Theorising the Radical Moral Communitarian Agenda

Published 15/03/2015
Type Article
Author(s) Roger Hopkins Burke
Corresponding Authors Roger Hopkins Burke, Principal Lecturer in Criminology, Nottingham Trent University

An earlier paper in this journal discussed the strengths and limitations of the influential political philosophy communitarianism that came to the fore both in the USA and the UK during the 1990s and outlined the case for a more radical variation based on the work of Emile Durkheim (Hopkins Burke, 2014b). This second paper discusses the theoretical basis of that radical moral communitarianism which challenges the orthodox articulation of communitarianism and which promotes both the rights and responsibilities of individuals and communities in the context of a more equal division of labour than that provided by contemporary neoliberal society. It explores different, influential conceptualisations of individualism in European thought before discussing the social theory of Emile Durkheim and the influence of French individualism on – and the policy implications of – radical moral communitarianism.


This is the second of two papers which has returned us to a discussion about the rationale, theoretical foundations and the policy implications of a ‘new liberalism’, or a radical moral communitarianism. The first paper (Hopkins Burke, 2014b) explored the political philosophy of communitarianism which became extremely influential both in the USA and the UK during the 1990s and which in essence proposed that the individual rights promoted by traditional liberals should be balanced with a commitment by individuals to responsibilities in the communities in which we live. It was nevertheless observed that the actual implementation of communitarian policies in reality placed an overemphasis on responsibilities to the detriment of the rights of individual citizens. Meanwhile, the alternative agenda proposed by radical egalitarian communitarians conversely went rather beyond the position taken by traditional liberals and placed a greater emphasis on the economic rights of individuals with appreciably less emphasis on their obligations to society.

There followed a discussion of the neoliberal response to apparent economic decline, the resultant fall in business profitability and the subsequent failings of the strategies introduced to reverse these trends. All of this is evidenced by the incremental expansion of an acutely unbalanced economy. One where an ever growing sector of economically non-productive people are looked after and controlled by another growing sector of economically non-productive people. Which is all part of a neoliberal communitarian matrix of disciplinary tutelage strategies introduced to manage a fragmented, and increasingly impoverished, diverse population in the interests of the market economy.

It was observed in that earlier paper that these neoliberal interventions have merely accentuated socio-economic problems and impacted negatively on the process of capital accumulation, to the extent where it was proposed that a tipping point had been reached. Indeed, it was now appropriate to seek another way of doing things. This was not simply because the present policies and strategies implemented have led to the creation of a fundamentally unfair and unequal society, a normative argument, relatively easy to ignore by neoliberals, but also one which recognises that it is not working effectively in the material interests of capital accumulation, an economic argument, which it is much harder to ignore.

In the concluding comments it was proposed that the basis for that new way of doing things, one which provides an appropriate and fair balance between individual (including material economic) rights and responsibilities to the community, lies in the work of Emile Durkheim and his observations about the moral component of the division of labour in society. It is this recognition which provides the theoretical basis of a radical moral communitarianism which challenges the orthodox articulation of that political philosophy and its hybrid variation in neoliberal communitarianism. It provides a revised formulation which actively promotes both the rights and responsibilities of individuals and communities in the context of an appreciably more equal division of labour.

Significantly, radical moral communitarianism is founded on a particular conception of (French) individualism which provides the basis of a rather different form of social organisation than those which emerge from its rival and extremely influential conceptions of individualism (Anglo-Saxon and German individualism) and which inform the mainstream, radical egalitarian and neoliberal variants of communitarianism. It is thus important that we explore the origins and development of these three different conceptions of individualism in Western thought and their very considerable implications for the form of social organisation in which we live.

The Development of the Concept of Individualism in Western Europe
The development of the concept of individualism in Western Europe can be identified within the disciplines of Christian theology, politics, economics and cultural studies. We will consider the contribution of each.

Individualism and Christian theology
Prior to Christianity the only individual was the rare person who was in a position to renounce worldly affairs, was self-sufficient and thus fully independent in a society where the secular was the dominant political force. With the emergence of Christianity we get a fundamental shift in the conception of humanity which the nineteenth century German Protestant theologian and philosopher Ernst Troeltsch identifies as man as an individualin-relation-to-God: where all people are equal in the presence of God but where, at the same time, the (Catholic) Church emerges as a form of institutional link, a mediator, between the individual and the divine (Dumont, 1994).

