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Friday, August 22, 2014

Communitarianism: democracy & cooperation

Introduction
No political theory is uncontested. The ‘Question the Powerful’ project adopts as its premise the progressive position advocated by communitarians, civic republicans, and deliberative democrats – namely, that collective power should be exercised in accordance with the informed deliberations of all who are affected by that power to cultivate shared values and secure their common wellbeing. This position and its policy implications for education, business & employment, citizen protection, community development, and the role of government are set out in Henry Tam’s Communitarianism: A New Agenda for Politics & Citizenship, which was nominated by New York University Press for the 2000 Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order, and widely praised by reviewers:

• “The book is an excellent statement of the communitarian approach to politics and citizenship.” - Desmond King, Professor of Politics, University of Oxford (Times Higher Education Supplement).
• “Philosophically and social-scientifically literate, Tam's mind is a galaxy of bright ideas, at once general and pragmatically specific.” - Tony Skillen, University of Kent (Radical Philosophy).
• “Tam … writes with clarity and conviction. A 'must' for all who care not only about communitarianism, but about community and indeed a good society.” - Amitai Etzioni, Professor of Sociology, George Washington University (Responsive Community).
• “The great strength of Tam's book is that he not only offers a clear conceptual framework for communitarianism … but also a practical agenda for how theory can be translated into action in schools, workplaces and the voluntary sector.” - Iain Byrne, University of Essex (Citizen).

What are the key issues to reflect on
• Why democracy cannot function without the deliberative engagement of citizens?
• What common values can be cultivated despite the differences in beliefs and customs?
• What are the key principles for guiding policy development to build more inclusive communities?
• How can the conflicting demands in society be constructively reconciled without making any unjust concession?
• In response to criticisms that communitarian democracy is either too idealistic/demanding or complacent/ineffectual, what are the counter-arguments?

How to get hold of the resources
You can order Communitarianism: A New Agenda for Politics & Citizenship (paperback or hardback) from most high street or online bookstores. There are often cheap second hand copies available from: Amazon UK or Amazon US

Macmillan Palgrave is currently considering bringing out an e-version of the book.

Options for further engagement
• Contact the author with your questions
• Share Communitarianism with others through a political forum or a reading group
• Set up a discussion group to explore the key themes and ideas directly with the author
• Use the book as the basis for a series of lessons on policy ideas that ought to be reflected in political priorities

Supplementary Texts
You can find out more about the communitarian approach by reading:
• 'Communitarians: an introduction' (2014): a guide to communitarian writers and their ideas.
• 'The Radical Communitarian Synthesis' (2014): a short historical account of the evolution of communitarian thought.
• ‘Cooperative & Communitarian: a common heritage’ (2012): a short piece on the common social and intellectual roots of the cooperative movement and communitarian critique of society.

Other works by key communitarian advocates for democracy:
• Bellah, R., et al. (1991). The Good Society. Vintage Books.
• Bellah, R. (1996). ‘Community Properly Understood’, in Responsive Community, Vol.6, issue 1, Winter 1995/96, pp.49-54.
• Bellah, R. & Sullivan, W. (2001), ‘Cultural Resources for a Progressive Alternative’ in Tam (2001, see below).
• Boswell, J. (1990). Community and the Economy: the Theory of Public Co-operation. Routledge, London. 

• Cladis, M.S. (1992). A Communitarian Defense of Liberalism: Emile Durkheim and contemporary social theory. Stanford University Press, Stanford. 

• Dewey, J. (1927). The Public and its Problems. Henry Holt & Co. (For an excellent exposition of Dewey’s ideas, see Campbell, J., (1995). Understanding John Dewey. Open Court; and Ryan, A., (1955). John Dewey and the high tide of American Liberalism. WW Norton & Co.)
• Etzioni, A. (Ed.), (1998). The Essential Communitarian Reader. Lanham, MD: Roman and Littlefield. 

• Selznick, P. (1992). The Moral Commonwealth. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. 

• Selznick, P. (2002). The Communitarian Persuasion. Woodrow Wilson Center Press, Washington. 


Many leading communitarian thinkers such as Bellah and Selznick contributed to Tam, H. (ed.) (2001). Progressive Politics in the Global Age. Polity Press, Cambridge.
It is available (hardback/paperback) in bookshops and online bookstores.