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Debate / Liberals against the Communitarians: A New Watershed

Anno XXXIII, n. 144, marzo-aprile 1998
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Centro Einaudi


Testo disponibile solo in lingua inglese.
The opinions published here sum up the ongoing debate (which began in the United States in the early Eighties and which has since shifted to Europe) between liberals and communitarians on points of conflict and points of convergence (which are few and far between, but do nevertheless exist) between their respective positions. Alain de Benoist (Communitarians and Liberals) makes a detailed reconstruction of the political theses of communitarians and their criticism of liberalism, both theoretically – the pre-eminence of society against the pre-eminence of the individual – and practically – phenomena of anomia, conflict, exasperated individualism and inflation of rights, which afflict the great contemporary democracies. André Berten (Communitarians against Modernity) speaks in terms of a "communitarian nebula" and a common refutation of modernity, but also stresses how, in reality, the communitarian critique has led many liberal authors – John Rawls, first and foremost – to make a partial review of their position. Alain Laurent (Rethinking Individualism) outlines a possible answer to the communitarian criticism of certain degenerative phenomena in contemporary societies. It is, he says, necessary to reassert a form of individualism capable of freeing itself from irrationalist and subjectivist drifts, on the one hand, and from the "sweet temptations of totalitarianism", on the other. Laurent argues that Ayn Rand’s objectivism provides the base for doing thus. Angelo M. Petroni (Communitarianism, so what?) sees communitarianism as a reaction against reason in the sense Hume and Hayek attributed to the concept. For him, the forerunners of communitarianism were reactionary thinkers such as Joseph de Maistre, and he argues that the distinctive feature of communitarian theses is their failure to contribute useful new elements for reflection in the modern world. Bernard Cherlonneix, finally (On the Proper Use of Communitarian Ideas among Liberals), argues the need for liberals and, above all, libertarians to review their answers to communitarian criticism on three levels: the re-legitimisation of the State’s role, the re-integration of collective phenomena into their analysis and the elaboration of a fairer conception of relations between individuals and society and between particular and general interests.