It was with St Augustine (354–430 CE) that the concept of sacred kingship, where the position of monarch is considered to be identical with that of a high priest and a judge and which had been the dominant orthodoxy until that time, is replaced by the idea that the State should be completely acquiescent to a dominant Church. However, at the same time, we can observe a subtle advance in the concept of individualism where the State is conceived to be a collection of men united through agreement on values and common utility (see below). The Church now pretends to rule, directly or indirectly, which means that the Christian individual is now committed to the world to an unprecedented degree. He or she is an individual with responsibilities and obligations via their membership of the Church and this includes Kings and the aristocracy. It is with John Calvin (1509-1564) and the (Protestant) Reformation that this relationship completely changes and the individual becomes fully part of the world and individualist values are dominant without restriction or limitation (Bouwsma, 1988).

It was Martin Luther (1483-1546) whose actions as a disillusioned Catholic priest had previously removed God from the world by rejecting the mediation institutionalised in the Catholic Church. Significantly God was now accessible to the individual consciousness. The ritualism of the Catholic Church and the justification of good works which had previously enabled the person access to heaven were now replaced within Protestant theology by the concept of justification through faith, which left to the individual some margin of freedom, that is, whether to believe (faith) or not to believe. This was now a matter of individual choice.

Calvin later went further than Luther and declared that the individual has complete impotence in the face of the power of God and neither good works or faith guarantees access to heaven (Bouwsma, 1988). Now at first sight, this appears to be an important limitation rather than a development of the notion of individualism, but Troeltsch warns us against interpreting Calvin in terms of the unfettered atomistic individualism which we will see later is central to the Anglo-Saxon conception. Instead, there is the concept of the imposition of values: the identification of our will with the will of God. The Puritans who followed the lead of Calvin believed that the Bible was God’s true law, and that it provided a plan for living. The established church of the day described access to God as monastic and possible only within the confines of ‘church authority’ which was the will of God. The puritans simply stripped away the traditional trappings and formalities of Christianity which had been slowly building throughout the previous 1500 years. Theirs was an attempt to ‘purify’ both the church and their lives.

It is thus with Luther, Calvin and the Protestant Reformation that we can identify the origins of a specific Germanic conception of individualism where the person expresses their individuality in relation to close identification with something greater than themselves, in this case God, but later in the case of Germany, the Volk; in the case of Marxists, the proletariat; or for others, simply society however it might be constituted (Dumont, 1986). It is thus a conception of individualism that has its origins in sixteenth century Germany but which clearly has had considerable impact outside the frontiers of that country.

Individualism and politics
The political perspective on individualism has two useful starting points. First, there is the combination of Christian revelation and Aristotelian philosophy in Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274), the medieval philosopher and theologian, where at the level of religion each person is conceptualised as a whole being, a private individual in direct relation to their creator, and on a political level where they are considered to be a member of the secular commonwealth, a part of the social body. Second, there is the theory of Natural Law that dominates in the period leading up to the French Revolution, where the idea is to establish an ideal society while starting from the individual person of nature. The device for this purpose was the idea of contract which in turn involves the combination of two elements. The first or `social’ contract introduced the relationship characterised by equality or `fellowship’; the second or political contract, introduced subjection to a Ruler or a ruling agent.

Subsequently, the philosophers reduced this multiplicity of contracts to one. First, Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679) makes the social contract a contract of subjection. This occurs when individuals come together and surrender some of their individual rights and hand these over to an emergent state; a sovereign entity like the individuals now under its rule used to be, and which creates laws to regulate social interactions. In this way human life is given order and is no longer ‘a war of all against all’. Second, John Locke (1632–1704) replaces the political contract by a Trust. Taking the opposite view to Hobbes he believed that individuals in a state of nature would be bound morally, by ‘The Law of Nature’, not to harm each other in their lives or possession. Nevertheless, without government to defend them against those seeking to injure or enslave them, people would have no security in their rights and would live in fear. Locke thus argued that individuals would agree to form a state which would provide a ‘neutral judge’, acting to protect the lives, liberty, and property of those who lived within it. Third, Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778) suppresses the Ruler altogether. The `contract social’ is the contract of association: it is assumed that one enters society at large as one enters one or another particular voluntary association. His collectivism is most evident in his development of the ‘general will’ where he argues that a citizen cannot pursue his true interest by being an egoist (as in the Anglo-Saxon conception of individualism) but must instead subordinate himself to the law created by the citizenry acting as a collective.

