Communitarian vs. Free Market Conservativism

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.

Exactly.

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.

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About Sean Patrick Hazlett

Conservative clean energy crusader, national security hawk, financial analyst, engineer, and former military officer.
This entry was posted in Leadership, Policy, Politics and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Communitarian vs. Free Market Conservativism

  1. Troy says:

    Well it’s kind of funny, but your blog is called Reflections of a Rational Mind while my personal writing are called Diary of A Mad Man. Polar Opposites??

    I use to make my living as a consevative political consultant. I’ve was in the trenches for years. That part of my life is over. Now God has taken me to the ‘dark side’…. accept I don’t mean ‘liberalisem’.

    There’s a places that supports “communitarian conservatism”…. it’s called the Bible. Where most ‘conservatives’ usually aslo try to brand themselves ‘christian’, much like the Pharisee in the Bible, they ‘knew the words, but had zero understanding for the heart.’

    ‘Free market conservatism’ doesn’t exist nor will it’s utopia ever arrive. In fact, I’m almost sure you don’t like monopolies? Either way, monopolies are an aspect of the ‘free market’… the just happened to do it better. On paper, it might seem ‘better’, but the ‘reality’ never holds true.

    Naaah, it’ sSunday and I really suspect that my words wil be useless anyway. One idea, instead of ‘saying what needs to happen’… start trying to make a diffence with your hands.

    In Christ,
    troy

    • “There’s a places that supports “communitarian conservatism”…. it’s called the Bible.”

      And I think that’s part of the problem. For other communities, it would be the Koran. While I have no problem with religion, I do have a problem with it when politicians invoke it to legitimize their policies. Frankly, I think this is a big part of the Republican Party’s problems today.

      “‘Free market conservatism’ doesn’t exist nor will it’s utopia ever arrive. In fact, I’m almost sure you don’t like monopolies? Either way, monopolies are an aspect of the ‘free market’… the just happened to do it better. On paper, it might seem ‘better’, but the ‘reality’ never holds true.”

      I agree. It’s not perfect, it’s just better than all the alternatives, to paraphrase Churchill’s quote about democracies.

      “One idea, instead of ‘saying what needs to happen’… start trying to make a diffence with your hands.”

      I’d love to. In the last two elections I have volunteered to help Republican Presidential candidates craft national security policy. That said, I’m not an insider, so all they ever ask me to do is man phone banks or donate money. Frankly manning a phone bank is simply not worth my time. I’ve donated money in the past, but this year I probably won’t donate at all.

  2. Scott Erb says:

    Interestingly, European conservatives are generally communitarian conservatives. The CDU in Germany, the Gaullists in France, and most continental conservatives are skeptical of free market ideology. The British are closer to the Americans in shifting towards a more liberal (free market) conservativism.

    Both European conservatism and Social Democratic parties have shifted very much towards liberalism (free market conservatism in your terms) over the years. But while the free market ideology has won in the US (in both parties — though the economic crisis might change that), the Europeans are in general more skeptical of the market.

  3. Soren Kierkegaard says:

    “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.”

    This is graft and it’s possible in any system with authority. Free Market Capitalism is also nepotistic and can be non-meritocratic. More importantly, communities will suffer if they don’t tolerate merit and performance culture, reducing their long-term prospects for surviving, let alone thriving.

    You even believe the insufficiency of the Free-Market as Merit argument: “the organization that fostered the community was the closest to a true meritocracy I have ever encountered.”

    “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.”

    First, you offer no evidence or logic that communitarianism is a threat to conservatism at large. Instead you assert that the presence of diversity should necessarily equal toleration. If my business is failing then I’ll make cutbacks even if the labor or technology pool is large. Why can’t communities do the same?

    “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.

    Exactly.”

    Bologna. You don’t *have* to live anywhere. You have power, a potential for power, and tools to make the expression of your power possible. There are plenty of communities who violate Randroidism to improve the health, wealth, and knowledge of their constituent subjects. If you can’t fit in, contribute, or control then you can get lost or join the food supply. The reason why these decisions are made can be rational – for example violating the “freedom” to open a fast-food chain next to an elementary school.

    I do not deny the independence of will and the tool of rationality in the game, but I absolutely deny absolute moral standards beyond the mystical as a convenient fiction.

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