The Ranting Kraut

19.3.2006 – 27.9.2010

Communitarian Nonsense Masquerading as Government

Posted by rantingkraut on June 26, 2006

This week’s Economist has an moderately interesting commentary on Tony Blair’s approach to law and order. Among other things, it points to the communitarian roots of Blair’s authoritarianism:

“… the other main influence on Mr Blair came from the communitarian ideas of the philosopher John Macmurray and later thinkers, such as the American sociologist, Amitai Etzioni, whom he met in 1995. Mr Etzioni believes that the stress placed by developed Western societies on individual rights has come at the price of undermining the notion of responsibility to a wider community—a key element in Mr Blair’s disagreements with the judiciary since becoming prime minister.”
(Source – subscription access only)

This is in marked contrast to the classical liberal view that individuals should be responsible for their own actions as a counterpart to individual rights. To see just where this line of thinking leads in practice consider the following Blair quote from a speech delivered in February 2006:

“… the real point is not about statistics, it is about how people feel, and if they feel safer and more confident, because the fear of crime is as important in some respects as crime itself. If people feel safer and feel more confident then they actually lead better lives and the quality of their life is improved.”
(Source)

Note that Blair is not arguing that the facts are imperfectly recorded in statistics –that would be a respectable argument and an important problem to discuss. The argument made shows what happens if communitarian authoritarianism meets epistemic relativism. What matters to Blair –and hence: what matters in the use of coercive government power!—is not so much actual achievement as the perception of success. Whether or not the latter is reflective of actual facts appears to be of minor importance.

In the given context, this implies that Blair is not only failing to show restraint in sacrificing individual rights to broader policy objectives, he is quite happy to make this kind of sacrifice if only it creates an illusion of improvement. What is demanded here is not only a supposed trade-off between liberty and safety, it is worse: individual liberty is being eroded for the sake of a pro-government publicity stunt.

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