Gemeinschaft Without Mussolini

"Modern society acknowledges no neighbor."

Separate thinkers have often thought the same thoughts when the time was ripe. The same needs will be felt, or the same things will be perceived wrong by sociologists in California and philosophers in the Midwest. Perhaps this means our minds are so social that a sense of alienation, an inkling of disorder, a sag in the general quality of life sets off similar alarms in thinkers around the country. And that truth, if it is one, is a major element of the thought ripening now: We are social creatures who cannot flourish without traditions, common institutions, and each other. Contrary to what the existentialists say, we require social identities, while too much individualism makes us miserable and alienated. This is the New Communitarianism in American social thought, a theme of countless essays and at least a dozen books published in the past few years, including John McDermott's Streams of Experience.

This renewed appreciation of the "organic" nature of society can make conservatives find virtues in Marx—it is conservatives and not liberals who have recently talked loudly about our sociality, and protested if liberals claimed exclusive interest in the "community." Marx did have some funny, 19th-century economic ideas, but they can be politely ignored. The American left selects...

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