I've been focusing on this because community health has such a big impact on individual health. Just turn on the news if you don't believe me!
In this chapter, Nisbet squarely takes aims at the State, and states that the decline of community is to blame on the growth of the state. His research shows in this chapter that as the power of the State grows it pushes aside other forms of community, causing “dislocations of social structure and uprooting of status which lie behind the problem of community in our age.
Now you may be thinking: How can we deal with the “State” categorically, as a concrete organization and historical fact?
Nisbet’s answer: “not to deal with the State categorically is to risk losing, in the varied sequences of diplomatic, military, and political events the essential unity of the State as an idea system in the modern West and, more important, the powerful and cohesive nature of the State as an institution, as a system of human allegiances and motivations.”
So we can now move forward recognizing that the State is a concrete historical fact and organization which can be dealt with, just like the family, the tribe, the church, the guild, and the corporation. The State grew while all other forms of community were pushed aside. I immediately thought of our own country where it’s been shown and proven time and time again that the social programs of “The Great Society” caused unforeseen consequences in family life of Americans, particularly African- Americans. Fathers were no longer needed, and the State became a surrogate father. This created growing divorce, single motherhood, fatherlessness, crime, unemployment, economic stagnation, particularly in minority communities. So even here in our time, in a process which began with this legislation in the 1960s, community in the form of family was marginalized by the State.
This is a historical process of centralization which has been going on for some time, for example at least mentioned as far back as in Ancient Greece in the teachings of Plato, but which also picked up steam after the Reformation, and also even more during these social engineering programs of the 1960s.
“If we look not to imaginary beginnings in the never-never land of ethnological reconstruction but to historically connected sequences of change in such specific areas as ancient Athens, Rome, or modern England and France, we discover that the rise and aggrandizement of political States took place in circumstances of powerful opposition to kinship and other traditional authorities.”
Nisbet likens this process to culminating in the “people in unity ruling over the people as multitude.” Reading this made me think of many current debates over:
How much freedom people should have?
How much group independence people should have?
What constitutes the public space and what is allowed there?
Where do my rights end and yours begin?
Our founding fathers set up an ingenious system in its foundation. Government was to be limited, and subsidiarity (local control) was to be primary. The idea that a colony of pagans in California, or that Mormons in Utah, or Conservative Christians in Alabama shouldn’t be left alone and left to live how they choose is foreign to the US founding. Our forefathers were very intelligent. They knew about this historical process of centralization and could see the dangers of an unchecked state. Thomas Jefferson, who wrote the Declaration of Independence, even envisioned an agrarian republic of small, independent communities. We’ve strayed so far from even articulating that ideal now that it’s no wonder community is suffering, and people are dying of loneliness, drug addiction and suicide. The State is in constant revolution against community.