"The success of the democratic experiment in ordered liberty (rather than unlimited license) depends not on fiat or force, but on building shared values, habits and practices that assure respect for one another's rights and regular fulfillment of personal, civic, and collective responsibilities. (p.255)"
In the book, he gives many examples of urgent societal problems and possible communitarian solutions. Although I don't agree with all of them in every detail, overall, I think the communitarian philosophy can make an important contribution to restoring the societal fabric which has been so dramatically torn in the past decades.
One idea particularly interests me. Communitarians want to help grow healthy communities. However, they claim that a precondition is that communities are not grown in isolation, but are continuously exposed to the needs and interests of other communities, in order not to become self-centered and turn against others. In other words, they envision supra-communities, communities of communities. Such communities span many different levels, including, of course, the national, but also the global level:
"While it may seem utopian, we believe that in the multiplication of strongly democratic communities around the world lies our best hope for the emergence of a global community that can deal concertedly with matters of general concern to our species as a whole: with war and strife, with violations of basic rights, with environmental degradation, and with the extreme material deprivation that stunts the bodies, minds, and spirits of children (p.266)"
Technology plays an important mediating role in the creation of supra-communities. Especially global communities are almost by definition virtual in nature. A wonderful example of the emergence of a global "proto-community" was the one surrounding the GlobalVote 2004 project "where non-Americans get to vote". The idea was that, since US policies directly affect the interests of so many other countries in the world, non-American citizens should also have the right to vote for the American president. A lot of - predictable - flak of the "mind your own business"-kind emerged. The fascinating thing was that this was exactly what the 113,552 voters from 191 countries around the world thought they were doing!
Of course, this was just a very primitive example of a temporary community which hardly deserves that name, since voters did not get to know each other and did not verbally communicate or interact. Still, more permanent and advanced forms of such virtual political communities can easily be imagined.
Clearly, inter-community communication is a critical success factor for such higher-level communities to emerge. However, many questions can be raised. What does it mean to be a member of such a meta-community? What role do individuals play? Individual roles or as representatives of their communities of origin? Does such a supracommunity have interests of its own, or is it merely an aggregation of the interests of its consituent communities? What happens in case of conflicts between the higher and lower-level communities?
- A. Etzioni (1993), The Spirit of Community: The Reinvention of American Society, Touchstone, New York.