Monday, August 11, 2003

For a while, I've been trying to figure out how to explain why Amitai Etzioni's brand of communitarianism gives me the creeps. Fortunately, Daniel Davies has saved me the trouble:

I seem to remember from university days that "communitarianism" as set out in Mulhall and Swift's textbook "Liberals and Communitarians", was sort of a last gasp of the academic soft left at preserving a space for a normal welfare state from the attacks of Nozickian libertarians on one flank and the Scruton-Taylor-MacIntyre axis of conservatism on the other. It was sort of appealing to me then in a faut de mieux kind of way. But I was always suspicious of it, not least because I happened to grow up in one of the small idealised in-and-out-of-each-others'-doors "communities" that the communitarian theorists went on about, and thus knew that it was bloody horrible. Communitarianism always had a nasty authoritarian streak (lots of people would consider Macintyre and Taylor to be communitarians) and in Etzioni, that illiberality seems to reach a point of equilibrium.

Which is not to say he's an actual authoritarian; that's not true. But he's in favour of "civil liberties" which roughly translates as a staunch defender of the freedom to live an utterly conventional life. Someone who appears to regard the warnings against the stifling effect on liberty of social stigma in Mill's "On Liberty" as an instruction manual. Basically, if you think of a headmaster's lecture on how he's not angry, but very disappointed, at the way in which some unruly elements have chosen to take advantage of his good nature and spoil it for everyone? Etzioni has turned that into a political philosophy. He's certainly not evil, just extremely irritating, and far, far too keen on telling other people what they ought to be doing.

Which is about how I react to the various attempts I've seen (here's the latest) to define some sort of "blogger's code of ethics". For instance, it's one thing to say that, say, "hat-tipping" to the blog where you found something is good manners and will win you friends. It's another to say that just posting a quick squib to the ultimate source is somehow "unethical" -- which carries the implication that if you got something off a blog, but lose track of which (as occasionally happens to me) your only "ethical" course of action is to refrain from posting it entirely. How is the "community" served by that?

As a sidelight on the whole "community" issue, it's interesting to note that D-squared didn't feel comfortable posting this on crooked timber, the mostly-academic group blog that he's joined lately, because some of the people there take Etzioni much more seriously than he does. Which shows how community pressures can stifle useful discussion -- well, I think it's useful, anyway. I've thought occasionally about trying to set up or join some sort of a group blog, but so far, it's worries about things like this which have kept me solo. Though I have a feeling that any group blog I felt comfortable joining would wind up being the electronic equivalent of Mycroft Holmes's Diogenes club, which would ease the whole question of social pressures somewhat...


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