Looking Backward

Looking Backward: A Critical Appraisal of Communitarian Thought

Derek L. Phillips
Copyright Date: 1993
Pages: 258
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7zvz77
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    Looking Backward
    Book Description:

    When social reformers blame the current ills of Western culture on the loss of community, they often evoke an ideal past in which societies were characterized by shared values, respect for tradition, commitment to the common good, and similar attributes. Communitarians assert that community was prominent in the past, and argue that reclaiming the role community formerly played is necessary to counter the negative effects of individualism and liberal thinking. Considering the relevance of community for our moral and political life today, Derek Phillips offers the first thorough critique of the historical, often nostalgic, claims that underlie dominant versions of communitarian philosophy.

    Originally published in 1995.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6349-5
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 3-9)

    We are always dreaming, it seems, of community. For almost everyone, the wordcommunityhas a very positive connotation indeed. It evokes images of personal relationships characterized by warmth, care, and understanding; of shared values and moral commitments; of social cohesion and solidarity; of continuity in time and place. But community is no more. Sociologists and other academic experts have written volumes about the disappearance, decline, erosion, and eclipse of community. Its loss is widely mourned.

    The longing for community is today widespread, and a return to community is often seen as a solution for the ills of modern society:...

  5. Chapter 1 UNCOVERING THE COMMUNITARIAN IDEAL
    (pp. 10-23)

    MacIntyre, Sandel, Taylor, Bellah and his collaborators, and many other writers advocate community as a normative ideal. Yet, only the last-named specify what they intend by the term. It is important, then, to examine carefully what these different communitarians have to say about the attributes of community. For there seem to be some features that are basic in the conceptions set forth by the various communitarian writers. My interest is to distill a definition of community from the specific characteristics that communitarian scholars—either implicitly or explicitly—include as central to the notion of community. Thus, I will examine their...

  6. Chapter 2 ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA
    (pp. 24-60)

    According to many communitarian thinkers, community was prominent in the critical period of America’s founding. At the local level, there were close personal ties among people, a general concern for one’s neighbors, and a sense of responsibility for their welfare. At the national level, there was a strong sense of shared purpose that helped to shape a common life. The founding fathers, we are told, were part of a republican tradition that had its earliest roots in Aristotle’s Politics.

    These communitarians draw on the work of several prominent historians who posit the omnipresence of classical republicanism or civic humanism in...

  7. Chapter 3 THE COMMUNITARIAN IDEAL AND THE AMERICAN REALITY
    (pp. 61-80)

    As I noted at the beginning of chapter 2, communitarian writers give considerable attention to the prominence of community in the period of America’s founding. Many of their claims are based on the work of those historians who emphasize the influence of the republican tradition during the revolutionary and constitutional periods.

    Although this is also true for Bellah and his collaborators, there is much in the presentation ofHabits of the Heartthat resembles the descriptions offered by Tocqueville a century later. He stated that equality of condition and a homogeneity of background, values, and habits of the heart were...

  8. Chapter 4 LIFE IN THE MIDDLE AGES: AN OVERVIEW
    (pp. 81-104)

    Like the classical polis, writes Maclntyre, the medieval kingdom was a community in which men “in company pursuethehuman good.”¹ Medieval society appeals greatly to Maclntyre, for he sees the Middle Ages as a period when morality was in good order in the community. Medieval society also provided a point of reference for many of the major nineteenth-century social theorists. Comte, Weber, Simmel, and Durkheim all contrasted the social structure of the modern nation-state with what existed in the Middle Ages.² “The rediscovery of medievalism—its institutions, values, themes, and structures,” writes Robert Nisbet, “is one of the significant...

  9. Chapter 5 THE COMMUNITARIAN IDEAL AND THE MEDIEVAL REALITY
    (pp. 105-121)

    Having considered the social structure in medieval Europe at some length in the previous chapter, I can be brief in discussing the extent of community as regards the elements in the communitarians’ normative ideal: a common territory, a common history and shared values, political participation, and a high degree of social solidarity. My focus will continue to be on the High Middle Ages.

    Given the doctrine of the three orders discussed earlier, it cannot be expected that an accurate picture of medieval Europe will closely resemble the description set forth by Tönnies and apparently still accepted by many social scientists....

  10. Chapter 6 COMMUNITY AND THE GOOD LIFE IN CLASSICAL ATHENS
    (pp. 122-148)

    For some communitarian scholars today, the classical tradition as represented by Aristotle is important asthemode of moral thought opposed to modern liberalism. This is especially the case for Alasdair Maclntyre. While modern liberalism can be characterized by the thesis that questions about the good life of man are undecidable, says Maclntyre, Aristotelian thought is explicitly concerned with thegood of life for man¹ Like other communitarian writers, Maclntyre sees liberalism as characteristic of modernity more generally. “If a premodern view of morals and politics is to be vindicated against modernity,” he writes, “it will be insomething like...

  11. Chapter 7 LEARNING FROM HISTORY
    (pp. 149-174)

    Most thinking about community, as Thomas Bender points out, assumes a rather simple and direct relationship between past and present. “In the past, there was community; in the present it has been (or is being) lost.”¹ As noted earlier, community has been an important topic in sociology from its beginning. Nineteenth-century social theorists often compared those communal forms of association that they saw as characteristic of the past with their absence in the modern world. Continuing to the present, the disappearance of community has been a central theme in sociology. More recently, of course, moral philosophers, political theorists, and scholars...

  12. Chapter 8 A LIBERAL RESPONSE TO COMMUNITARIAN THOUGHT
    (pp. 175-196)

    Communitarian thinkers use the historical thesis that community was sustained in earlier historical periods to support their moral and political theories. Much of the impact of their writings rests, in fact, on their depictions of the communal world of the past. Communitarians specify what is morally desirable, and the sorts of relations and social arrangements that ought to be dominant in contemporary societies, by appealing to the past as the source of their moral ideals. Tönnies and other nineteenth-century social theorists sometimes did the same. But in their writings, the moral dimension is much less explicit than with communitarian thinkers...

  13. NOTES
    (pp. 197-226)
  14. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 227-242)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 243-248)