It is with the Puritans who founded colonies in what is now the USA (New England) in the early seventeenth century that we get an actual example of the establishment of a Commonwealth developed on the basis of a contract. What the English radical collectivists the Levellers had unsuccessfully demanded in their ‘Agreement of the People’ published in 1647: the rights of man and religious freedom had been enjoyed in the American colonies since the beginning. We have here an abstract statement of the concept of the Individual as being over and above the State, which is endorsed by the French Revolution, but which is first articulated by the Puritans. These developments are closely linked to the emergence of utilitarian philosophy in Britain which is usually associated with Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) and John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) and which proposes that the correct course of action to take is the one that maximises total benefits while at the same time reduces suffering or any associated negatives. It thus applies a moral foundation, and the basis of practical political solutions, to the laissez faire liberal economic ideas of Adam Smith (1723-1790) who influentially argued for an economic system in which transactions between private parties are free from intrusive government restrictions, tariffs, and subsidies, with only enough regulations to protect property rights (Dumont, 1986). It is this notion that individuals pursuing their rational self-interest and maximising their own gain will result in a beneficial social good for all which provides the origins of the Anglo-Saxon conception of individualism which has become extremely influential through-out the world.

In France, for the early French socialist Henri de Saint-Simon (1760-1825) and his followers, the French Revolution, the Rights of Man and the advent of Liberalism had a purely negative and destructive value. They consequently considered that the time had come to organise society and to regenerate it. For the Saint-Simonians and this decidedly French conception of Socialism, the State is conceived as an industrial association which should be hierarchical. Rewards should be unequal, as performances are, but the inheritance of property should be suppressed. We have here the origins of a French secular conception of individualism where secondary groups act as intermediaries between individuals and the state. Moreover, in a society spared a protestant Reformation, it is a conception of social organisation based on the medieval Catholic Church (Dumont, 1986).

Meanwhile, in Protestant Germany, G.W.F. Hegel’s (1770-81) highly influential philosophy of the State appears to be the culmination of everything that had gone before. As, is the case for Hobbes and Rousseau, the conscious individual is called to recognise in the State their higher self, and in the command of the State the expression of their own will and freedom. This indirect presentation of society in terms of the State leads to a kind of religion of the State. Thus, in the realm of the political, Hegel does for the German concept of individualism what Luther and Calvin had previously done in the realm of the religious.

Individualism and economics
The economic perspective on individualism arises with the reversal of the traditional idea that relations between people are more important than the relationship between people and things. The converse is now considered to be more important. At the same time, the champions of free trade were impatient with the mercantilist view of state intervention and there hence occurred a basic ideological change. The idea that in trade the gain of one party means inevitably a loss to the other, which was central to mercantilist thinking, is replaced with the notion that exchange is advantageous to both parties. This economic perspective which promotes the value and dominance of the free market was to become fundamental to the Anglo-Saxon conception of individualism.

Individualism and culture
At the beginning of the eighteenth century German culture exhibits an unprecedented development which brings about a complete emancipation in relation to the French culture which had previously dominated European thought (Dumont, 1994). It is at this point that we can identify the rise of the German conception of individualism. Central to this development is Johann Gottfried Herder (1744-1803), a German philosopher and theologian, who saw in history the contrasted interplay of individual cultures each constituting a specific Volk, in which an aspect of general humanity is embodied in a unique manner. There is, from this perspective, a deep transformation in the definition of humanity: as opposed to the abstract individual, a representative of the human species, endowed with reason, humanity is what it is, in all its modes of thinking, feeling, and acting, by virtue of their belonging to a given cultural community (Nisbet, 1985). In doing so, Herder provides the basis for what later will be called the `ethnic theory’ of nationalities as against the `elective theory’, in which the nation rests essentially on consensus. This is a peculiarly German conception of nationality and indeed individualism.

The social and political philosophy of Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762-1814) is significant here. Ostensibly, Fichte sets out to be the philosopher of the French Revolution but is nonetheless considered in Germany to be a precursor of pan-Germanism. His position is essentially that the German spirit is characterised by universality. The German people are destined to dominate the world, but he modifies this meaning by basing it in the identity of universality and Germanness (James, 2010). There is indeed a powerful holistic trend in German ideas where the German people as a whole have been strongly inclined to obey the dominant power. In agreement with this general background, the great majority of German intellectuals have admitted the necessity of subordination to society. Combined with the ethnocentrism that is found universally, the valuation of ‘us’ as against ‘others’ or strangers, we have the social basis of what has been called `pan-Germanism’. In this conception a person is essentially a German, and through being a German is a social being. There is a devotion to the whole: `Germans have in their blood devotion to a thing, an idea, an institution, a super-individual entity’ (Troeltsch, 1925:96). In other words, the subject subordinates their self spontaneously to the whole; they have no feeling of alienation in doing so, and therefore all of their personal qualities are given free rein in the fulfilment of their role.

