The distinctive attributes of our democracy have been individual liberty since the independence of America came about in the seventeenth century. No other aspect is so significant to America’s reflection of itself. Such freedoms and rights are the sole causes of impacting events in our nation, from new European settlers to the construction of our Constitution. However, the argumentative standpoint of political theorist Alan Brinkley points out that although such liberty has been “central to our history and basic to our political and social system. They have not been the only forces shaping our public world. At least equally important, through most of American history, has been the idea of community (p. 87).” The entire concept of liberal philosophy is based upon the liberal and conservative standpoint.
The liberal point of view correlates with communitarianism. The Democratic Party would be the closest political group associated with this standpoint in particular. This concept is centralized around social capital and wealth redistribution. Many contemporary communitarians consider community and localism to be hand in hand. Their beliefs are that such gatherings as the neighborhood church, PTA, Little League, and the local bowling league are the root of civic vitality. The controversy that lies within the idea of social capital is whether or not people are truly concerned about forming a community. Are people going to bother joining the local PTA or other random gatherings for the sole purpose of community benefit? Brinkley opinionates that it is the voluntary associations that brand it feasible for individuals to interlace themselves into a commonwealth.
Brinkley points out two sides of the communitarian view. One viewpoint is that there is a common link between the local community and the nation. They foresee community interaction and social reliance consequent from local civic life. Which thereafter emanates into a plentiful political community. On the contrary, other communitarians, foresee no corresponding links. They claim that the danger to community is not only incessant individualism, but also excessive centralization. This correlation contradicts the other communitarian point of view in that instead of linking with the nation, they see the community as opposing it directly.
Another additive to the liberal standpoint of liberalism is wealth redistribution. This would be the distribution of funds to society for a universal benefit. One easily recognized example of this would be FDR’s proposition to bring America out of the Great Depression, the New Deal. These plans consisted of a variety of programs designed to socially reform the United States and replenish the economy. Examples of this agenda were programs such as the WPA, CCC, and Social Security.
The entire concept of wealth redistribution is centered on the idea of equality when it comes to funds. The Democratic Party, and therefore communitarians, strives to make America as balanced as possible. They basically are looking to disperse wealth, rather than have a small group of people that have nearly all of the money in America. For example, the amount of riches owned by Bill Gates is enormous and unjust to society. Such wealth should be equally apportioned throughout our nation, rather than in one individual bank account.
The conservative standpoint of liberal philosophy consists of a more individualist view. This type of perspective closely associates with the Republican Party. Whereas, the communitarian outlook focuses more on the “us”, conservatives choose to focus on the “me”. That is, importance lies on the amount of wealth generated by an individual person.
Social Darwinism is a main focal point of the conservative outlook on Liberalism. This concept relies on the application of Darwin’s idea of natural selection to society. In simplest terms, it’s survival of the fittest. Every man is responsible for himself. This, of course, contradicts the liberal side, which looked to distribute wealth. Republicans believe that order is a necessity for freedom to be obtained. Lassez Faire Capitalism is yet another strong outlook of the Conservatives. This concept revolves around a “hands off” society that would develop through strength and competition. Such a competitive and individualistic lifestyle is ideal to Republicans. It allows them to generate as much wealth as possible, and sets up a free market for them to thrive on.
Political Theorist Alan Brinkley gives a detailed account of the importance of both liberty and community. Liberty is crucial for obvious reasons of course. Mainly to provide America with rights that are needed in order to achieve true freedom. Yet Brinkley points out that freedom can not be accomplished without first obtaining a community. He states that “Liberty has no meaning except in a social context; rights cannot be sustained unless there is civic life healthy enough to create a shared commitment to them (p.93)”. This basically tells us that Brinkley sides with the liberal point of view in that community is needed in order for liberty to come into effect.
Brinkley also proceeds to point out that community is needed beyond the local level. National Community is the “basis of our most powerful political traditions (p.95)”. It is the foundation that was used to conceive a form of government that would assure the rights of the individual. Such community secured liberty and created a genuine nation.
When putting all of these ideas into spectrum, I’ve come to the conclusion that there are disadvantages to each side. Individualism can be objectionable. It tends to create selfish and shallow people because of the importance that generated wealth holds for them. Communitarians, on the other hand, have their negative effects as well. Liberalism results in a lack of identity. The more that one associates themselves with a community, the less individualistic you become. This is because citizens of a small community fit themselves in a tight knit boundary where everyone takes on eachothers characteristics. This also is known to lead to bigotry and interracial violence.
So, although each side has its glitches, I feel the author is on the right track. How can a nation properly flourish when everyone is only concerned with their own well being? Such selfishness can only lead to a society filled with either people who are extremely successful, or the exact opposite. The idea of community is exactly what our country needs to pay attention to. This concept engulfs the true meaning of what liberty is, and true liberty cannot be achieved without first establishing a sense of community. A feeling of social participation is needed for the overall well being of our nation. Brinkley himself said it best with “we need liberty and community, for neither is sustainable without the other (p.101)”. He is exactly correct because America needs to break away from the selfish grounds that have been previously set and focus on building a stable foundation to reach pure liberty.