Wednesday 1 July 2009

A new ideological map?

As Sunder has pointed out, ideas are breaking out all over the place at the moment.

As the ship of New Labour tilts precariously in the waters, and the Conservatives struggle to define what they stand for other than a change of personalities at the top, various attempts are being made to define a new politics to fill the void.

This post makes a stab at trying to map the new ideological terrain that is opening up. Needless to say, ideological positions are fluid and imprecise things, and any effort of this kind is going to risk some oversimplification. In addition, by no means all interesting thinking going on at the moment can be fitted into categories like those I am about to use. But, caveats aside, here goes…

I’ll start by describing four ideological positions that seem to be emerging. I will then say a little about the overlap and differences between them.

Two republicanisms, two communitarianisms

Centre republicanism

Basic idea: ‘The task of progressive politics is to radically disperse power and opportunity. This requires a restructuring of the state in a much more decentralised direction; individual empowerment in public services; a wider distribution of assets; and a stronger policy of protecting – indeed, expanding – civil liberties and lifestyle freedom. The left should get over its fixation on high taxation of labour income and put more emphasis on taxing unearned wealth and environmental bads.’

Supporters: Richard Reeves, Philip Collins.

Guiding Spirits: John Stuart Mill, Thomas Paine.

Texts: The Liberal Republic.

Least likely to say: ‘The man in Whitehall really does know best.’

Left republicanism

Basic idea: ‘The task of progressive politics is to radically disperse power and opportunity and to rebuild a deliberative public sphere. This requires restructuring the state in a way that brings individuals into more direct participation in decision-making, e.g., through measures of decentralization and collective co-production. It requires resituating Labour politics in the context of a wider grass-roots social movement politics. It also requires a new politics of ownership, one that seeks both to widen individual asset ownership and democratize the control of capital, e.g., through new social pension funds.’

Supporters: yours truly. (Yes, I am going to blow my own trumpet!)

Guiding Spirits: Thomas Paine, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, John Rawls. (Also considered useful to quote Barack Obama at opportune moments.)

Texts: Building a Citizen Society.

Least likely to say: ‘The police did a fantastic job of policing the G20 protests.’

Left communitarianism

Basic idea: ‘The task of progressive politics is to fill the moral vacuum of neo-liberalism. To this end, we must articulate a shared account of the good and promote a sense of community based on a recognition of how we are all interdependent in attaining this good – indeed, realizing our interdependency – fellowship – is an integral part of the good. In policy terms, this implies a reassertion of the importance of economic equality and traditional collective action, albeit perhaps with a stronger role than in the past for civil society and forms of solidarity and mutuality that are not mediated through the state. The market must be kept firmly in its place, which is not in the public sector.’

Supporters: Jon Cruddas, Jonathan Rutherford, possibly Madeleine Bunting, Neal Lawson.

Guiding Spirits: R.H. Tawney, Raymond Williams, Charles Taylor, Liberation Theology. (Also considered useful to quote Antonio Gramsci at opportune moments.)

Texts: review of The Liberal Republic by Jon Cruddas and Jonathan Rutherford.

Least likely to say: ‘Let’s privatize the Post Office.’

Right communitarianism (aka ‘Red Toryism’, which might or might not be the same as ‘Progressive Conservatism’)

Basic idea: ‘The task of progressive politics – or conservative politics - is to fill the moral vacuum created by a combination of neo-liberalism in the economy and life-style liberalism in society. This requires that we rebuild a strongly moralistic civil society to meet social needs which neither the free market nor the traditional welfare state can meet satisfactorily. To this end, we must build a new political and economic localism. We must ‘recapitalize the poor’ in order to empower them to crawl out from under the welfare state. The welfare state itself must be cut back, with government switching its emphasis radically to assisting independent groups in civil society to carry out welfare functions. State policy will limit market freedoms and will be informed, e.g., in developing a new civil society of welfare, by authoritative accounts of good behaviour. A nihilist liberal politics of arbitrary freedom must be replaced with one of collective morality.’

