I've just returned from a short holiday in the countryside. I spent some time in a couple of smaller towns, where a more settled way of life still prevails. I could feel in these towns that sense of people and place which gives a special charge to the experience of life. Another way to put this is that it gives a more spiritualised experience of life.
And yet there are many people who have chosen to commit themselves instead to an internationalist, multicultural ideal. But why?
Here are some of the possible reasons why some Westerners have chosen such an option:
1. At the top of society there are reasons for wanting to break people apart from one another. If people are allowed to have "sideways loyalties" then there is a possible source of resistance to a complete domination of society by the logic of the market and by the regulation (and remaking) of society by intellectual "expertise."
This is significant because it means that the side of politics which is opposed to traditional communities has both money and intellectual support.
2. Liberals are likely to turn against traditional communities. This is so for a number of reasons. First, liberals are (formally) committed to a pluralistic vision of society, in which society is declared to be a neutral space in which the state regulates the relations between different groups holding an equal status (except that the traditionally dominant group is often not given equal status). This view leads liberals to criticise traditional communities as being too monocultural or "whitebread".
Second, liberals are often committed to an individualistic vision of society. Liberals have rejected the classical view of man being a social creature, with some of our identity and purposes being drawn from the social entities we belong to, and have instead looked upon the abstract, atomised individual (the individual considered apart from his community or family) as being the starting point of philosophy. For this reason, liberals are not as sensitive to the importance of a traditional communal life to the individual (this is the aspect of liberalism that communitarian writers have criticised).
Third, liberals hold to a concept of freedom in which freedom is defined as individual autonomy. We are free, in this view, if we are unimpeded in living a self-determining life. This means that predetermined qualities, such as our sex or our ethny, are thought of, negatively, as restrictions or limitations that the individual should be liberated from. This concept of freedom has ruled out many of the more significant aspects of human identity; what it has left for many liberals is the idea that life is about being self-made in the market. Hence the view of the individual as "economic man" in pursuit of his rational self-interest in the market. The more that this view dominates, the more that people are seen as interchangeable units rather than as members of distinct communities.
3. There are some Christians (not all) who have set themselves against traditional communities. This is despite what I pointed to at the start of this post, namely that the experience of traditional community life is a spiritualising one that is likely to bring the individual closer to, rather than further from, the acceptance of Christian belief.
Why might some Christians promote a shift toward a more mundane internationalism? One reason is that some Christians are reductionist in their world view. They want to distil Christianity into just one principle, and sometimes choose to go with an abstract, indiscriminate love for everyone equally. The value of particular human relationships aren't recognised in this outlook.
There are also some Christians who see particular loves and relationships as competing with, rather than leading people toward (or being aspects of), the relationship with church and with God. Some Christians even claim that the only legitimate community is that of church.
4. Intellectuals often don't share the same interests as others. Growing up they can feel like the odd person out, unappreciated and unrecognised by those around them. As young adults they are likely to seek out others like themselves and to form communities which are defined against
the surrounding mainstream culture. Their form of community, in other words, defines status according to how far distant its members are from the ordinary mainstream of society. Intellectual communities have therefore tended to deny that their own society has a worthwhile culture of its own and have instead set out to identify with and enjoy the cultures of others.
5. In modern times, some Westerners may simply never have had the experience of living within a traditional community. In the larger, multicultural cities it is now possible to not know what it is like to be part of a living tradition of one's own.
6. Some people are not spiritually sensitive souls. They are more inclined to understand things materialistically and are therefore less likely to recognise the value of belonging to a settled community.
7. Some people of mixed ancestry, or who belong to minority ethnic groups, don't experience the existence of the (mainstream) living tradition as positively as others, not feeling that they belong to it as closely.
You can see from this the challenge of holding onto traditional community life, no matter what it brings positively to people's lives. Traditions won't go on just by themselves, not when they are up against the forces I have listed above. There has to exist resourced, organised, institutional support for them.
Traditionalists ought to be concerned that the economic structure of a society gives business interests reasons to support community; that the theology of the churches is a sophisticated one that brings the churches into the mainstream of social life, rather than marginalising them as cults; that intellectuals are brought into normal social life rather than forming hostile sub-communities and that they are encouraged to seek status through intellectual and cultural leadership rather than through rejection of the mainstream; and that rank and file traditionalists are given the chance to exert influence through organisations of their own.