On the other hand, neither the French or Anglo-Saxon traditions can see the possibility of liberty arising from that formulation, only autocracy and slavery. Troeltsch argues that this is Hegel’s conception of liberty and that this is expressed, one way or another, in all the great German creations of the nineteenth century: in the Socialist Party as well as in the army. Thus, this German conception of liberty can be identified in German political movements apparently as diverse as National Socialism and Marxism (Dumont, 1994). For example, in Mein Kampf, Hitler explains very clearly that he designed his movement as a sort of counter copy of the Marxist and Bolshevik movement, replacing among other things, the class struggle by a race struggle. According to Pribram (1953), German nationalism on the one hand, and German socialism (that is, Marxist socialism) on the other, rest on similar ideological formulas, so that a possible shift is understandable from one to the other, or from Marxist socialism to `national socialism’. Both German nationalism and Marxism were built on an individualist, ‘nominalist’ foundation, and both claim to reach a collective being (Dumont, 1994).

The Origins of Durkheim’s Social Theory
French sociologist Emile Durkheim (1858-1917) disagreed with both the German and Anglo Saxon conceptions of the relationship between individuals and society and he developed a social theory which embodied three main influences but which in essence is founded on the French conception of individualism. First, there is French Philosopher Charles Bernard Renouvier’s (1815-1903) rationalism, his concern with morality and his attempt to reconcile determinism with the concept of human freedom and morality. Renouvier accepted that progress through mastery over nature was possible, but this was conditional on moral progress based on a person’s mastery over themselves and their actions. Fundamentally, he combined a concern for the dignity of the individual and a theory of social cohesion based on the person’s sense of utility with and dependence on others (Verneaux, 1945). Second, there are the aforementioned French Socialist leader Saint-Simon’s ideas about economic institutions in industrial society and for the need of new forms of social and political organisation to regulate these (Berlin, 2002). Third, there is French thinker Alfred Espinas’ (1844-1922) emphasis on the superiority of the collective consciousness over the individual: his attribution of the superiority of the social over the individual, where altruism and sympathy were to predominate over egoism and find their ultimate point of focus in the national society.

Durkheim’s social theory is essentially a reaction to Anglo-Saxon utilitarianism (Anglo-Saxon individualism), German state socialism (German Individualism) and French authoritarianism (a neo-German variant of French Individualism). Thus, first, in the case of French authoritarianism, he accepts his predecessor Comte’s thesis that the increasing division of labour among occupational groups in society leads to social solidarity while also recognising that this trend also inclines to extinguish any sense of community. But, whereas Comte (1798-1857) had looked for a solution to this predicament in an increasing role for the State as a unifying force (hence a neo-German conception), Durkheim proposed that this account had no regard for the naturally achieved solidarity of an independent system of activities, a spontaneous consensus of the parts which could not be maintained by force against the nature of things. But for Durkheim this rejection of authoritarianism did not mean an acceptance of the utilitarian tradition or that of Anglo-Saxon individualism.

Second, Herbert Spencer (1820-1903), the English philosopher and sociologist and a significant contributor to the Anglo-Saxon utilitarian tradition, had taken the opposite view to Comte, holding that industrial societies had a natural coherence as a result of the unhindered play of individual interests and considered that these required neither, conformity to shared beliefs and norms, nor state regulation. Social solidarity would eventually occur in accordance with individual interests. Durkheim, nevertheless, contended that the free play of individual interests would lead to instability not harmony, which would only give rise to transient relations and passing associations. Moreover, he observed that Spencer’s account of contract was misleading: a contract is the product of a society which gives it its binding force and defines the condition of its operation. Durkheim further differed from the Utilitarians in his belief that the `cult of the individual’ in modern society did not rest on the egoistic pursuit of self-interest, but in an adoption of the values of the French Revolution where the welfare and self-fulfilment of every member of society should be sought.

Third, from the tradition of German state socialism, Ferdinand Tönnies’ concept of Gesellschaft was close to that of Spencer’s concept of Industrial Society, emphasising individual property, the `free market’, traditional beliefs superseded by freedom of thought and the isolation of individuals. Tönnies nevertheless observed the need for a strong State to safeguard interests, a form of State regulated capitalism which was his version of socialism. Durkheim criticised this theory as accounting for social solidarity in terms of a temporary and artificial mechanism, the imposition of the State and consciously reversed the dichotomy between modern and traditional societies which had been characteristic of German thought. Modern industrial societies, although complex and fragmented, with apparently little or no basis for the creation and maintenance of social solidarity and community, in terms of the German model, were perceived to be more receptive to the development of a progressive individualism, albeit in the context of a new form of social structure and relationship between individuals and the community.

