LETTERS : Community begins at home

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THE sudden discovery by Nick Cohen of communitarianism as a "new ideology" ("The -ism now arriving . . .", 5 February), supported by your leading article, indicates the dangers of cultural transplants.

What goes under the label of communitarianism in the United States is a largely conservative backlash against a humanist individualist tradition, one of the most prominent achievements of Western liberalism. That communitarianism aims - through the mirage of a shared morality - to exercise social control over the attempts of individuals and groups to cultivate diversity.

Rather than import this ideological variant into Britain, Labour and Liberal theorists should examine Britain's own ideological heritage. They would discover that a collectivism which sought to promote social welfare and individual liberty was at the heart of the work of Liberal thinkers such as LT Hobhouse and JA Hobson, and Labour thinkers such as GDH Cole, RH Tawney and HJ Laski. The richness of the British political tradition is sufficient to provide material for those anxious to combine self-development with mutual responsibilities underpinned by a democratic state.

Were we not so prone to assimilate soundbites from America, it would not be necessary to re-invent a sophisticated debate that our own society was instrumental in generating and exporting to the world.

Dr Michael Freeden

`Journal of Political Ideologies'

Oxford

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