Don’t forget fraternity

August 12, 2008 at 9:05 am

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David Brooks, who was the first major columnist to highlight Danny Kruger’s work in the UK with regard to fraternity, pens a column this morning regarding individualism vs. collectivism. Brooks wonders if we are at the dawn of a new global conversation in which collectivism is given a second look.

The Chinese opening ceremonies in Beijing, with their repeated emphasis on the harmonious society plus the growing consensus that we now live in the Chinese century, may respark the conversation.

If Asia’s success reopens the debate between individualism and collectivism (which seemed closed after the cold war), then it’s unlikely that the forces of individualism will sweep the field or even gain an edge.

For one thing, there are relatively few individualistic societies on earth. For another, the essence of a lot of the latest scientific research is that the Western idea of individual choice is an illusion and the Chinese are right to put first emphasis on social contexts.

Scientists have delighted to show that so-called rational choice is shaped by a whole range of subconscious influences, like emotional contagions and priming effects (people who think of a professor before taking a test do better than people who think of a criminal). Meanwhile, human brains turn out to be extremely permeable (they naturally mimic the neural firings of people around them). Relationships are the key to happiness. People who live in the densest social networks tend to flourish, while people who live with few social bonds are much more prone to depression and suicide.

This would seem a natural spot in the column to mention the work of Kruger, who has himself posed the question about a new global conversation. But Kruger, as we have seen, throws a third topic into the mix:

In the late 20th century, politics was the clash between Liberty [individualism] on one hand and Equality [collectivism] on the other – a battle over the respective roles of the individual and the state. This remains the basic axis of our politics. But rather than a straightforward clash between Liberty and Equality, politics today is a contest for possession of the principle beyond them both: Fraternity.  

Fraternity — the loving bonds formed between free individuals, families, communities and civic associations — provides the proper context for individuals to thrive. Instead of pointing this out, Brooks unintentionally leaves his readers wondering whether the “densest social networks” in which people “flourish” exist in so-called harmonious and collectivist regimes like China’s.

It seems an odd omission from a columnist who has been a champion of Kruger’s work.

On Fraternity

August 4, 2008 at 9:52 am

Danny Kruger, a special adviser to David Cameron — leader of the British conservative Party — has penned an excellent essay that American conservatives could learn a lot from. Now before any of my friends get angry and point out that the British conservatives are playing fast and loose with conservative principles when it comes to their policy prescriptions, let me say, I agree. However, that does not discount the ideas that Kruger has put forth in this essay.

On Fraternity puts the focus where it should be: making government work for people.

The battle of ideas is not over but entering a new and more interesting phase, according to Danny Kruger, special adviser to Conservative Party leader David Cameron MP. In the late 20th century, politics was the clash between Liberty on one hand and Equality on the other – a battle over the respective roles of the individual and the state. This remains the basic axis of our politics. But rather than a straightforward clash between Liberty and Equality, politics today is a contest for possession of the principle beyond them both: Fraternity. 

In his booklet On Fraternity, published by the independent think-tank Civitas, Kruger sketches the philosophical framework of the new battle of ideas, drawing on the writings of Locke, Burke and Hegel. He argues that Liberty, not Equality, is the natural ally of Fraternity, and that individual freedom, not state coercion, best protects the institutions of belonging and promotes the habits of solidarity.

At the heart of Kruger’s argument is a fundamentally correct understanding of human anthropology.  We are at our best when we are connected to others. We need fraternity. Fraternity provides the proper context for learning, for growing and for becoming properly socialised. The result is a vibrant and healthy civil society.

Society today is headed in the opposite direction, where individials are increasingly alientated from community, from family and therefore from society. No man is an island, and Kruger understands that. He argues that conservative policies are the proper prescription for reconnecting the isolated man with his community.

Of course the Left has hijacked this language. Liberal politicians talk of helping the least of these in society. They talk of social obligations and responsibility. But underneath their rhetoric is an unmistakeable truth: In the name of equal outcomes (instead of opportunities) the state will assume these obligations, not individuals. Or as Kruger writes, the promise of the modern liberal is that the state will erect “a great steel citadel to house everyone together and equally.” Behind this steel monstrosity, individuals will be protected from the “harsh winds of reality.”

Like most liberal prescriptions, this one hurts those it purports to help. The poor are further disconnected from communities as the state assumes the obligations that should be those of the community. The isolated in society are subjected to more loneliness, as their only connection with the society at large is through large and unfamiliar federal programs that create dependency and rob both the recipient and the would-be giver of the rewards that come with real charity on a personal level.

In this picture, the state with all its grandiose intentions is nothing more than a thief and deceiver. With its rhetoric about society it promises something that it has not the capacity to deliver and instead it indiscriminately doles out the addictive poison of federal aid with the purpose of nourishing itself, not society.

Kruger is on to something here. I highly recommend his essay, On Fraternity.

PS - For those of you still subscribed to this feed, you will be seeing the resumption of posts as my employment has changed. I won’t be as frequent as I used to be, but I do intend to write a few posts a week at least.