Durkheim, Social Solidarity and the Basis of a Radical Moral Individualism
Durkheim (1933, originally 1893) observed that in more simple societies people are bound together by a mechanical form of solidarity where like are drawn to like, where we all share the same values and cultural norms. We have a common identity; share the same beliefs and interests, with a collective consciousness and common awareness shared by all. In more complex industrial societies we are bound together by an organic form of solidarity. Individuals are often unlike each other, perform very different roles, have different experiences, beliefs and philosophies, a perspective which provides the theoretical foundations of the later, contemporary conception of multiculturalism.

Durkheim provides a crucial organic analogy between society and the human body: both need regular stable ongoing functioning organs. Thus, at the centre of organic society is the continuing progress of the division of labour between groups but with this increasing fragmentation of society it is extremely likely that we are all believing different things. There is thus a fragmentation of the collective consciousness, which it is observed has both positive consequences, for example, we are more readily willing to tolerate the actions and beliefs of a plurality of diverse groups, and negative outcomes not least where there is an increased likelihood of social conflict between these varied factions.

Essentially, the progressive escalation in levels of organic solidarity has brought about an extensive intensification in individualism. The European Enlightenment tradition has created a much higher degree of tolerance with a greater capacity and potential for individual development but, at the same time, there are also problematic, pathological developments. First, there are spectacular increases in a new form of human existence – egoism – where a person is too poorly integrated into society and second, a sense of anomie can occur, whether you are in a group or not, a sense of not belonging, where you are not subject to regulative norms. These pathological developments are often the result of rapid social change which can cut people adrift from their familiar social moorings. For example, Durkheim would undoubtedly have attributed the failure of the Bolshevik Social Revolution in the years after 1917 to the widespread anomie that was the outcome of the abolition of such traditional institutions as the Church and family. The message for V.I. Lenin from this perspective is clear: you can abolish the bourgeois institutions over-night if you wish, but you cannot change the collective consciousness of the people as quickly. False consciousness or not!

Durkheim observed that with the rise of organic society and the simultaneous increase in individualism it was now possible in industrial society to believe in self-indulgence, for both the bourgeoisie and proletarian; the only check would be conflict. For if the division of labour in society is forced or unequal, some groups have more power than others, usually the product of inherited wealth or social position, but in more recent years because of the great disparity in economic rewards. Durkheim considered that the division of labour works best if people are in positions where their talents are best optimised; that is, an ideal division of labour where everyone is content with their position and the rewards they are receiving. The division of labour that people actually experience is nevertheless forced, egoistical, anomic and riddled with individual despair and conflict and this has become increasingly so in recent years with significant economic recession and ongoing austerity.

For Durkheim the solution to an anomic society is the creation of an ideal division of labour where everyone is rewarded adequately and appropriately according to their talents; but this is clearly something that is very difficult to bring about, although he did propose a threefold political project to address this situation. First, it will be necessary to clarify what are reasonable and acceptable aspirations in life for all people and the appropriate rewards they should receive. Second, the isolated and egoistical individual needs to be integrated into an interactive and inclusive social network. Third, it is necessary to remove the conditions that sustain inequality. In short, the key thing is to unite individuals into a higher community to which they feel a part and belong. For Durkheim, there is only one possible candidate to be the higher community, the State; this is the enabling condition of our individualism. We are all linked into a moral state, but at the same time, the risk of excessive bureaucracy and oppression is also recognised and our experiences clearly indicate that this is a very real problem.

Thus, at the heart of Durkheim’s political theory is his concept of corporations where an administrative council would be set up for each industry. There have nevertheless been considerable criticisms of this theory with the main one centring on the question of who is to set up these corporations. For Durkheim there is only one candidate, again the state, but that is in the hands of those who benefit from the forced division of labour. There is thus a need for a major reconfiguration of the state, how it operates and in whose interest. This is an important political project well outside the parameters of this paper, but essential to the implementation of a fully radical, moral communitarian programme.

It is the work of Emile Durkheim and his observations on the moral component of the division of labour in society that provides the theoretical basis of radical moral communitarianism. A form of communitarianism which actively promotes the rights and responsibilities of both individuals and communities in equal measure, in the context of an equal division of labour. It is this significant latter element that deviates significantly from the communitarian orthodoxy promoted by Amitai Etzioni (1993, 1995a, 1995b) and which was to become so influential with New Labour Governments in the UK. While it is the central theme of that orthodoxy that the individual rights promoted by traditional liberals need to be balanced with social responsibilities to the communities in which we live, there is no suggestion of economic equality in that body of work, while during the course of implementation of policies there was an unhealthy tendency to emphasise responsibilities to society often to the detriment of rights of the individual. One which some commentators identify to be part of a neoliberal strategy for helping to restructure the economy to the advantage of the capitalist classes and the affluent, to the serious disadvantage of the poor (Houdt & Schinkel, 2013).

