The more I read, the more I realize the true secret to success in business and life is related to the strength of relationships within a person’s community. The myth of rugged isolated individualism, although enduring, is, in truth, only a myth. Economic, educational, even political effectiveness are all improved when people work together. Please don’t misunderstand me, I haven’t turned to economic communism; however, I can understand better how so many have been drawn into this illogically evil doctrine. Specifically, most people, if given the choice between being alone or in community, will choose community, even if the association is Biblically wrong, thus communism’s growth. In fact, a cursory look at organizations as diverse as communism, the mafia, and gangs will exhibit the enduring need for community.
Communities versus Individualism
If community is essential to human beings, then the question is: How do we incorporate community into a society without sacrificing life, liberty, and property? Since liberty cannot exist where the State dictates, the idea of community and freedom precludes State control. Therefore, free communities are a misnomer unless they are voluntary organizations. However, although the non-involvement of the State is essential, it isn’t sufficient to create community. The other side of the equation is for people to learn how to work within a community setting. Consequently, the atomistic rugged individualism of American myth must be replaced by men and women who work within a Biblical framework of ordered liberty and love. In other words, the greedy, self-centered capitalist is not a true picture of a free-enterprise Biblical community. In fact, this caricature of American freedoms pinpoints what is plaguing America – the loss of community roots and liberty (Social Power), instead, replaced by today’s (State Power) crony capitalism.
Murray Rothbard, the late dean of Austrian Economists, wrote in Conceived in Liberty:
With Albert Jay Nock, the twentieth-century American political philosopher, I see history as centrally a race and conflict between “social power” – the productive consequence of voluntary interactions among men – and state power. In those eras of history when liberty – social power – has managed to race ahead of state power and control, the country and even mankind have flourished. In those eras when state power has managed to catch up with or surpass social power, mankind suffers and declines.
State Power versus Social Power
In sum, wherever State Power flourishes, Social Power declines. Thankfully, however, the reverse is true as well. By standing on the shoulders of both Nock and Rothbard, we see that societies can be organized around two competing philosophical choices:
1. State Power: Top down external discipline and the subsequent loss of liberty endured.
2. Social Power: Bottom up internal discipline and the subsequent ordered liberty enjoyed.
The first option is the real-life history of America since around the Civil War, with State Power moving ahead and Social Power in subsequent decline. Since 1913, however, the battle has become a run-away drubbing with State Powers triumphing in the Federal Reserve Act, the Federal Income Tax amendment, and the democratic election of Senators. In truth, it’s hard to fathom a worse mixture of federal legislation (for Social Power) in one year in one country than what occurred in America in that fatal year of 1913. In other words, 1913 wasn’t just (to use Oliver DeMille’s term) a freedom shift, it was a freedom rout. I look forward to DeMille’s book 1913 which elaborates on these fateful events.
The second option is America’s (and the West’s) best hope for freedom. America needs a community restoration, starting, not from the top down (State Power), but rather, from the bottom up (Social Power), in order to revitalize America. Social Power is fueled by social capital – a sociological concept which refers to the value of social relations and the role of cooperation and confidence to get collective results in any endeavor – to paraphrase Robert Putnam, in is classic Bowling Alone. Putnam explains the key role of social capital, “A society characterized by generalized reciprocity is more efficient than a distrustful society, for the same reason that money is more efficient than barter. If we don’t have to balance every exchange instantly, we can get a lot more accomplished. Trustworthiness lubricates life. Frequent interaction among a diverse set of people tends to produce a norm of generalized reciprocity.” Furthermore, Putnam argues, “Does social capital have salutary effects on individuals, communities, or even entire nations? Yes, an impressive and growing body of research suggest that civic connections help make us healthy, wealthy, and wise. Living without social capital is not easy, whether one is a villager in southern Italy or a poor person in the American inner city or a well-heeled entrepreneur in a high-tech district.” Social capital matters, in other words, both personally, professionally, and politically.
Social Capital: Turning Aspiration into Realities
Putnam goes on to list five specific areas where the trust and understanding inured by social capital helps translate aspirations into realities:
1. Social capital allows citizens to resolve collective problems more easily through improved teamwork.
2. Social capital greases the wheels that allow communities to advance smoothly through improved trust.
3. Social capital helps widen the awareness of fellow citizens that their fates are intertwined through improved understanding.
4. Social capital serves as conduits for the flow of helpful information and resources to accomplish community and individual goals.
5. Social capital improves individual lives through psychological and biological processes. In fact, numerous studies suggest lives that are rich in social capital cope with trauma and illnesses significantly more effectively.
America’s Social Capital Decline
Even with social capital’s overwhelming advantages, Putnam acknowledges its decline, writing, “Americans have had a growing sense at some visceral level of disintegrating social bonds.” He explains further, “More than 80% of Americans said there should be more emphasis on community, even if it puts more demands on individuals.” In sum, social capital isn’t just the fuel for Social Power – a necessary check on State Power – but it also enhances individual lives through the sense of belonging engendered within communities. Strikingly then, the decline of social capital, not only attacks society’s freedoms, but also attacks an individual’s well-being. With so much to gain and so much to lose, why aren’t more people focused on the restoration of communities throughout America and the West? That question will be the subject of further articles.