Neither state nor individual: essence of the communitarian manifesto
Paul Vallely is visiting professor in Public Ethics at the University of Chester and a senior research fellow at the Brooks World Poverty Institute at the University of Manchester. He writes on ethical, political and cultural issues. He has a fortnightly column in the Independent on Sunday and also writes for the New York Times and the Church Times. His latest book is Pope Francis – Untying the Knots. He was co-author of the report of the Commission for Africa and has chaired several development charities.
Thursday 16 March 1995
It dismisses the leftist tendency to blame society's ills on The System and the right-wing inclination to see them as signs of moral turpitude. He rejects the emphasis on rights and calls for a new sense of mutual responsibilities.
His theories came to prominence in the run-up to the US presidential election in 1992 when Bill Clinton embraced much of their rhetoric.
Etzioni wants to bolster institutions that stand between the individual and state - family, school, neighbourhood and community. He wants divorce made more difficult, counselling before marriage for young couples and better family benefits to encourage parents to stay together. Couples who intend to have children should promise that, if their partnership later runs into trouble, they will delay divorce. Fathers who walk out on their children must contribute to their upbringing.
Etzioni hopes for more flexi-time at work and parenting co-operatives in which fathers and mothers take turns to help to look after their children or elderly relatives. Individuals who lose jobs because of technological change should not bear alone this "price of progress''. A welfare state should share such burdens; but based on workfare, with only mothers of infants and the severely disabled exempted.
Etzioni favours national service, compulsory organ donation, random breath tests for drivers and public humiliation of criminals. People who are HIV positive must inform partners.
Critics say all this amounts to a new puritanism, that it fails to understand modern women and takes no account of the economic deprivation that forces husbands and wives to work. Etzioni replies that he does not want draconian new laws but "a new spirit" to improve society.
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