Liberalism, Communitarianism, and Asocialism

Journal of Value Inquiry 34 (2/3):249-261 (2000)
Abstract
In this paper I look at three versions of the charge that liberalism’s emphasis on individuals is detrimental to community—that it encourages a pernicious disregard of others by fostering a particular understanding of the individual and the relation she has with her society. According to that understanding, individuals are fundamentally independent entities who only enter into relations by choice and society is seen as nothing more than a venture voluntarily entered into in order to better oneself. Communitarian critics argue that since liberals neglect the degree to which individuals are dependent upon their society for their self-understanding and understanding of the good, they encourage individuals to maintain a personal distance from others in their society. The detrimental effect this distancing is said to have on communities is often called “asocial individualism” or “asocialism.” I argue that all three versions of the charge fail against liberalism and that liberalism—with its insistence on the normative import of individuals—is not detrimental to communities, but can actually foster strong communities.
Keywords liberalism  communitarianism  asocialism  individualism
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