The history of 'community' as a political concept has tended increasingly to emphasize 'consensus' as essential to community, even though the original Greek 'polis' was a contested public sphere.
- Humans are by nature political animals, and so political history = natural history; hence, Aristotle presents his 'ethics' and 'politics' as a kind of comparative history of constitutions
- We are distinguished by language use, which enables forms of communication and community-building unknown to lesser animals
- The Natural Law tradition distills this point in terms of our respect for natural law
- Kant takes the divine element away but leaves largely the same picture: we are inherently self-legislative
Historical peculiarities of Aristotle's 'community'
- It was really closer to a constitutional republic than, say, an ethnic community; stress on individual freedom as necessary for genuine political participation
- This reflects Aristotle's general metaphysics: all essences are potentials for doing things, and so to say we're political means that we have the capacity to construct communities
- Political participation requires freedom from economic considerations; hence, approval of slavery, etc.
- However, economic privilege is a mark of managerial competence not hereditary entitlement: hence, wealth regularly redistributed and slaves freed; only women permanently out of politics
Although the Greek city-states were relatively small and stable, larger and more diverse states raised new problems of community-building: 'citizenship'
- Wealth can be subversive, if not tied to long-term local investment: hence, suspicion of the loyalties of merchants and preference for a property requirement
Is there need for political education or some other test of citizenship before political participation is granted?
- The Role of Rhetoric in Machiavelli
- The Role of Science in Francis Bacon
The artificial character of communities, though implicit in Aristotle, brought out clearly in Harrington, Paine and other democratic republicans of 17th and 18th centuries
- Communities consist of free individuals who agree to have their actions bound by a set of laws
- This mentality influenced the American and French Revolutions
Secondary community-building activities: i.e. ones licensed but not enforced by the laws
- De Tocqueville argued that the genius of US democracy was in the freedom the laws allowed for people to form their own 'associations', such as churches and clubs, that enabled them to pursue their common interests without state interference
- We now call this 'social capitalization' (Robert Putnam)
- Charles Taylor goes one step further: common cultural and ethnic identity emerges as a long-term narrative consequence of these associations
- However, these identities may become reified, and hence detached from the original constitutional principles that maintain them -- divisive 'identity politics'
- The other type of reification (criticized by Alasdair MacIntyre) is to treat individual freedom as untied to requirements of virtuous participation in the community -- i.e. anti-politics
Totalitarianism as a problem for communitarianism
- Rousseau introduced the idea of the 'general will', which the laws are supposed to reflect
- His model was Calvinist theocracy in his hometown, Geneva, where if you did not abide by the same spiritual principles, you were invited to leave
- Despite this rather authoritarian cast to his theory, Rousseau helped inspire the French Revolution because he gave everyone the right to form their own like-minded communities
- Rousseau thus did not think that deviants needed to be changed, just expelled
- To allow this expulsion to have positive consequences -- i.e. you were leaving only one particular society not humanity as such -- communities had to be small with limited jurisdiction
- In the 19th century, Rousseauian principles survived in anarchist-communist ideology, but in the 20th century they got incorporated into large nation-states as totalitarianism
- E.g. Nazi law based on Carl Schmitt's 'political theology': community boundaries defined by common foes
- Hannah Arendt points out this regime is democratic but lacks justice because individuals so submerged in the general will that no one takes responsibility for state atrocities (e.g. Eichmann)
- Thus, in this extreme case, individuals defined in the law only as members of a community with the sole obligation of conformity
Taking the artifactual character of communities seriously
- Arendt followed the Greeks in thinking that non-conformity was a virtue in political participation
- Non-conformity draws attention to the constructed and hence open-ended nature of communities -- there are always alternative futures
- Unlike the Nazis, there is no communal destiny, only reversible social experiments.
- Roberto Unger, founder of the Critical Legal Studies movement, has developed this point most fully in the context of deconstructing the law
Unger's Critical Legal Studies
- Heir of an important Brazilian political family and youngest full professor of law in Harvard
- Critical of liberalism because it stresses rights but not obligations, largely because liberalism takes for granted that individuals have clearly defined interests that don't change in interaction with others.
- 'Solidarity' is meant to suggest that people satisfy themselves through mutually desired forms of interaction that are maintained by 'passion', not by filling certain pre-existing roles in social structures: 'I want you to want me' = recipe for community life.
- Thus, this is a radically anti-functionalist and even anti-Marxist account of political life
- The 'determinacy' of the law is simply the result of frozen forms of interaction that have lost much of their passionate attachment; opportunities to renew the life of the law not only by enacting new laws but enforcing them differently.
NEXT WEEK'S SEMINAR TOPIC:
How would you characterize the relationship between political liberalism and legal positivism?