The radical moral communitarian agenda, in contrast, provides us with the basis of a way-of-life founded on notions of appropriate contributions to society (obligations and responsibilities), suitable fair rewards (rights) and consensual interdependency with others we all recognise, identify and respect as fellow citizens and social partners, not as people of no consequence to be ignored, avoided and, in criminological terms, identified as potential legitimate crime targets. It promotes a fairer, more equal world, based on mutual respect between all citizens.

The policy implications of radical moral communitarianism
This section of the paper discusses some of basic rights that all citizens could enjoy along with the simultaneous responsibilities or obligations they might have in a radical moral communitarian society built on mutual trust and respect (Hopkins Burke, 2013). Policies should thus be introduced on the basis that people and communities have both rights and responsibilities with, at the same time, an essential need for a fine-balance between them that will invariably require negotiation and renegotiation on a regular and reflective basis.

An acceptable income
It is proposed that all citizens in a radical moral communitarianism society should have access to an acceptable level of income at all stages of their life. This is clearly commensurate with the notion of an adequate benefits system and a reinforcement of the basic right that all citizens enjoy in the appropriate circumstances. It should nevertheless be the responsibility of the individual to make an active contribution to society and the economy wherever possible in some form or another and they should certainly not refuse suitable work that becomes available. For some this will be a controversial proposal because it is suggestive of ‘workfare’ schemes (widely introduced in the USA) and the requirement to work in order to obtain benefits which has been strongly resisted in countries such as the UK but which are currently being introduced with not little resistance. There will thus need to be well-devised strategies to get people into meaningful employment and those taking part in back-to-(or introduction to) work schemes should be paid a higher rate of benefit than non-participants. Moreover, while there should be an expectation that all citizens become usefully involved productively in the economy in some shape or form, there should be no hounding of the sick and disabled and the withdrawal of their benefits when they are clearly unable to work.

Yet many people currently excluded from employment are fit enough to make a useful contribution to society. If such employment opportunities can be created introductory schemes will help pay for themselves by being a significant part of a restructuring of the economy and crucially part of a longer term return to a full-employment economy. Only a few years ago, apparently the fanciful meanderings of dreamers and those accused of living in the past, full employment policies are now becoming mainstream and popular with economists and politicians across the political spectrum and in different countries. Such policies should thus be a central component of a moral communitarian strategy.

Economist Robert Pollin (2012) argues, in this context, that the USA, faced with its highest levels of unemployment since the Great Depression, should put full employment back on the agenda, observing that this will help individuals, families, and significantly the economy as a whole, while promoting equality and social stability. He identifies the biggest obstacle to creating a return to full employment to be the absence of a political will and the crucial opposition of neoliberals. In the UK, Tony Dolphin and Kate Lawton (2013) argue that by reducing levels of unemployment and inactivity among the workingage population, policies designed to increase the employment rate could help to raise the incomes of low-income households and ease the burden on the tax and benefit system. Adopting full employment as a goal also presents opportunities to address both regional inequalities and those associated with gender and disability and to enable more people access to the paid work which is vital for a sense of social identity, participation and wellbeing. This is a view that is gaining support across the political spectrum in the UK and becoming increasingly influential in the USA (Lawrence, 2013).

Suitable accommodation
All citizens in a radical moral communitarian society should have access to suitable, good quality, affordable, accommodation of an acceptable size and proper rights of tenure, with the rent paid linked to the ability to pay and reviewable periodically. There should also be an end to the stigmatisation of local authority and housing association estates referred to as ‘social housing’. Conservatives, Greenhalgh and Moss (2009) controversially, but quite correctly, observe that social housing has become synonymous with welfare housing, where both a ‘dependency culture’ and a ‘culture of entitlement’ predominate. Two-thirds of social tenants of working age are unemployed with only 22% in full-time employment. 50% of social housing, some two million homes, is located in the most deprived 20% of the country. The authors of the report observe that public sector housing is run as a national service that fails many of the very people it was designed to help and delivers a risible return on assets. This view is not just held by Conservatives. The Labour Mayor of Newham, Sir Robin Wales, recently told a conference that many ‘council estates have become what they were fighting in the first place – social ghettos’.

