A warped sense of community
Well it looks like Cynthia Tucker has been beaten out for the most obtuse observation of the past 24 hours. Let’s hear from Chris Mathews, who decided to turn a great story about survival into a partisan political point.
Down 2,000 feet in the ground, a group of 33 men not only survived for 69 days but prevailed. What a story of human faith, hope, charity and yes, community. I know that last word drives people on the right crazy: community.
Theirs is the popular notion that it`s every man for himself. Grab what you can, screw the masses, cash out of the government, go it alone — the whole cowboy catechism.
But how would those miners have survived, the 33 of them, and their loved ones living above if they`d behave like that with the attitude of every man for himself. This is above all, and deep down they`re in the mine about being in all there together. It`s about mutual reliance and relying on others. Not just to do their jobs, but to come through in the clutch.
Not only is this a sophomoric and shameful bit of analysis, but it further proves the point that great swathes of the left fundamentally do not understand what is meant by “community.”
Mathews is guilty of conflating the political state with social society. Conservatives oppose massive governmentintrusion into our daily affairs. We believe that a government that grows to large is a threat to our civil liberties. As government expands, our freedoms are often simultaneously shrunk. But we oppose this type of intrusion primarily because government is not our neighbor, and because it is an impersonal entity. As government grows larger all those personal non-governmental organizations and social fraternities shrink in importance. A government that provides more and more personal services via the welfare system shields individuals from their neighbors. When the state takes on the primary responsibility for caring for the infirm and the poor, then individuals within the community are relieved of the need to care for their neighbors. If we are to be our brother’s keeper, then it becomes more difficult to take on that task when the government chooses to do it for us.
The idea that conservatives are driven crazy by the concept of community is therefore nonsense on stilts. It is in fact progressivism that has driven a stake into the concept of community by building metaphorical walls between neighbors. Not only do meddlesome social welfare programs enervate the drive towards personal charity, but liberal attitudes about social mores erect further barriers. In an age when each person gets to establish his own set of social values, communities drift further apart. Those that seek to protect their children from a rancid culture are forced to withdraw into their own cocoons. Now obviously there are communities within these communities where people who have shared values can congregate – be it Church or some other organization – but we’ve become more polarized as the gulf in moral values expands.
When Mathews discusses the supposed cowboy catechism of every man for himself, he is in fact describing the leftist worldview. Not to get too metaphysical, but it is a Hobbesian worldview that flies in the face of the traditional view set out by the likes of Aristotle and Aquinas. The latter believed that man is by nature a social and political animal. But Hobbes, and then later Rousseau, rejected this view, instead positing that man is an isolated beast – an island to himself. Hobbes and Rousseau had slightly different conceptions of isolated man’s role in civil society, but nonetheless both shared a fundamental view about man’s sociability that differed markedly from antiquity. It is this worldview that has been handed down through the French Revolution and then through modern times, and it is an attitude that strikes at the heart of the concept of community.
Sure there are those on the right that might share in this worldview in some way – we call them libertarians. But conservatives reject this Hobbesian view of society as a bunch of atomized individuals. We don’t reject the concept of community, as Mathews laughably asserts, but rather reject the leftist notion of community.
Edmund Burke wrote that “to love the little platoon we belong to in society, is the first principle (the germ as it were) of public affections.” These little subdivisions or platoons are at the center of Burke’s conception of civil society. But the progressive worldview breaks down these platoons. The idea of what is meant by community has been flipped upside down. Instead of a society made up of these small social circles, the only real community is a giant leviathan state. The Progressive ideal seems to be a collection of atomized individuals whose main sense of civic duty is to the national government. This manifests itself politically in many ways, none the least of which is hostility to the concept of federalism.
The irony of Matthews’s caricature is that it is apt in condemning his own world view.