Wednesday, March 05, 2008

State vs. Community

I really liked this post by Jonah Goldberg (linked by Arnold Kling):
... I don't know that you should be against building community and helping the community. I'm not against either of those things. What I generally (though not absolutely) oppose are efforts to build the state while invoking the language of community as if the two are the same thing. The state isn't the community and the community isn't the state.
Exactly right. However, I want to quibble with what comes next:
And what I passionately and absolutely oppose in almost every instance (freeing slaves, smashing Jim Crow, are good exceptions to this rule) are efforts to destroy traditional community with inorganic state-imposed customs all the while claiming to be on the side of community.
My problem is with the parenthetical, which implies that slavery and Jim Crow were instances of organic community traditions that the state had to dismantle. On the contrary, both were the products of heavy state involvement. Slavery was enforced by means of taxes and the conscription of able-bodied men (including non-slave-holders) to chase down runaway slaves. Jim Crow prohibited everyone (including the non-bigots) from freely associating and doing business with blacks on equal terms with whites. This is not to say that there weren't community norms that favored discrimination; clearly there were. But those norms were buttressed by the power of the state, and they might have crumbled sooner without state support.

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