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The Quest for Community: The Total Community

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Picture The “Total Community” is mass society, the abstract conglomeration of masses of rootless, atomized people, dehumanized and helpless to resist. The “Total Community” is the opposite of real culture and community. Community health is one of the most important and under-discussed aspects of health in the US.  That’s why I have taken on the project of summarizing and commenting on Robert Nisbet’s classic work: The Quest for Community, one of the best books on community ever written.  

You can scroll through my blog for the other chapters to catch up, as I’m going chapter by chapter.  If you like what I’m doing here on the blog, pass it along or invite me to speak.  I do conferences and seminars on a variety of health topics – fitness, nutrition, and wellness.  

​Read on and enjoy.  At the end of this series I’m going to put together a guide to improving community health.  

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Recent protests, riots, violence, censorship, and brazen cases of propaganda and disinformation have made this essay as pertinent as anything I’ve ever written.   In truth, riots and protests have been going on the last few years, though the media hasn’t been covering it. If they have, they have been misleading the public as to what’s really happening.  

To put it very simply: The reason extremism seems to be on the rise is because of the collapse of community in the United States.  

Real community is family, extended family, extended kin, churches, associations, local neighborhoods, and fraternal organizations.  These have all collapsed in America.  Things have been going this way for many years now, but it seems to be getting worse.  But the truth is that all of this could get much, much worse.

It’s important to know what’s really happening.  Chapter 8, entitled “The Total Community” of Robert Nisbet’s “The Quest for Community” addresses exactly what the problem is.  The “Total Community” is mass society of atomized individuals, characterized by a soft or hard totalitarianism that seeps its way into human consciousness and wars against both culture and real community.  The “Total Community” is not a phenomena of culture war, but rather a “war against culture.” A great example of this is the currently lauded 1619 project, which pushes the false narrative that the USA was evil from the beginning, and is backed by the media power centers in the US, New York, Hollywood, and academia.  

Local community is virtually non-existent in the USA, and so being proud to be part of a larger national community was something many people could participate in.  In other words, it was good to be American and be patriotic.  The 1619 project, which could be seen as a prototype arm of the “Total Community” seeks to destroy what little goodwill is left in this form of national community and to make people be ashamed of their own nation.  Amazingly, Nisbet describes this type of thing perfectly in the “Total Community.”  

​The Total Community
 
In this long study of community health I think it’s helpful to take a step back.  Let’s look at the big picture.  America seems to be falling apart, fragmenting along partisan lines.  Depression and anxiety are at epidemic levels and what sociologists call “deaths of despair” have seen a sharp rise.  The leadership class is not a failure, it’s either a laughingstock or non-existent.  Let’s cut to the chase.  The problem we’re dealing with is social isolation, atomization, and social fragmentation, and the continued breakdown of what’s left of our shared American culture.  
 
What is the cause?  As we’ve learned, it’s inherent in the “progressive” and historical consciousness which has become dominant in our country.  The growth of the state has pushed aside real forms of community.  In place of real community, a soft totalitarianism grows into what Nisbet calls the “Total Community.  This massive “relearning” and displacement come at the cost of social membership, social status, social belonging, in other words it has come at the cost of community health.  The “Total Community”, the direction we are quickly heading towards, is the totalitarian community because of its dominant and destructive effect on all other forms of belonging. 
 
It is mass society, which is large numbers of people separated from each other, except in mass movements for “hope” or “change” or “diversity” or other amorphous quasi-religious political groups or movements.  Most people are not aware that they are part of this mass total society, that they are being manipulated, cajoled, influenced, and marginalized into an isolated social world, but they are.  
 
So our goal in this series of essays has been to deconstruct the problem of this growing “Total Community”,  which is a type of anti-community and figure out how we can improve real community health in opposition.  The most important reason we have to do this is because the “Total Community” is also a totalitarian community, it destroys people.   
 
Alexis de Toqueville was a French political philosopher who visited America in the 1840s. Remarkably, he had this to say about the future in the democratic US.  This is one of the most amazing passages I’ve ever been privileged to read, because it describes our anti-community in 2020.  
 
Alexis De Toqueville on the coming “Total Community” in 1840
 
“I think that the species of oppression by which democratic nations are menaced is unlike anything that ever before existed in the world; our contemporaries will find no prototype of it in their memories. I seek in vain for an expression that will accurately convey the whole of the idea I have formed of it; the old words despotism and tyranny are inappropriate: the thing itself is new, and, since I cannot name it, I must attempt to define it. I seek to trace the novel features under which despotism may appear in the world.” 
 
“The first thing that strikes the observation is an innumerable multitude of men, all equal and alike, incessantly endeavoring to procure the petty and paltry pleasures with which they glut their lives. Each of them, living apart, is as a stranger to the fate of all the rest; his children and his private friends constitute to him the whole of mankind. As for the rest of his fellow citizens, he is close to them, but he does not see them; he touches them, but he does not feel them; he exists only in himself and for himself alone; and if his kindred still remain to him, he may be said at any rate to have lost his countryAbove this race of men stands an immense and tutelary power, which takes upon itself alone to secure their gratifications.”
 
