Scholar Mason Drukman on Individualism & Community
To support communal feelings, a nation must seek to preserve certain cherished institutions as well as engage in creative innovation; it must value collective responsibility as well as individual incentive; it must espouse goals over and above those of economic self-aggrandizement. If a commitment to the ends of economic individualism prevented Americans from adopting these views, this commitment constituted an even stronger barrier to the political aspects of community. Government could act as a transmitter and protector of communal values only if the people were willing to invest it with the authority necessary to accomplish these tasks. …
—Political Science Scholar Mason Drukman on Community and Government in “Community and Purpose in America” (1971)
6 Responses to Scholar Mason Drukman on Individualism & Community
Can;t agree with Drukman.
I think we need parents and relatives and local people and churches and cultural groups
transmitting and protecting communal values. When someone starts telling me that the government needs more authority to protect culture I’m thinking Chairman Mao.
I agree with Drukman on the whole, but I would not say that government needs to be vested with some kind of new authority. Our federal government already has plenty of authority, but exercises it poorly and on behalf on monied interests. But instead trying to take back government and trying to get it to work for us, we distrust it altogether and leave it to its own pernicious devices. I surmise that this explains the rise in radical individualism in America, which is the idea that a person succeeds and fails based entirely on his own merit, and that government–a communal entity by nature designed to secure the common (and individual) good–can only be a hindrance to success and a catalyst for failure.
At the beginning of Civil Disobedience, Thoreau quotes Jefferson, “That government is best which governs least.” We need the government to do certain things we can’t do as individuals, and I’m not against National Museums or endowments. I don’t think transmitting culture or becoming an arbiter of what’s worth transmitting is one of the vital functions of government. Irish culture survived for eight hundred years with a government trying actively to crush it. What I see as a far greater threat to our culture than the government’s lack of support for the individual writer or artist, or the local theater group, is the fact that communal culture has been widely supplanted by trash culture. Snooky’s book is a best seller. I don’t know what the government can do about that.
Here’s how I take the Drukman statement. In a democracy, or in our case a democratic republic with people chosen to represent others to address public matters, the government is the club we all belong to. There are families, churches/temples, parent-teacher associations, bowling leagues, film societies, chambers of commerce, etc. that help us find our way and make something of our days. But government is our invention to deal with those aspects of life in which we all have a stake and which require a broader means of acting. This is what we have instead of a King or Queen or Dictator. We get to make the decisions. That’s the American way. Government is an expression of our beliefs and values. We agree on rules of the game (no murdering, no monopolies, no discrimination in hiring, and more)We agree to collect money to take care of common obligations and needs (roads, armies, schools, and such) and make decisions about where that money goes. If we don’t decide these things collectively, the strongest, richest, meanest person or group gets to decide for us. Self-government is how we try to protect ourselves from abuse by others and create a society that produces healthy results. The challenge is to see the mutual interest and make time to play a role in those common concerns when taking care of one’s own life, family, and business requires so much effort. Self-government doesn’t work if there is no public involvement time in the schedule.
Paul, you have personally done more to promote the local culture in this city than any government organization. The “new authority” Drukman mentions-I’m not sure what it entails, but there’s something I find frightening in the title “Minister for Culture.”
Look at Gerry Bisantz with his home grown Women’s theater festival last weekend.
There are a hundred real ministers for culture in this city. I’m only afraid, as i said, that our young people’s tastes are being molded by suits at Time Life Warner.
Thanks anon. for the vote of confidence. Appreciate that, and I’ll keep doing what I can. In this context I’d take “culture” in the broadest sense of the the social/civic water in which we swim. On the “authority” question, what I’m trying to say is that we, us, you-me, we are the authority, we are the governed who must give consent. But giving consent has to be an action verb, so to speak, otherwise authority gets grabbed by the greedy grabby types or defaults to the overly assertive who are glad to make decisions for the rest of the group. We keep control by handing it out. Authority is a gift we lend for defined periods of time. We take it back if we don’t like what is happening. We change the line-up.