Once again, I found it an extraordinary read. Kautz sets out the foundations of classical liberalism so openly that the flaws in the theory are strikingly clear.
Kautz begins the chapter by reminding the reader that liberalism has become an orthodoxy:
Classical and contemporary liberal teachings ... dominate our political discourse. America is still now, or perhaps now more than ever, somehow a liberal regime ... (p.23)
Why is "community" such a problem for us, here and now? The short answer is liberalism. The political philosophy of liberalism, its critics and friends agree, is in some sense our political philosophy: we are somehow all liberals. (p.28)
Why has a liberal orthodoxy brought about a lost sense of community? Kautz argues first that liberalism overwhelmed other traditions which once upheld a positive sense of virtue:
Liberalism ... has prevailed in this century in America, overwhelming those elements of the American political tradition that once tamed our individualism and materialism. If liberal America once found needed moral sustenance in various religious and republican traditions of virtue that have long since been abandoned, as many argue, then it must now find a way to reconstitute those indispensable moral supplements to the material comforts that liberal politics provides. (p.28)
It's Kautz's second argument which is really striking. Kautz explains that the "moral pyschology" on which liberalism is based is inevitably hostile to community:
It should not be surprising, even to partisans of liberalism, that a world dominated by liberal individualism has given rise to longings for lost community. Classical liberalism is a doctrine of acquisitive individualism, and teaches that man is by nature solitary and selfish, not political or even social: the most powerful natural passions and needs of human beings are private. Human beings are not friends by nature.
This harsh moral psychology is, at any rate, the fundamental teaching of classical liberalism. As a result, the idea of community is always somewhat suspect for thoughtful liberals. Liberals are inclined to view partisans of community as either romantic utopians or dangerous authoritarians.
If there is no natural common good, beyond peace and security, then invocations of the spirit of community are either foolish or fraudulent, impossible dreams or wicked ideologies. (p.28)
Kautz goes on to write in a similar vein:
Classical liberals ... seem to believe that we could be content to live alone, because there are no natural bonds between human beings, and so there is no natural community. Indeed, the family is not simply natural, according to some of the founders of liberalism. And even if there were certain natural passions or sentiments that might, in favourable circumstances, bring human beings together in a natural community, these passions are overwhelmed, in most circumstances, by the strongest human passion, the desire to preserve oneself and to live in tolerable comfort in a world of human enemies ...
In short, the most urgent human good ... is the security of our bodies ... I repeat: our classical liberal teachers have taught us that human beings are in the decisive respect friendless by nature, and we have constructed a world on the basis of this understanding. It is not surprising that we feel lonely, now and then. (p.29)
Liberal politics is, as a result, a politics of fearful accommodation among natural foes who somehow reconstitute themselves as civil friends ... (p.29)
This "moral psychology" ought to have been challenged, and marginalised, long ago. It is way too pessimistic an account of human nature. We are asked to believe the following:
i) humans are by nature solitary and selfish
ii) other humans are to be regarded primarily as a threat to my life
iii) the primary good is to be left alone, in physical security, to pursue acquisitive wants, in other words, to accumulate material goods
iv) any invocation of community is either utopian or authoritarian
I think back to my childhood and early adulthood in Melbourne, a city of several million souls. I remember a whole set of naturally occurring communities: those of family, suburb, parish, city, state and nation. I remember people acting supportively toward each other, on the basis that you should "help your mates", or that men should act courteously toward women, or that you should help out a fellow Australian, or that you should help the less fortuntate and so on. I remember too a range of goods that were held to be more important than acquisitive wants: loyalty to friends, love for women, a culture of family life, masculine character and achievement, an appreciation of the arts, and a love of nature to name a few.
Melbourne was, at that time, a settled community and the primary experience of life was not fear of those you lived amongst. If anything, the opposite was true: people were generally honest and helpful in their dealings with each other.
So there is no compelling reason, in my own life experience, to retreat into a private world of acquisitive individualism - a world in which community is feared as a danger to my liberty of person or property.
We lose too much in this retreat, including a freedom to participate in the more significant aspects of life.