Supporters: Phillip Blond, possibly Frank Field and David Green (Civitas).

Guiding Spirits: Hilaire Belloc, John Neville Figgis, Helen and Bernard Bosanquet, theology of Radical Orthodoxy, Rerum Novarum.

Texts: 'The Rise of the Red Tories'.

Least likely to say: ‘What a pity the government dropped that plan for supercasinos.’

Overlaps and differences

While it is possible – and necessary – to separate out these ideological perspectives, there is also some degree of apparent overlap between them. In the recent Demos publication, What Next for Labour?, one can find all four of the perspectives within the same covers, implicitly in dialogue with one another. So what are the points of overlap? And where do the perspectives differ?

Restructure the state

All of the four perspectives express a degree of disquiet and criticism of the existing British state and, perhaps, of conventional conceptions of the social democratic state more generally. There is an apparently common language of ‘empowerment’, of giving power ‘back to the people’.

However, the perspectives do not necessarily place the same emphasis on this, and they can disagree strongly on the form which ‘empowerment’ should take. For example, centre republicans see empowerment as centrally about choice mechanisms in the public sector, but this is anathema to left communitarians.

Remoralize society

Three of the perspectives – the two communitarianisms, and left republicanism – share a concern about mores. There is an anxiety, indeed a hostility, to a society with an ethos that is individualistic, consumerist, materialistic. There is a concern to ‘remoralise’ society, to promote a society in which people lead lives that are much more informed by some sense of society’s common good. The centre republicans are criticised by the other perspectives as perhaps being too reconciled to contemporary individualistic mores.

Again, however, there are differences. For the communitarians, left and right, the idea of the common good must be connected to a shared vision of ‘the good life’. For the left republican, the common good should be understood in terms of specifically civic ideals of liberty and equality; the good life is something for individuals to determine – not politics (a point of agreement with the centre republicans).

Bigger role for civil society

Arguably all of the perspectives espouse increasing the role of ‘civil society’ relative to the market and the state. This is linked to the themes of restructuring the state and remoralising society.

However, the perspectives do not necessarily all have in mind the same thing by ‘civil society’ or the same picture of what it is supposed to contribute. In the left perspectives, republican and communitarian, for example, there is more emphasis on civil society as a site of political mobilisation.

All of the perspectives seem receptive to the idea of civil society picking up greater responsibilities in the provision of welfare. But here, too, major disagreements are possible. Left perspectives will see the central state as retaining at the very least a key role as a collective financer of provision, even if production is sometimes transferred to the third sector. Right communitarianism might not be comfortable with that.

Spreading asset ownership

Three of the four perspectives – the two republicanisms and right communitarianism – share a focus on widening asset ownership. This is not something one sees as much focus on in left communitarianism (perhaps the ‘assets agenda’ is seen as a bit too individualistic).

Again, even where there is agreement on the general idea of widening asset ownership, there can be disagreements on the direction of policy. The republican perspectives stress asset ownership as a right. The right communitarians, on the other hand, might be concerned to offer wider access to capital in more conditional ways that promote what they see as pro-social behaviour.


Obviously, this is all very provisional and approximate. But I think the above discussion does provide a framework for making some sense of the current state of debate over the future of 'progressive politics', and for helping to think about the possible strengths and weaknesses, and ambiguities, of the various positions....


Tom said...

I think I span the gap between left republicanism and left communitarianism. I also think a lot of fellow Compassites would, given the emphasis on co-production etc, which we usually cite as alternative, preferable solutions to the need for power dispersal, that is to say, preferable to privatisation and to the (not necessarily adjectival) status quo.

Sunder Katwala said...

What a brilliant and fascinating post.

