Robert Nisbet (The Quest for Community) famously argued that humans possess what one might call a communal imperative–we will belong to communities, one way or another. Nisbet warned that if we don’t nurture healthy communities that we would produce pathological ones. Was he right?
So much of the success of the liberal West, manifested in various forms in Western Europe and the United States, rests on the most dramatic liberation that humans have ever known. From the Enlightenment to the present, the liberation of the individual from non-chosen restraints and identities has been progressive and, seemingly, irreversible. Where in the United States do we find fixed roles based on family, sex, or inherited status? Where in America does tradition have any sway except where individuals, working in chosen associations, have, with concerted effort, affirmed some discrete set of traditions or customs?
Have we liberated ourselves from community? Or, to put it more precisely, has the unprecedented cultural success of liberal emancipation from inherited or imposed status, role, and place, made all forms of corporatism impossible in the United States? And if so, was Nisbet therefore wrong about the human communal imperative?