Bellah

 

Vocabulary:

Background on Robert N. Bellah:

Bellah, “Community Properly Understood:  A Defense of ‘Democratic Communitarianism”

 

ABSTRACT: 

 

Definition.  Community is not merely Gemeinschaft (face-to-face groups).  Nor is community only a matter of contract (the liberal view).  Instead, Bellah argues, there is a continuum involving community and contract "as a necessary complementarity" (145).  Moreover, community requires shared values and goals, and argument/conflict over shared values is desirable. 

 

Implication.  Therefore, Bellah is against “ontological individualism,” which is “the belief that the truth of our condition is not in our society or in our relation to others, but in our isolated and inviolable selves” (145).  He opposes it because it elevates individual opportunity over the common good. 

 

False Dichotomy.  Such opportunities come through market (Republican, conservative) and state (Democrat, liberal).  He considers this “polarity” false and criticizes it for not saying much about “substantive values” (146).  And besides, we live not in an ideological universe void of families but in a “lifeworld,” which means community (146). 

 

Favored View.  Bellah’s borrowed term, “democratic communitarianism,” is not an alternative to market and state; however, by emphasizing four values related to community, it provides "a humane context" for thinking about market and state (146).  Here are the values: 

  1. the sacredness of the individual as realized through community

  2. solidarity (“we become who we are through our relationships” [146])

  3. a variety of social groups

  4. participation is “a right and a duty,” along with the principle of subsidiarity (“the groups closest to a problem should attend to it”; the state is necessary [146]). 

Distinction.  Finally, politics should not be about the “summing of individual preferences” (147); morality must also be a factor (you should do what is right even if it is unpopular:  that is the implication).

 

Summary.  Bellah is trying to get us to think about community not just as small groups but also as aggregates of any size, including “the world as a community” (147).  He also wants us to emphasize the collective good and not merely personal preference.  He sees a definite role for government, but government must be attuned to values, by which he means something other than the standard liberal/conservative dichotomy (and definitely something other than popular opinion).

 

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WRITING IN CLASS:   Here are two statements from our book.  Do you agree with one or the other?  Do you agree with each to some degree?  Why or why not?  Write for 10 minutes in your notebooks.  Give an example, take a position, and give reasons to support it.  Why do you believe what you believe?

 

 

 

LARGE-GROUP DISCUSSION OF YOUR RESPONSES

 

FOCUSED LISTING: 

LARGE-GROUP DISCUSSION OF YOUR RESPONSES

 

GROUPS OF TWO AND : 

LARGE-GROUP DISCUSSION 

 

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Bellah, “Why Do We Need a Public Affairs Mission?—The Moral Crisis in American Public Life”

 

QUESTIONS ABOUT FREEDOM FOR LARGE-GROUP DISCUSSION:

The text asks or implies various questions that are relevant to our discussion?