The book is a reply to those who have criticised liberalism for undermining community. Admittedly, I've only read the first chapter, but so far I've been more disconcerted than persuaded by the way Kautz puts his argument.
I'm going to quote some sections of the text and then briefly comment underneath, beginning with this admission by Kautz:
We have been taught by our classical liberal ancestors to think of ourselves as free individuals above all, rather than as children or parishioners or citizens, or as members of a racial or ethnic group - or, indeed, as members of any other communities. (p.19)
I'm still astonished that people can think this way and build a politics on such an understanding of life. Kautz is happy to support a liberalism in which we become "free" to the extent that we diminish the role in our lives of communities. Kautz thinks of "freedom" as the highest good, and he identifies communities as a threat or hazard to this freedom.
Such a perspective makes no sense if you think of people as social creatures, whose lives are naturally embedded in distinct communities. In this view, freedom is something that is achieved within a society and not against it.
Kautz is aware of such objections. He goes on to quote some communitarian critics of the liberal outlook:
But this idea of the free individual is based on a confusion, say its critics: one's deepest attachments to other human beings are not freely chosen, adopted, and then discarded like articles of clothing, but are given prior to such choices and "partly define the person I am" ...
Indeed, the human being who overcomes such "constitutive" attachments is not liberated, but is rather, says Sandel, "wholly without character, without moral depth"; an honorable human being must surely "feel the moral weight" of these primary loyalties.
The criticisms here are quite good. Liberalism holds that to be free we must be self-defining, self-determining individuals. But much of what is most significant in our lives is unchosen, including our communal identity and a great part of our family commitments. If we lose this unchosen aspect of life, then we will be poorer in our sense of ourselves and our place within a community.
Kautz seems to take this criticism seriously. He therefore sets out to prove that the asocial, "free" liberal individual can also stake a claim to "moral depth":
All of this is undoubtedly partly true: the liberal idea of the free individual too often, in liberal practice, produces eccentric, passive, lonely individuals. But it is perhaps not exhaustive.
Even for contemporary admirers of community, praise of the loyal and devoted citizen is commonly tempered by an awareness of the moral gravity of those who contributed to liberalism's past and present victories over intolerant and oppressive communities: moral freedom may require rebellion against moral community.
Those free individuals who secured for themselves, and for us, the blessings of liberty, even at the price of rebellion against a father or a priest or a prince, are perhaps not wholly "without moral depth," but deserve both our admiration and our gratitude: the truly free human being possesses a moral dignity that at least rivals the dignity of a human life that is animated by love or piety or patriotism.
Once again, Kautz, the defender of classical liberalism, writes of community as a kind of natural competitor against, or even enemy of, freedom. He even contrasts the "truly free human being" with the human being animated "by love or piety or patriotism".
I don't like Kautz's radically individualistic "truly free human being". I don't even think he is all that free - what, after all, is his freedom for, once he becomes asocial and discards membership of a distinct community and tradition, and once he steps aside from a life animated "by love or piety or patriotism"? Isn't it better to be free to participate in the greater aspects of life, rather than to discard them in order to be an autonomous loner?