In one of my favorite books, “On The Rule of Law” (the book I used with my students), Brian Tamanaha offers of couple of definitions for both Individualism and Communitarianism.
“…political theory that champions liberty and the protection of rights, especially the rights of contract and property, including the right to sell one’s own labor…”
A system where the “…law is a reflection of shared community values…in the presence of pervasively shared values and customary law, legislation need not be as prominent or voluminous…it is not essential in a communitarian system that there be restraints on government power.”
We’ve seen the atheist manifestation of communitarianism in action in the form of Communism. The Soviet Union, Cuba, etc. While we don’t know what this would look like with a Christian worldview, it’s safe to say that power is simply too centralized in this kind of system. In a selfish world, checks and balances are essential to keeping power in check.
The other end of the spectrum (individualism), however, we see here in the United States. Our rights and the dignity of the individual were codified in the U.S. Constitution. There is no minimizing this, this was a remarkable moment in the history of the progress of humankind, but there are risks.
In 2020 we find ourselves still fighting for those God given rights, primarily on behalf of oppressed peoples in this country. Unfortunately, this fight has resulted in the backlash of those who’s perception is that their individual freedoms are being removed. Most Christians I talk to who oppose the “Black Lives Matter” movement, oppose it on this basis. Out of fear that the solution will be to remove their individual rights in favor of “socialism.”
For me to delve into the Christian perspective on socialism would be another post unto itself. Instead, I’d like to offer the thesis that Christians should be just as fearful of unregulated individualism.
Like Communitarianism, when Individualism lacks love as it’s driving force, centralized power again becomes an issue. It’s much more complex, but that power tends to reside in those that have accumulated the most wealth. In this country, for many reasons, that’s White people. We often don’t even realize that this is occurring even though nearly everyone in our neighborhood looks the same. Of course this is a blanket statement not meant to cover everyone, but this is one of the dangers of extreme individualism, and this class separation would occur (to a lesser extent) even without the institutional problems we have here. I’m sure many of you have said something to the extent of “if you work hard in this country, you can achieve anything you want.” Well, no this is clearly not the case for everyone.
Just like group superiority (the community version of selfishness) plagues communitarianism, individual selfishness plagues individualism. This should alarm Christians the most, because a system that simply rewards selfishness can’t be by nature, Christian. Yes, each of those individuals can do great things for humanity, but you can’t let selfishness run amok in a selfish world. This why we can’t live at either extreme.
If I was to give advice on a preferred system of government for Christians, it wouldn’t have labels. Government, like everything else in life, can be used for love and their is nothing wrong with that.
As citizens of the United States, we are bound by social contract. Whether born or naturalized. This means that when your tax dollars are removed from your paycheck they are no longer yours, they are ours. Taxing income levels differently is not theft because everyone has the right to vote and select their elected representatives. Stewardship and ethics are very important, but love is most important. In government, and anywhere else.