Came across this insightful observation from John Milbank on the problem of community in our post-Socialist, secular libertarian world. His comments actually fit quite well the problems of our upcoming presidential election and the recent universal healthcare debate.

The socialists-who-can’t-let-go-of-their-utopian-post-capitalist-dream cling to the vain hope that government aid somehow will provide some form of communal aid they lack to actually care for one another, like families and churches in true community. On the other hand, the libertarians-who-have-put-their-faith-in-free-markets-and-free-life-choices cling to the vain hope that they’ll somehow find community in their personal support groups and free consumer choices.

Both socialists and libertarians are, as Milbank points out, doomed to failure:

“Despite growing uneasiness about the economic and social consequences of the free market, today socialism, like religion, exhibits merely a spectral reality. It no longer seems either plausible or rational, and it has been consigned to the realm of faith. Yet, as with Christianity, socialism still haunts the West because nothing has emerged to replace it. Just as the story of a compassionate God who became a man was seen as the “final religion,” so the hope of a universal fraternity based on sharing was seen as “the final politics.” With its demise, all that seems to remain is something more secular than politics — a future of infinite utilitarian calculation by individuals, states and trans-national corporations, of possible gains and losses, greater and lesser risks . . . .

“While libertarianism insists that the future lies with the isolated ‘reflective’ individual manipulating a plethora of life-choices, it also claims that civil society is sound and that new forms of community are emerging: sport associations, women’s support networks, single-issue groups, etc. But all of these, however worthy or unworthy, are rather evidence of lack of community. They are the resorts of people without community, who do not want community. Having abandoned their singularity in favor of an essence — a hobby, or being-a-woman, being-a-black-man, being-a-man, liking to sleep with men, liking a kind of rock music, being obsessed with a particular kind of threatened animal, etc. — they wish to associate with other foreclosed singularities to find mutual support, aid and encouragement. Yet, there is no community here: first, because there is no difference, and therefore no encounter; second, because there is no degree of self-sufficiency, of societas perfecta, or of potential to survive without outside aid as, e.g., in the case of a family or a parish, which can emigrate, survive and propagate like the Pilgrim Fathers. Here the relation to both space and time is too weak to allow for “community.” These are essentially reactive groups (which is not to say that they necessarily represent false reactions), often sustaining a mythical sense of victimage. There is rarely much genuine friendship to be found here, because association for its own sake –association with the other, the surprising — is not the goal. Rather, it is a matter of input and output, and of a trade in mutual support.” [Emphases added]

From John Milbank, “The Politics of Time:  Community, Gift and Liturgy,”
Telos, 1998:113 (Fall 1998), pp. 41-67

Advertisements