You dp, I think, pretty fairly typologise a new "liberalisms versus communitarians" debate, and the way in which (in public politics right now, perhaps les in theory, about which I know not much) which does seem somewhat different to the liberalism/communitarianism debate of the early mid-90s, though there are many echoes.

Three questions:

1. However, as you suggest, I suspect it isn't going to be a "versus" debate.

There is a good pinch of liberalism (and sometimes a particular type of social liberalism) mixed in with the Left communitarianism- certainly in terms of politics and a politics of support. Some of this seems to me a post-68 liberal project which is now communitarian, from which tensions may arise.

Personally, I suspect most of the ProgCons will be (substantively as well as tactically) a socially and liberally economic right - with a lot of decentralisation/empowerment thrown in - and that the right communitarians will probably turn out to have rather more in common with traditional conservatism (and some of the left communitarians) rather more than the tory modernisers.

2. Who else is on the park? Are the other groups relatively familiar, or are there any new clusters?

There might be one group around relatively communitarian 'reciprocity social democrats' who are less rooted in market scepticism as their way into it than your left communitarians.

3. Related: It would be fascinating to flesh out how the four tendencies map onto a few major policy controversies: whether or not and how far they explain the main positions in play.

_______ said...

What a tremendous post. Nice work.

I genuinly agree with almost all of it.

Basically, Centre Republicanism has a fetish for private property and see's it as the best way to creating liberty for all, by way of education voucher's and healthcare budgets. This is unenlightened as private property redistributes power from labour to capital, and creates an even more proliterianized proliteriate. It lower's the quality of public services, takes away the rights in public services, and punishes individuals who are basically unlucky/disabled/slow-learners/genetically unfortuante. It is an unhumaine ideology that sees humans as merley rational economic man.

Left (democratic) Republicanism wants to rebuild the mechanisms of the human family/hunter gatherer collective at the level of society. Through democracy, at various geographic levels, in governance and public services, it creates a welfare state that is free at the point of need, yet more accountable to citizens. But it doesn't want democracy in areas where those who shout the loudest always win. Democratic republicanism should support Citizen Scientist (An NHS-University initiative being trialled where citizens have a close relationship with their doctor and are given equipment to record medical and dietry etc information about their lives, and send it back to the doctor, for their own good, and to collectively find cures and preventions for diseases for society).

Democratic Republicans want a people's republic, decided by the citizens alone, and not a religion or dictat. They want a republic with mechanisms that are similar to the mechanisms to the ideal hunter gatherer society (primitive communism)... of muilt-layer democracy, co-op ownership of assets and parts of public services, legal rights and a constitution, and economic egalitarianism to end relative poverty. Democratic problems have no problem with the private sector or voluntary sector being sub-contracted to deliver public services, but are strongly against individual vouchers/budgets in almost every area of welfare, except for areas of luxury or where the individual is in control of the demand factors for the services (adult education, luxurious top-ups for social care for the elderly).

Gordon Brown is very close to a Democratic Republican.

_______ said...

Liberal Republicans (Centre Republicans):

Alan Milburn, Anthony Giddens (to a large extent), Richard Reeves, Philip Collins

Democratic Republicans (Left Republicans):

Gordon Brown, Ed Balls, Ed Miliband, Jim Knight, The Co-operative Party, Scientists for Labour,

James Purnell has flirted with Liberal Republicanism, but may well have shifted to Democratic republicanism, as he proved in his resignation letter in the Times, calling for a more open democracy, a more active state and greater regulation. Similarly, Hazel Blears shows signs of liberal republicanism, democratic republicanism and left communitarianism.

I would say Jon Cruddas is both a Democratic republican and a left communitarian at the same time. As is Henning Meyer.

_______ said...

Right Communitarianism, and seeks to replace the welafare state with publicly subsidized unregulated third-sector organizations, out of ideological hatred of the state.

