Balancing Individualism and Communitarianism

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A. Allen Butcher:

"Much is being said about values today by the media, by government, by religious groups, by social organizations and others. Conservative rhetoric challenges the teaching of "moral relativism" as a cause of social decay, while liberal litanies of cultural demise decry the individual's focus upon what Gregory Bateson termed the "skin encapsulated ego." Note that there is a level of agreement in the views espoused by these two cultural poles. Focusing upon this common concern about the excess of individualism in our society can provide a foundation for a consensus, upon which a program of advocacy for communitarian values may be built.

To successfully advance intentional community it is important to not permit the debate to be defined as the individual versus society, or vice versa, but rather to advance the anthropologist Paul Radin's preference that".. .the individual and the group .. . resist submergence of one by the other" (Arthur Morgan, Guidebook for Intentional Communities, Community Service, Inc., 1988).

A dynamic balance between individual and society is the goal, encouraged in the local community by its provision of a human scale, knowable society in which individuals have reflected to them, and recognize, the importance of their personal roles. The community is comprised of a range of different types of families, always changing with the lifecycles of birth, growth, new births and deaths.

Through all this the local community seeks to maintain itself as an ongoing entity, providing a fixed context against which to measure the changes in our personal microcosms, and of the ever quickening and often unsettling changes in the vast, global culture beyond the community. Through first identifying just what communitarian values are, then how they relate to the issues of the day, a basic strategy can be developed for creating a community-building industry. And we may not be as far from this ideal as it may seem."