Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Ideological Dynamics: "Communitarianism"

An "alter ego" of Bill Clinton's and Tony Blair's "Third Way"?
A guide to the political precious "middle ground", coming from the Conservative side?

Communitarianism was "born" in the early 1990s.

The "father" of Communitarianism is Amitai Etzioni, an Israeli-American sociologist.

His ideology emphasizes the importance of a carefully designed balance between rights and responsibilities and autonomy and order in a Society.

Unlike classical liberalism (libertarianism in US terms), Communitarianism emphasizes the role of the community in defining and shaping individuals. Communitarians believe that the value of community is not sufficiently recognized in liberal (US: libertarian) theories of justice.

Ideologically, Communitarianism is characterized as a radical centrist ideology.

What is interesting is that is sometimes leads to leftist ideas on economic issues and conservative ideas on social issues! As opposed to liberal (libertarian) - free market ideas on economic issues and progressive (in European terms) - liberal (in US terms) ideas on social issues?

Political applications of Communitarianism include the polical/policy platforms of Fredrik Reinfeldt's"New Moderates" in Sweden (who are currently governing in coalition with 3 other parties.

Under Reinfeldt's leadership. the Swedish Moderate Party has shifted it policy focus towards tax cuts for low and middle income groups, coupled with less forceful criticism of the Swedish welfare state than his predecessors.

At least the latter, applies to the UK Conservatives' leader David Cameron, whose policy views on the UK's NHS (National Health Service) are quite a departure from the "dogma" of Margaret Thatcher!

The goal of both Reinfeldt and Cameron seem to be to fine-tune the welfare state in Sweden and the UK, by focusing on getting people off welfare benefits and in to employment. They both have struggled to shift their parties towards the "middle ground" by convincing voters that they would fix rather than dismantle the public welfare system.

Reinfeldt's proposed cuts of taxes for the lowest income earners and reduction of unemployment benefits, in order to encourage the jobless to return to work seem to not be that distant from the policies of Tony Blair, a "fan" of the Third Way (other fans: Bill Clinton, Gerhardt Schroeder in Germany).

The Third Way being a way for the Bill Clinton Democrats, European Social Democrats and Labour Parties to approach the "middle ground" from the left, one could say that Communitarianism a la Reinfeldt and Cameron is the way to approach the same "middle ground" but from the "right".

That of course does not equate the two ideologies, it simply points out a common goal (the middle ground) and two different ways to approach it, from two different "sides".

There are differences. Eg Reinfeldt and Cameron seem to have toned down "traditional" calls within their parties for dismantling large portions of the Swedish and British welfare states, stating that change must come gradually from the bottom up and not dictated from the top down.

Food for thought: A comparison and contrast exercise between Communitarianism and the Ancient Athenian concept of "Citizenship" and "State".

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Nick

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