Progressive Conservatism seeks to abolish the welfare state in the long term and replace it with individual philanthropy and community philanthropy, through incorporating such behaviour into the current welfare state, leading to a 'utopian' withering away of the social state and state redistribution. Leaving merley a Libertarian republic with adequate philanthropy by individuals and communities to provide a welfare system. David Cameron said communities could keep open parts of NHS hospitals that were shutting, if the community could pull together the money itself to fund it.

_______ said...

Democratic Republicans are often Internationalists aswell, and seek to create democratic Global institutions and co-operation.

Internationalist Democratic Republicans include Gordon Brown, Angela Merkel, Lord Malloch Brown, Anthony Giddens, Barack Obama, Matthew Taylor, Tony Benn, Brendan Barber, Tony Blair (vaguely), Die Linke, Peter Mandleson (Vaguely), John Cruddas (recently), Henning Mayer, Clare Short, Joseph Stigtzl and more.

_______ said...

On an entirely different note, something worth noting is the contemporary phenomenon of the incentives for private enterprises to co-operate with each other in order to address skills shortages and undertake research and innovation in their industries. With an initial boost of government spending, national skills academies and the new innovation fund are examples of this phenomenon. This happens mainly in the knowledge economy.

Also, many now successful knowledge economy private enterprises started out as worker's co-operatives, including Google and Yahoo.

The Knowledge economy is basically shifting the economy from less of a competitive economy to more of a co-operative economy, in many ways.

Stuart White said...

Thanks all, for these comments. The post is intended to be a rough sketch, and I'm sure it doesn't capture a lot of the nuances.

Various further thoughts:

(1) I'm interested in the 'reciprocity social democrats' idea. Who do you have in mind, Sunder? Maybe this would cover some Fabian work :), and/or maybe perspectives like John Denham's?

(2) I think that if ProgCon ever gets anything like a clear definition, its probably going to look closer to centre republicanism than right communitarianism. The new Demos booklet on democracy by Jonty Oliff Cooper, acting head of their Progressive Conservatism project, seems closer in spirit to this perspective than right communitarianism.

(3) To some extent the differences in perspective might simply reflect differences in ideological starting-points rather than real, underlying differences that will persist as ideas are further discussed. What I call left communitarianism is articulated by people with one set of intellectual influences - perhaps especially the 'culturalist' wing of the 'New Left' - which differ from those which influence left republicanism (at least in my own version of it). The real substantive differences might turn out not to be that significant.

(4) I think there are some interesting links between the contemporary comunitarianisms, as I have called them, and the academic communitarians of the 1980s. Jon Cruddas tends to name check Charles Taylor a lot. Phillip Blond was praising Alistair MacIntyre at an Oxford seminar last week. And Madeleine Bunting was, of course, talking about Michael Sandel in her column this week. But then, as I failed to point out in the post, its important to remember that there were important differences between these academic communitarians. MacIntyre came emphatically to bury liberalism. Taylor came to rescue it. So, as Sunder suggests, the left comunitarian approach might have strong liberal elements in view of the specific communitarian thinkers it looks to.

To be continued....

Jonathan Rutherford said...

Stuart, very good post. A fair picture, although I've never been that taken with communitarianism - at least so I thought - because I think the concept of community has been used in a reductive way and often greatly overplayed as a site of human togetherness, plus the more its disapeared or people have escaped oppressive traditional forms of it the more it gets sentimentalised - often on Sunday night TV. I always thought Etzioni was too prescriptive, but maybe he's a different kind of communitarian.

I'd certainly never subscribe to the idea that there is a singular good life so if that's what comes through I'll have to check what I'm saying.

In terms of texts etc for me the best work on interdependency is Norbert Elias The Society of Individuals' which is sociology rather than political philosophy. The social liberal Hobhouse predates him using very similar language. Like Marx's idea of the social individual it is a different conception of the individual to liberalism and one I think nearer lived experience. Nevertheless it is the individual rather than community that has primacy, so elements of liberalism are not excluded. I think Taylor manages this in his book Ethics of Authenticity.

