines the limits,duties, etc for access. But my criticisms of, say, noted communitarian Michael Taylor’s Community, Anarchy, and Liberty, is another post for another day, and frankly, that mode of communitarianism, that is, stateless communities, has never been the ire of my keyboard on this site.

The form of communitarianism that does raise my ire is “the community as the State.” Specifically:

I’m referring to (1) the influence of an academic movment that gained prominence in countering the academic treatment of liberal justice by John Rawls, and to a lesser extent, the more radical ideas against any distributive justice by the likes of Robert Nozick (2) the denial of any univeralism, particularly the denial of any negative rights, and that rights, instead, are positive derivations of duties or commitments (3) these duties and commitments are impersonally grounded in cultural institutions (4) legislatures should be accurate reflections of these cultural institutions.

In a sense, communitarianism, in political terms, is a form of “republicanism,” with a heavy reliance on cultural institutions to define the regime of duties, commitments, obligations, from which then flow a regime of rights. Consider this old post from last year, Sign the Divorce Papers, where I criticize Open Left’s 3rd rate pop-communitarian rhetoric regarding liberalism being a “central component of a dominant racial ideology;” in essence, liberalism is just a white man’s construct for social dominance. Now, Steven Kelts, who was fresh off of proclaiming the “Death of Libertarianism” at the time over at The Monkey Cage, took time to comment on my post. Kelts, unlike the 3rd-rate pontificators at Open Left, is actually a 1st rate intellect. Read his comment to my post. He didn’t think much of left-wing libertarianism or counter-culture. Of course, for a communitarian like Kelts, counter-culture is a real problem. Counter-culture represents counter-institutions that fall outside the politically-sanctioned institutions from which our duties, and as a corollary, our rights are supposed to flow. Thus the problem, and hence, the frosty attitude the likes of Kelts may express toward such, even though Kelts is supposed to be, and would consider himself, a “lefty.”

In my post regarding Radical Politics, my reference to politics becoming “more communitarian” as a result of 60s radicalism was not a reference to corporatism per se. Corporatism is the granting of market privedge or monopoly by the State. By communitarian, I meant something different, specifically, the birth of cultural identity politics in the aftermath of Big Government Corporate Liberalism failure and the resultant political fight over the shaping of cultural institutions, which, in large part, superceded the class politics that had originally spawned corporate liberalism. Politics became much more of a cultural war. In the aftermath of 60s radicalism and counter-culture was it now the function of the State to “preserve and protect Christianity as the so-called moral foundation of western civilization” or to instead promote gender and ethnic institutional diversity?

So Republicans, in running for national office, would have to placate evangelical groups(get their approval) before running and the same, likewise, when it came to the Dems, who would have to secure approval from women’s groups, african-american leaders, gay organizations, etc.

So, this is what I mean by left-wing or right-wing communitarianism. However, communitarian politics is largely behind what has steadily spurned a long term trend of voter independence from either party. The term “moving to the center” really refers to politicians from either party distancing themselves from the very cultural idendity groups that they had to secure approval from in the first place to be a viable party candidate.

From a libertarian class analysis perspective, communitarian politics, whether left-wing or right-wing, is a red-herring concerning the public choice incentives that actually drive governance and legislation. That is, the never-ending incentives to create Tullock Auction artificial rents for bidding. That’s why I called the choice between the Dems and the Repubs a Morton’s Fork of sorts.

It’s interesting to actually review the end results of communitarian politics 40 years later. Prayer breakfasts are now a staple of the political class, but popular culture today, nonetheless, makes 60s popular look quaint and conservative. The Nixon Drug War, intended as enforcement against hippie counter-culture “poisoning” the suburban teenage middle class, back fired in the end, sowing the seeds of a black hip-hop counter-culture, born out of that drug war, that influenced white middle class teenage suburban culture 20 years later to an extent that would have horrified Nixon and probably would make his brain implode. Counter-culture, and even pop culture, took on aspects of prison chic.

For the left-wing communitarians, they got their diversified political and cultural institutions, including a prison system, of course, that greatly expanded it’s institutional population and minority ethnic representation, therein.

To anyone not emotionally tied to partisan politics, communitarian politics has run it’s course. Frankly, it’s become a bad joke. It was bad enough having to witness so-called conservatives who viewed the Reno-Clinton “War on Terror” proposed legislative paradigm in the 90s as a means for gun-grabbing, then, suddenly expropriate it in the aftermath of 9-11 as means to beat up on Democrats as unpatriotic. Now, we have to watch Barack Obama expropriate a Republican Health Care plan and turn Democrats and so-called liberals into ardent defenders of an IRS enforced mandate to buy corporate health insurance and to smear anyone who opposes it as racist or sympathizers of Jim Crow. In case anyone has forgotten, choice was a major campaign issue between Obama and Clinton, with Obama even running a “Harry and Louise” ads against HillaryCare at the time. But now, choice is not even a “right-wing talking point;” now it’s all of a sudden a “Jim Crow” talking point.

I would emphasize not to pay much attention to the tripe of the mainstream political pundit class. It’s wrong, it’s been wrong. Let me clue you in: when an extremist like David Frum, the speech architect of “the Axis of Evil” is being protrayed as some rejected voice of moderation by the Beltway elite, I just have to laugh. I wouldn’t put much stock either in what Ed Kilgore has to say, or what the New Republic has to say, recalling the nitwits at the New Republic were shilling for a values voter embrace of Terri Schiavo by the Dem Party back in 2005.

Listen, the Beltway wisdom called the anti-war movement “moonbat,” and proclaimed that if it was perceived as partisan, it would make the Dems unelectable. Well, the visible anti-war movement was in fact, more or less partisan, but it also foreshadowed an independent anti-war trend underneath. The Tea Parties can be called partisan, which they are, but they also likewise underly a legitimate disgust with American politics.

I read the Obama Coalition at the Atlantic. Thomas Edsall’s thesis, similar to mine, is that communitarian politics, that is, the politics that supplanted the FDR coalition, has run it’s course as well. Edsall essentially maintains that a Public Choice economy, one characterized by systemic unemployment, increasing disparity between haves and have nots, opulent benefits of a bureaucratic class, etc is going to revitalize the “FDR coalition.” Essentially, you have an economy where many won’t be able to afford anything without being subsidized, hence the dependency that will force the new FDR realignment along economic class interests.

Now my thesis is that a Public Choice economy is going to shake things up as well, but, contra Edsall, it might be more along the lines of this. While I’m not predicting the return of the guillotine, the radical politics that will emerge will be rooted in the old french class political analysis. Whereas Edsall views the corporatist caste economy signaling a return to 1939, I see it as signaling a return back to 1889. A flaw in Edsall’s prediction is that 21st century is not going to be the American Century. Post WWII Bretton Woods is long dead and gone. The center of Finance Capitalism is moving to Asia. “Financial Reform,” which is really just preserving a capital caste system that will increasingly lose it’s international sphere of influence, actually is the final death knell of the FDR legacy. Historians will look back at TARP, the bailouts, and this “reform” as the end of the American Century. Without the primacy of American Finance Capitalism, there is no FDR legacy to resurrect. Under caste corporatism that loses such a privilege, these “subsidies” to manufacture political coalitions aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on. The talk of “immigration reform” today is going to be supplanted by the talk of “American brain drain” in the future. In time, we will see who is right…

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