Vital Signs

The Communitarian Warlord

Remember communitarianism?  It was one of those embarrassing fads of the 1990’s, like Furbies, Beanie Babies, and the “Third Way,” a socio-moral movement that was meant to signify all things warm and cuddly.  As articulated in his 1993 book, The Spirit of Community: Rights, Responsibilities and the Communitarian Agenda (1993), and in two sequels, communitarian guru Amitai Etzioni sought to solve the problem of “atomization” and individualism supposedly run rampant by embracing such large, nebulous bromides as “community,” “responsibility,” and “dialogue,” cloaking an essentially neoconservative critique of modern society in the therapeutic jargon of the era.

Bill Clinton left a copy of Etzioni’s book conspicuously on display at his White House office, and Hillary Clinton cited Etzioni in It Takes A Village.  Etzioni fondly recalls that, at a New Year’s Eve party, President Clinton confided, “You are my inspiration”—although for what, he did not say.

That was hardly Etzioni’s first visit to the corridors of power.  He was a senior advisor to President Jimmy Carter, and he is often credited with helping shape the determinedly centrist policy prescriptions of the Democratic Leadership Council.  In the 1990’s, his various attempts to make an impact as a “public intellectual”...

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