There is a need to deliver re-balanced mixed communities that incentivises people into employment instead of leaving them in welfare ghettos. Good quality housing built to decent specifications with proper sound-proofing should be made available to wider sections of society on proper long-term tenancy agreements providing that the tenants do not engage in anti-social behaviour (Hopkins Burke & Hodgson, 2013). What is important is the rebalancing of communities so that ‘respectable’ people are in the majority and where it is their standards of behaviour that prevail. There should thus be the provision of public sector housing for key workers with rents dependent on income and designated accommodation provided for recognisable serving police officers and others from the ‘policing family’ as part of a return to the ‘police house’ system. This inclusive housing strategy would help re-balance and restore communities to the glory days of public sector housing in the 1950s and 1960s.

Entitlement to respect
All citizens in a radical moral communitarian society should be treated fairly with respect by all agencies, institutions and individuals regardless of their social position, occupation, age, disability, ethnicity, gender, religion and sexual preferences. It will be the responsibility of all individuals to reciprocate this behaviour or face appropriate sanctions. Mutual respect should be central to any moral communitarian project but will be difficult to achieve in a society epitomised by an excessively unequal division of labour. Conversely, a more equal division of labour with more equitable pay differentials will help provide a culture of respect for different occupational groups.

Good quality health care
All citizens should have access to good quality affordable health care which means in the UK supporting and publicly funding the current National Health Service. It should nevertheless be the responsibility of all citizens to actively pursue good health. The failure to do so will involve ultimately a state health and welfare (not criminal) intervention against, for example, those with alcohol, drugs and dietary (obesity) problems. The key to this strategy is the progressive decriminalisation, but not the legalisation, of drugs which it is interesting to note is increasingly taking place in a USA which has conducted an extremely expensive (in terms of human lives lost and economic resources) war against drugs for many years and which it has shown no sign of winning.

A six year study of Britain’s drug laws by leading scientists, senior police officers, academics and experts has concluded that the time has come to introduce decriminalisation (The Guardian, 2012). The report by the UK Drug Policy Commission (UKDPC), an independent advisory body, says that possession of small amounts of controlled drugs should no-longer be a criminal offence and concludes that the move will not lead to a significant increase in use. The report observes that the criminal sanctions imposed on the 42,000 people sentenced each year for possession of all drugs, and the 160,000 given cannabis warnings, should be replaced with simple civil penalties such as a fine, attendance at a drug awareness session, or a referral to a drug treatment programme. Imposing minimal sanctions on those growing cannabis for personal use could also go some way to undermining the burgeoning illicit cannabis factories controlled by organised crime.

The report says that analysis of the evidence shows that existing drugs policies struggle to make an impact and, in some cases, may make the problem worse. The current UK approach is seen to be simplistic in seeing all drugs as problematic, fails to recognise that entrenched drug problems are linked to inequality and social exclusion, and that separating drugs from alcohol and tobacco use makes it more difficult to tackle the full range of an individual’s substance use. The £3bn a year spent tackling illegal drugs is not based on any evidence of what works, with much of the money wasted on policies that are not cost-effective. Even the large-scale seizures by the police often have little or no sustained impact on the supply of drugs. ‘Just Say No’ campaigns in schools sometimes actually lead to more young people using drugs.

Good quality education
All citizens should have access to good quality education and every effort should be made to ensure that standards are maintained, improved and appropriate to the skills and aptitudes of individuals with a close fit and links to employment opportunities. Nevertheless, not all people take advantage of these opportunities and it is their responsibility – and crucially that of the parents and carers – to ensure that they do so with appropriate sanctions taken against those who do not and/or are disruptive.

With the post-2008 financial meltdown and the contemporary era of sustained austerity there have been increased calls for governments to invest in education and the reason for this is self-evident. Education is an excellent investment for individuals and societies both in monetary and non-monetary interests and values. The reality is that education and the acquisition of knowledge as a value in itself to both the individual and community is often lost in the pursuit of neo-liberal economic goals and is one that should be prioritised by radical moral communitarianism.

Protection from crime and anti-social behaviour
All citizens in a radical moral communitarian society should receive appropriate adequate public sector protection. It is thus the responsibility of citizens to not engage in criminality but it would be clearly overly utopian to suggest that everyone will abstain and desist from criminality. Those who do not accept this responsibility to society should be targeted and dealt with efficiently and appropriately by the agencies of the criminal justice system but with the recognition that our prison system is full of people who could be dealt with without that sanction.