Also I'd go along with a lot of the left republicanism. And on Gramsci - yes a very good person to quote in an opportune moment but I like the idea of the conjuncture, hegemony, war of position etc. As you say in your comment there also exists the influence of a cultural politics, New Left, Eurocommunist tradition.

So, interesting times.

Stuart White said...

Jonathan: many thanks for this. As you know, I'm not trying to pigeon-hole you or trying to lock you up in an interpretive box called 'communitarianism'. But I do sense some sort of difference between the perspective you and Jon Cruddas have been developing and what I think of as the left republican perspective - though clearly there's a lot of overlap. I sense the difference has something to do with 'liberalism' and/or whether political visions should be about articulating ideals of the good life, but I'm not sure quite how to characterise it. (I take the point that you're not proposing a politics of the good life in the singular, but then I'm not sure how your perspective differs from a liberal one....)

Stuart White said...

Jonathan: many thanks for this. As you know, I'm not trying to pigeon-hole you or trying to lock you up in an interpretive box called 'communitarianism'. But I do sense some sort of difference between the perspective you and Jon Cruddas have been developing and what I think of as the left republican perspective - though clearly there's a lot of overlap. I sense the difference has something to do with 'liberalism' and/or whether political visions should be about articulating ideals of the good life, but I'm not sure quite how to characterise it. (I take the point that you're not proposing a politics of the good life in the singular, but then I'm not sure how your perspective differs from a liberal one....)

Sunder Katwala said...


Great tutorial this too.

Yes, I did have John Denham in mind as a 'reciprocity social democrats'. I think Gordon Brown may also belong in this group of 'fair chances and fair rules'. One academic reference point might be David Miller. Perhaps some Walzer here too (I stress I am no expert), esp in that Denham's 'fairness code' is about reflecting the strong moral norms and intuitions which are held in society.

Perhaps another group are the 'market egalitarians' - this is Brown and Balls at the Treasury: a politics of supporting economic growth to fund a social democratic politics of redistribution. This has been dominant, and many of your groups are responding to the problems this now has. I think Crosland was broadly here too. (I don't know how far the academic market socialism debates link up with this political strategy).

And I guess that was one egalitarian reaction to Thatcher's inegalitarian 'market communitarianism' of liberal economics and an assertive traditional social agenda. (The Red Tory and left communitarians think the problem was that markets proved trumps.

The liberal right wants social and economic liberalism instead now, while the liberal republicans offer a (more nuanced) defence of markets.

I reckon that is almost everybody who is in the park in current politics, perhaps excepting only the 'pragmatics', who do not know what they think except that it may be rather dangerous to have any ideological framework at all. Perhaps we can all unite against them?

Anonymous said...

Very interesting debate.

I've added my two pence worth here:

And tried to link this debate to the economic situation.

Sunder Katwala said...


Thanks. V. interesting blog, I shall bookmark it


Unknown said...

Excellent piece of rapid-fire political cartography Stuart. I’ve been thinking a lot recently whether where are experiencing (a rather depressing) re-run of the liberal vs. communitarian debate or whether something else is going on. Your categories help clarify that the obvious philosophical difference is the emergence of republicanism as a third term between liberalism and communitarianism

For me, many of the attractions of republicanism stem from how it helps us avoid the undesirable extremes of the liberal-communitarian debate. If a politics of purely individual freedom carries a risk of fragmentation and anomie, a politics of shared values threatens to be oppressive and exclusive. Communitarians attach too much authority to existing social relationships and identities, while (crude) liberal individualists underplay (knowingly or not) their importance.

The promise of republicanism is that it can help create and sustain a political rather than communal notion of identity, common goods and common interests. The republican tradition brings in to sharper focus than any other the problem of human freedom among human beings who are necessarily independent. I think this makes much more effective at dealing with power relationships and difference than left or right communitarian, or liberal positions.

