Author:Jeffrey Abramson

Page 472

Communitarianism is a political philosophy that emphasizes the good society's need for strong bonds of community, civic virtue, solidarities of CITIZENSHIP, and public deliberation about moral issues. It generally offers its vision as an alternative to contemporary LIBERALISM, criticizing liberals for overly emphasizing doctrines of individual autonomy at the expense of nurturing the social allegiances that give depth and substance to an individual's identity. Communitarians hark back to the traditional republican political theory which crucially taught that democratic freedom is accomplished not so much by leaving persons alone as by fostering the virtue it takes to govern according to the common good rather than self-interest.

As a matter of CONSTITUTIONAL INTERPRETATION, communitarians object to prevailing legal trends that insist government must be neutral as among the competing views and values of citizens. For instance, in FIRST AMENDMENT cases, the DOCTRINE of content neutrality means that government cannot regulate speech merely because it judges the subject matter of the speech to be unimportant, unworthy, or imminently dangerous. But communitarians

Page 473

argue that the lofty purposes of the First Amendment are trivialized when the public interest in FREEDOM OF SPEECH about commerce or sex is equated with the public interest in free speech about politics. For communitarians, freedom of speech is basic precisely because open, democratic government is impossible without it. The same heightened public importance is absent when courts analyze COMMERCIAL SPEECH or sexual speech and courts go too far, argue communitarians, when they read the First Amendment as if its purpose were to protect the individual's personal interest in self-expression. To interpret the First Amendment as if the Framers were neutral as between the importance in a democracy of free speech about politics and free speech about the price of commercial products is to trivialize free speech and to misread the Constitution as exalting protection of individual self-expression into a sovereign, absolute value.

Many communitarians also object to interpreting the FOURTEENTH AMENDMENT DUE PROCESS clause as granting implicit constitutional status to a RIGHT OF PRIVACY, asthe Supreme Court did in ROE V. WADE (1973) and subsequent cases protecting a woman's right to choose ABORTION. The same purported right of privacy is at stake in cases...

To continue reading