The Spirit of Community: Rights, Responsibilities, and the Communitarian Agenda
by Amitai Etzioni
Summary written by Conflict Research Consortium Staff
Citation: The Spirit of Community: Rights, Responsibilities, and the Communitarian Agenda, Amitai Etzioni, (New York: Crown Publishers,1993), 323 pp.
Section one addresses the issue of moral reconstruction. During the 1960s many moral traditions, social values and institutions were challenged or rejected. However, a new core of values has not arisen to fill the void. The "moral confusion" left in the wake of the sixties has eroded the "notion of a shared community or public interest" and hence has encouraged fragmentation and conflict within society. Chapter one emphasizes the link between rights and obligations. Chapters two and three focus on the need to revalue children, and the importance of providing a moral education in shared values. Shared values arise from strong communities, and so chapters four and five discuss ways to rebuild local and national communities.
Section two explores this paradox: contemporary Americans have both a "strong sense of entitlement" and a "weak sense of obligation to the local and national community." We claim too many rights while recognizing too few responsibilities. Chapter six suggests a strategy for promoting civil responsibilities while avoiding authoritarian state control, focusing on responsibilities toward public safety and public health. Chapter seven further illustrates this strategy by describing non-legal remedies to the problem of hate speech.
Section three argues that the current political dominance of special interest groups subverts the public interest. Chapter eight diagnoses the situation, and describes the detrimental influence of political action committees (PACs) on the democratic process. Chapter nine outlines a response to the problem, and calls for a massive social movement to implement these reforms. The Communitarian platform is included in appendix.
The Spirit of Community offers both a sweeping re-visioning of contemporary society, and specific strategies for promoting social cohesion and social responsibility.
These essays deal with various aspects of a new, rising field, socio economics. The field is seeking to combine the variables studied by neoclassical economists with those typically studied by other social sciences. The combination is expected to provide a better understanding of economic behavior and the economy as well as society; make more reliable predictions; and be more in line with normative values we seek to uphold. The new field, though, may be less elegant mathematically and possibly less parsimonious than neoclassical economics. Some of my ideas on this subject are included in a previously published book, The Moral Dimension: TowardA New Economics (New York: The Free Press, 1988). They also led to a formation of an international society of several thousand scholars who are interested in the field, the Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics. The essays at hand are in effect grouped. The first two, previously published respectively in the Journal of Economic Psychology and Business Ethics Quarterly, reflect my most recent thinking. They both have a utopian streak that may stand out especially in these days when unfeathered capitalism is the rage. The first points to people, who far from making consuming ever more their life's project, seek a less affiuent way oflife. It examines the psychological foundations and the social consequences of such an approach.