The Idea of Community: A Historical Review





Published date: 

July, 1996


Sarl K. Y. Shaw


This essay reviews the idea of community in Western political thought. The classical paradigm is civic republicanism which emphasizes common good. self-rule, and civic virtue as the major characteristics of political life. After the dissolution of the classic theory, there are three paradigms of community in modern political thought—state, civil society, and nation. The modern state is based on the ideal of neutrality with regard to social conflicts. Since its theoretical emphases are on sovereignty and the law, it becomes the dominatnt ruling apparatus of modern political community. The tradition of civil society attempts to find the mechanism for a self-regulating society. Market (which articulates interests) and public sphere (which converges public opinions) become two powerful liberal ideals that can counter the state apparatus. The idea of nation has deep affinity with the rise of romanticism, which emphasizes shared characteristics, affection, and organic solidarity as the foundation of community to overcome alienation. I contend that many themes in the contemporary debates between liberalism, communitarianism, and multiculturalism originate from different vision about community. When looking for an adequate theory of political community, we have to be cautious about the inner logic of different paradigms to achieve satisfactory theoretical reconstruction.