I should declare that I helped Stuart edit the Citizen Society and would broadly sign up to the left republican camp. However, if I were to help pick the left republican fantasy football team I would add Machiavelli, and make him team captain to boot. His understanding of liberty as non-domination is crucial to current republican revival, and his name shows how republicanism predates and shapes both liberal and communitarian positions. .

Unknown said...

Just noticed a very misleading typo - 2nd sentence third para should read "The republican tradition brings in to sharper focus than any other the problem of human freedom among human beings who are necessarily INTERDEPENDENT". Apologies...

Stuart White said...

Thanks, Dan. Perhaps its not so surprising - given that we co-edited a book on the subject - that I very much agree with your argument about republicanism being a promising third way, as it were, between liberalism and communitarianism....

I'm not so keen on Machiavelli - always seems to me that freedom is a bit incidental for him to the really important business of military glory....But he's clearly a huge influence on the tradition.

Stuart White said...

Thanks Duncan - I need to think more about the core political economy of these perspectives.

Jonathan Rutherford said...

I agree with Dan that these kind of quick exchanges are very useful. Constructive/critical/incisive comments force you to think and argue your case - and find the holes in it. Also I thought Duncan's final comment on his blog sets out the goods:
'To me this feels like ‘Left Republicanism’ or ‘Left Communitarianism’ guiding a Post-Keynesian economic policy.'

_______ said...

Left Communitairianism is a component of Democratic Republicanism.

Centralized Labourism is necessary to maximize worker's Liberty, but Democratic Republicanism should be multi-layered where necessary to maximise citizen's Liberty.

Democratic Republicanism should take note of rich people and special interest groups being able to exploit participatory democracy to drive forward an agenda of the few, and not the many. Universal Internet access should and E-democracy should help to prevent this from happening though.

_______ said...

EDIT: Only a Centralized State can create universal labour laws and rights.

Bruce Smith said...

Our current economic and political crisis has been caused by the naivety of liberal and religious thinking which in turn relates back to the beginning of agriculture ten thousand years ago and the later adoption of money. The naivety was the belief that despite the commodification, or capitalization, of nature it was still possible to rely on the decency of human instincts to promote the common good. Liberty (the Invisible Hand) and Morality (the Magic Hand) would do the job. The chief significance of the Sub-Prime Fiasco is that it has ended that belief although this may not be widely understood as yet. The truth of the matter is that capital provides power and it is part of some human instincts, or natures, to seek more of both regardless of the social dysfunction generated. In reality from a genetic perspective a small percentage of human beings in any society will always have sociopathic tendencies which allow them to do this. This can be moderated by cultural pressures so for example there are less diagnosed sociopaths in Asian countries than Western. Nevertheless, the lesson for the future is that we have to rethink checks and balances to ensure the common good. Top of the list should be the understanding that capital has to be devolved (nature restored if you like) and accompanying this must be the recognition that only the central state can enable this, act as the eternal guarantor of this devolution and be arbitrator, or referee, of any future capital adjustment required. A political philosophy wanting the withering away of the state in these circumstances must be seen as irresponsible.

cornubian said...

Cornwall Forward! an article on the UK democracy blog OurKingdom:

How do parties like Mebyon Kernow fit into your map?

. said...

I'm sorry, but as a political theorist - by training, as well as disposition - I find your typology to be laughable. For example, to describe either John Rawls or Obama as 'left' is disingenuous at best, ignorant at worst.

Please, please, PLEASE can you do some reading before you pontificate about political theory or philosophy in the future. x

Sunder Katwala said...


I think your comment may simply show that political theorists, like economists, do often disagree.

Here on Next Left, where Stuart can be judged on his blogging like the rest of us rather than throwing university titles around, but here is his academic CV and publications list.

I don't think your disagreement about how to characterise Rawls or Obama is because he hasn't done the reading! Being a modest chap, he will no doubt welcome your comment as showing that the widespread view that he is perhaps our best young political theorist is certainly not universally held.

