Reader, she nailed him!

Echidne nails Amitai Etzioni (not that way!) with this post on why communitarianism is about as popular with most feminists as yeast infections at a pool party.  She dispatches the unspoken assumptions of communitarians, most of whom assume that women will stay out of the paid labor force to look after the communibabies and see to the communicooking and communicleaning.  Feminism is low on the list of communitarian values, because of all of the free work that men used to get out of women before.  She explains:

[As communitarians argue, n]ow that many women work for money nobody is doing that important charity [work] and therefore the past might have been a better time for the community. Surprisingly, the chapter had nothing about charity being a task which men, too, could practice.

This whole treatment made me uncomfortable, because it appeared to construct “the community” as somehow not including the women whose free labor was perhaps semi-forced into charitable uses.

Interestingly, as she notes, “many communitarians want other people to have good unselfish values while they themselves continue working as professors or whatever they do for money. It’s a neat trick, that one, because the only way you can really be a selfish communitarian is by leading the movement.”  Some people are more equal than others, natch!

But there are other reasons to cast a skeptical eye at Etzioni and his ilk.  Communitarianism rests on the delusional belief that it’s “identity politics” that divide Americans from each other and not, you know, income inequality or other material measures that the have-nots are still very much among us.  As Etzioni argued in a recent article at The Huffington Post (h/t Echidne again),

Identity politics led to attempts to form a ‘rainbow’ coalition, composed of various groups who considered themselves victimized — against the declining white, male majority. Other forms of identity politics pitted citizens against immigrants. Some of the more radical versions of multiculturalism also contributed to this kind of divisive politics.

(Howd’ya like those quotation marks around “rainbow?”  “Bite me,” Professor!)  That’s right:  the problem is not that you have less than I, and worry about it constantly to the detriment of your health, and are discriminated against because of your lack of resources and outsider status every day–the problem is that you keep pointing it out!  So shut up and sing Kum-Bye-Yah a little louder for me, m’kay?

0 thoughts on “Reader, she nailed him!

  1. Say it ain’t so! Is this the same Amitai Etzioni who was on my first (or second) graduate syllabus, way back there in the… Dawning of the Age of Aquarius?!? It didn’t seem like a very young name then, although at that point you sort of assume that all of the authors are Ancients. Anyway, clearly there was a whole lot of complacent communal sexism out there By The Time We Got to Woodstock, although the language to identify it didn’t begin to be available (on any syllabus I got, anyway) until Ms. hit the streets a few years later. Anyway, is this the same guy; it didn’t say Jr. or III, by any chance, did it…?


  2. Thank you for directing me to this. I’m doing some reading (and attempts at writing) about Greenbelt, Maryland, and the community that was established there in the New Deal. Something about it kept rubbing me the wrong way, what with the women being required to stay home and engage in all of this community-uilding volunteer work. So, they were excluded from wage labor and expected to do volunteer labor all for the privlege of living in this town.

    Also, something in this communitarian idea reminds me very much of these liberal (and even some self-professed radical) males who constantly want to shove feminist issues to the side as distracting from the “real issues.” As if the concerns of half of the population are not “real”!


  3. Yes, communitarianism does seem to attempt to return “us” to a nostaligic and probably idealized time filled with bliss; except for those of us who never experienced the bliss. I do think, though, that the politics of “identity”, though perhaps necessary, inevitably becomes divisive and has a tendency to set groups who experience oppression, in various ways, against each other in an opposition that almost inevitably slips into the hierarchical – whichever group is the “more oppressed” is most deserving of urgent attention, as if attention is a very scarce resource. Unfortunately, sometimes it is. But that’s not inevitable I hope. I fear that progressive movements do fall into the competition at least in part because of the problems of identity politics as a strategy or theory for action. It’s quite handy for the “powers that be” to have oppressed groups fighting against each other for the very resources that are being withheld. It takes a lot of time and energy and is inevitably disempowering.

    I’m still struggling to find what I think the uniting factor might be and trying to go beyond materialism and economic inequality, as those takes on the world don’t seem to have borne fruit. I still find socialist arguments pretty compelling, as long as we don’t overestimate the economic. If poverty and lack of access to resources – economic, social, cultural and political – aren’t the things that are common to people oppressed for a variety of other reasons, I don’t know what the unifying factors might be.


  4. Clio B.: fascinating! I had no idea that women in Greenbelt were forbidden to work for wages. Presumably, husbands in Greenbelt were forbidden to divorce their wives, to become alcoholics or drug addics, to become mentally or physically ill, and to die, too! What a miracle! What a community!

    And hysperia, isn’t the world essentially and always divided into people with different interests? (Historiann is a Marxist, but isn’t that what politics is, the negotiation of a governing consensus among different competing interest groups?) I don’t see “identity politics” as more divisive than any other kinds of politics–it’s just that most of us (those who don’t have lots of money or connections to Wall Street, K Street, or Pennsylvania Avenue) have only our identities to bring us together with other likeminded people. And, suggesting that “identity politics” are somehow more divisive than other kinds of politics seems to be part of a move to exclude people with certain identities from politics entirely.

    Socialism would be great, if only it (like capitalism) didn’t rely on the unpaid labor of women in all of its previous historical incarnations. This is why I’m something of a Women’s Libber-tarian. Women are rational economic actors who should have the right to work and sell their labor at the highest price without being accused of the downfall of Western Civilization.


  5. Historiann, I know! I’m getting oriented to this material (mostly just to incorporate into lectures, but it got a bit out of hand through curiosity), and I have questions like “what if the man disappeared for whatever reason?” And “what if the woman had a job and the man didn’t?” And “what about single women?” The community was expanded as part of defense housing in WWII, and there were supposed to have been a lot of Navy men there. So what happened to the women then? I could go on, but then I’d continue highjacking the thread and rob myself of a post!


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