The research evidence has moreover repeatedly shown that prisons only work in the sense that they keep people off the street for a period of time and it is an extremely expensive containment strategy that very rarely does anything more than contain. Little happens during the negative experience of imprisonment that turns prisoners into better citizens by the time of their eventual release and it is not surprising that the great majority return within a very short period of time after release. Incarceration is painful and damaging with those regimes built on reputations for gratuitous toughness inherently criminogenic. Prisoners are separated from their families and social networks, they are terminally stigmatised and labelled, they are part of an inherently anti-social subculture and they lack meaningful activity and lose all autonomy. Meanwhile, some ‘lifestyle offenders’, those who are actually proud of their criminality, thrive in prison. They certainly do not find prison hard and it can actually enhance their image (Travers et al., 2013).

Travers et al. (2013) argue that prisons could actually be positive experiences for the inmates and actually reduce offending, with the introduction of a cognitive skills intervention that addresses the hierarchy of their needs. Thus, at the first level, there is a basic need for a safe and decent carceral environment which gives the individual the headspace to think about a personal transformation, free from dirt, disorder, clutter and graffiti. The second level requires the development of a rehabilitative culture which is dependent on a strong staff engagement with this ethos, a willingness to participate and strong leadership skills to bring about these changes. The third level is about dealing with the very significant issues of drugs and alcohol which are central to much contemporary offending and which are closely linked to the lives of many prisoners with close links to acquisitive crimes and those involving violence. The fourth level is about changing attitudes to criminality and the researchers observe that the hard line approach so favoured by neoliberals; notions of deterrence epitomised by ‘three strikes and you’re out’ initiatives, ‘scared straight’ and ‘boot camps’ for young offenders, just do not work. Conversely, it is those initiatives with close links to communitarianism such as restorative justice conferences which bring offenders and their victims together and help reduce crime and help to rebuild and invigorate communities. Such strategies should be central to a fully-inclusive radical moral communitarian social policy agenda.

It is the central proposition of communitarianism that the individual rights promoted by traditional liberals need to be balanced with social responsibilities and a commitment made by the individual to the community in which they live. This paper (and the previous one in this series) has nevertheless observed how the balance between rights and responsibilities has shifted excessively and unhealthily towards the pole of community with a much greater emphasis on the responsibilities of individuals to the detriment of their rights. Communitarianism has thus become a key component of the neoliberal project with the notion of responsibility in the former highly compatible with that of responsibilisation in the latter.

A highly significant element of the neoliberal disciplinary project in both the USA and the UK was the abandonment of full-employment as a central economic strategy, but in the long term this has been hugely problematic. The major neoliberal economic restructuring of the 1980s destroyed traditional income-creating manufacturing jobs in huge numbers with the outcome being a large non-productive workless sector with growing associated social problems. This situation was significantly intensified by the rapid expansion of a whole class of public sector employees paid increasingly good salaries to look after (health and social work agencies) and control (the criminal justice system) the first sector. There was a clear recognised need to rebalance the economy and the Coalition Government has sought to address this by the introduction of established neoliberal techniques of huge cuts in public expenditure and concerted assaults on the living standards of workers and the poor.

This paper proposes that these various socio-economic problems seem to have reached a ‘tipping point’ where the social and economic costs of neoliberal fiscal policies have come to outweigh any benefits other than for a small group of powerful economic players. A radical moral communitarian response proposes an alternative, more inclusive, approach founded on notions of appropriate contributions to society (obligations and responsibilities), suitable fair rewards (rights), and consensual interdependency, in the context of a fairer, more equal world, based on mutual respect between all citizens.

The rights and responsibilities identified in this paper are highly compatible and closely interconnected. Thus, the call for a return to full-employment policies will lead not only to a more productive and balanced economy, but will provide the material and psychological preconditions of the other essential rights. The provision of good quality (invariably rented public-sector) accommodation for all those who need it is also about rebuilding communities by providing a broad mix of interrelated interdependent people from different social backgrounds within a particular geographical neighbourhood. The right to be treated with respect by all public servants and with the parallel responsibility to treat each other with respect, is more achievable in a world of full-employment and good quality accommodation in proper communities, where people have self-respect for others and their contribution to society. The provision of good quality health care for all citizens with the parallel responsibility to pursue good health will be more achievable with sensible alcohol and drug policies which decriminalise and medicalise a significant social problem. The provision of good quality education and the parallel responsibility to engage with this is also far more achievable in a society with full employment and citizens with good health and is also highly applicable to the right to live in a crime free society. The provision of proper alternative rational choices to crime and criminality will lead to a significant reduction in the need to treat and punish miscreants and in this rebalanced economy provide more resources for highly skilled professionals and practitioners to concentrate their expertise on the very small groups of citizens with real medical or social problems. Clearly central to a radical moral communitarian social strategy will be an enhanced role for an expertise-driven public sector, both in service provision but also in wealth creation.


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