But he told me he is returning to the subject of Rawls soon, so I do hope you will return and flesh out your disagreement.

. said...


I apologise for my previous comment. I recognise that it was inappropriate insofar as it was a vituperative expression of shock rather than a counter-argument.

You are, of course, correct where you imply that interpretation is rooted in subjectivity.

This said, I would not describe either John Rawls or Obama as being "left-wing" in any meaningful sense. Certainly not a European sense. Neither is particularly interested in the redistribution of wealth, nor the reconstruction of liberal democracy. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that neither thinker is, even, especially socially democratic. Indeed, Rawls resisted that label for decades.

If we are to judge Obama by his actions, and Rawls by his commitments to Christianity and theology, it becomes self-evident that neither man can be considered an ally of the contemporary, "pluralist" left.

Of particular interest, to me at least, is Rawls' emphasis on "reason" and restricted deliberation, which I consider to be antithetical to those democratic values that are so essential to the left. Indeed, if one turns one's eyes to Rawls' earlier work - especially his PhD thesis - one finds that, for Rawls at least, a belief in the Christian God is foundational to liberal egalitarianism. Rather like Levinas, he predicates his commitments on the recognition of God's "mark" or "creation" in the tears/countenance of the "other". Personally? I find that to be somewhat disturbing.

Moreover, if we consider Nozick's notorious 'Anarchy, State and Utopia' it is quite possible to begin with the tools that Rawls provides us with - particularly the original position, problematic because no such position can be held to exist if we accept Gadamer as being even a little bit right - and draw very different, dastardly conclusions.

What is more, I was puzzled by the omission of Michael Oakeshott from the list of thinkers that have influenced 'Red Toryism'. This said, I am something of an Oakeshottian myself, though a "Left-Oakeshottian" - in the pattern of Chantal Mouffe. I am aware that my position merits further explanation. I will be providing a delineation of the arguments elsewhere, specifically at my own blogsite...

. said...

P.S. I apologise for these posts, for they might well be a bit hectic and disorganised. I am abroad, and have limited access to the internet.

A note on communitarianism, if it is of any interest:

Communitarianism must be treated with suspicion. Post-structuralist observations regarding the subject - that a subject occupies a multiplicity of positions at any one time - must be duly considered before an endorsement of communitarianism is given. It is quite evident that we cannot, and should not, try to promulgate a set of mores or civic values that are universal insofar as dissent from these values would be considered abhorrent, absurd etc. Communitarianism, in my experience, has much more to do with controlling individuals and fixing "norms" - norms that are often bound to "patriotism" or "Britishness", in our cases, both of which are primordial notions that we are best off without - than it does equality, opportunity and filling moral vacuums.

I cannot support these sorts of "communitarianisms" as long as I am convinced that individuals - though influenced by context, socio-linguistic environments etc. - are free beings, with interests. This has more to do with my commitment to positive liberties and love, however irrational, of existentialism rather than a penchant for right-wing theory.

Perhaps my comments seems dissonant, odd or even misplaced...but it would seem to me that communitarianism obviates the role of the subject/individual, much as libertarianism/laissez-faire capitalism undo the community.

Sunder Katwala said...


Don't worry about it. I thought the first comment was really quite funny, and Stuart can take it, though had it been directed at my amateur attempts at philosophising I might have been more devastated by the critique.

Intelligent disagreement is always welcome. My own view is that a pluralist left should certainly engage with both Obama and Rawls, and I would excommunicate neither.

But this is an argument which can begin again as Stuart will shortly post again on Rawls and current political debate, so do stick around and respond to that when it appears.

I imagine that I may have some dispositional sympathy for a left Oakeshottianism myself, though the appeal sounds as though it might be similar to that of a liberal/constrained soft communitarianism which might avoid the traps you identify.

Mark said...

Can you please post a link to the 'citizen scientist' work? ta.