Yesterday, David Brooks posted an interesting column where he suggested there are two great poles of conservatism: communitarian conservatism and free market conservatism.
In this column, Brooks presents communitarian conservatism as a tradition “that goes back to thinkers like Russell Kirk and Robert Nisbet.” He describes it as a conservative strain enriched by tight communal ties, where people help each other out. He seems to decry that in “recent decades, the communitarian conservatism has become less popular while the market conservatism dominates.”
I could not disagree more with both Brooks’ depiction of communitarian conservatism and his characterization that it has lost out to market conservatism.
Communitarian Conservatism Also Has a Dark Side
David Brooks’ description of communitarian conservatism is all touchingly poignant, but it neglects to highlight communitarian conservatism’s dark side.
It is the kind of small town conservatism, in which everyone is in your business all the time. It is one in which people opine ad nauseam on how you should raise your kids, with whom you should associate, and what jobs in the old-boys network you deserve to have. If you’re the son of the mayor with a sub-100 IQ, all the better. The community will bear the burden of your incompetence.
Then, imagine if you’re a liberal and have to live in a tight communitarian conservative community. Better yet, if you’re conservative, imagine living in a tight communitarian liberal community.
I do not deny that there are many benefits to community. One of the best communities of which I’ve ever been a part was the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment at Fort Irwin. People cared for and supported one another regardless of race/ethnicity, religious affiliation, and class. That said, one of the only reasons it worked, in my view, is that the people who joined that community all shared a common set of values. Furthermore, the organization that fostered the community was the closest to a true meritocracy I have ever encountered.
Nevertheless, without the constraints of a meritocracy and a common set of values that everyone accepts, I often find tight-knit communities stifling, especially if one is going against the crowd or has never really been much of a “joiner” in the first place.
Communitarian Conservatism Has Not Lost Out to Market Conservatism
I find David Brooks’ contention that communitarian conservatism has lost out to market conservatism to be a false one. In fact, I see communitarian conservatism as the single biggest threat to conservatism at large. In a nation that is increasingly becoming diverse, it makes no sense for insular communities to impose their tight communitarian values on others. Though they are right to decry the larger society imposing its own set of values on them.
The solution to both the tyranny of the majority (broader society imposing values on tightly knit communities) and the tyranny of the minority (tightly knit communities imposing their values on society at large) has always been and always will be free market capitalism. If you don’t like what someone is selling, don’t buy it.
It’s that simple.
That said, in any society there are certain absolute moral standards that one should never compromise. For example, protecting human life against unjustified violence is not somehting that unadulteraged free market capitalism will necessarily ensure. However, whether small, tight-knit communities or broader society makes the decisions to uphold these absolute moral standards is immaterial, because they are absolute moral standards.