“That power is absolute, minute, regular, provident and mild. It would be like the authority of a parent if, like that authority, its object was to prepare men for manhood; but it seeks, on the contrary, to keep them in a perpetual state of childhood: it is well content that people should rejoice, provided they think of nothing but rejoicing. For their happiness such a government willingly labors, but it chooses to be the sole agent and the only arbiter of that happiness; it provides for their security, foresees and supplies their necessities, facilitates their pleasures, manages their principal concerns, directs their industry, regulates the descent of property, and subdivides their inheritances: what remains, but to spare them all the care of thinking and all the trouble of living?” 
 
“Thus it every day renders the exercise of the free agency of man less useful and less frequent; it circumscribes the will within a narrower range and gradually robs a man of all the uses of himself. The principle of equality has prepared men for these things; it has predisposed men to endure them as benefits. After having thus successively taken each member of the community in its powerful grasp and fashioned him at will, the supreme power then extends its arm over the whole community. It covers the surface of society with a network of small, complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate, to rise above the crowd.”
 
“The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided; men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting. Such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals of which the government is the shepherd. “I have always thought that servitude of the regular, quiet, and gentle kind which I have just described might be combined more easily than is commonly believed with some of the outward forms of freedom, and that it might even establish itself under the wing of the sovereignty of the people.
 
Robert Nisbet, in “The Quest for Community” comments on this passage;
 
Here, in these paragraphs, lies one of the most astonishing prophecies to be found anywhere in political literature. It is nothing less than a picture, nearly a century in advance of the reality, of the totalitarian community. But it is more than a mere prophecy. It is an analysis of the nature of totalitarianism that has not been improved upon by even the most brilliant of contemporary students of the subject. 
 
What makes Tocqueville’s analysis immeasurably superior to all but a few others is that it does not seize upon the transparently horrible, the grotesque, the obviously irrational, as the essence of totalitarianism. It does not limit itself to brutalities which, however abhorrent and real in totalitarian society, are nevertheless practiced by totalitarian rulers only against minorities already disliked and discriminated against by majorities. 
 
It does not fix upon aspects that are but incidental or variable in the structure of totalitarianism. The merit of Tocqueville’s analysis is that it points directly to the heart of totalitarianism—the masses; the vast aggregates who are never tortured, flogged, or imprisoned, or humiliated; who instead are cajoled, flattered, stimulated by the rulers; but who are nonetheless relentlessly destroyed as human beings, ground down into mere shells of humanity. And the genius of his analysis lies in the view of totalitarianism as something not historically “abnormal” but as closely related to the very trends hailed as progressive in the nineteenth century.
 
-Nisbet, Robert. The Quest for Community . Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ORD). Kindle Edition.
 
What Conditions Create the “Total Community”?
 
When a person is socially isolated, they are vulnerable for a move towards the total community.  This is because they have no sense of status or belonging, and human beings can’t live in isolation.  When I say status I am referring to the social role, not in a hierarchical sense, or material status, but in the sense of a part to play.  For example, a church member has status as a member of the congregation.  Modern mass society isolates people, and the state pushes out competitors for community, which leaves people left to only have the “Total Community” to cling to.  We covered this progressive historical development in previous essays.    According to Nisbet:
 
“What is decisive is the social context, the sensations of disinheritance and exclusion from rightful membership in a social and moral order. These may or may not accompany poverty.”
 
-Nisbet, Robert. The Quest for Community . Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ORD). Kindle Edition.
 
Is the “Total Community” Evil?
 
Yes and No. The “Total Community” is evil because it creates its own morality, its own existence and worldview, and has no place in history.  It does what it pleases with no regard for distinctions and for subsidiarity (smaller groups of community).  All of the past, as a matter of fact, is necessarily seen as evil and an impediment to the “Total Community.”  Because a past indicates a historical community, which is a competitor, or can pass judgement, the “total community” opposes the past by default.  The “total community” is also evil because it’s only value is the power of the strong over the weak.  The weak must be “made to be free.” 
 
Is the “Total Community” Irrational?
 
It may be evil, but the “Total Community” is not irrational, on the contrary it is completely rational:
 
The total State is rational in that it recognizes in human personality certain basic needs for security and recognition and strives through every art and technique to satisfy those needs in calculated political terms. It is rational in that it seeks to eliminate from culture all of those ceremonial, ritualistic, or symbolic features inherited from the past that constitute by their existence obstructions to the achievement of a perfect mobilization of popular will. New ceremonies and symbols will be created by totalitarian rulers, but these will be made to fit as closely into the total design of political power as manipulative intelligence can contrive.
 
-Nisbet, Robert. The Quest for Community . Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ORD). Kindle Edition.
 
A simple way of explaining how rationalism works in the “Total Community” can be seen with these two examples with nuclear weapons:

  • We have these nuclear weapons, and we can defeat our enemy with them.  Therefore we should use these nuclear weapons.  
  • Nuclear weapons are the most powerful weapons on earth.  We should therefore have as many as possible.

 
This is the rationalist way of thinking, and that can be extrapolated to other areas as well, especially in the sciences. We can do this- X, Y, or Z, therefore we should. It is only rational.  
 
Individualism in the Total Community 
 
One reason individuality is so loathed under the “Total Community” is because individualism develops only in the context of social relationships, which the “Total Community” abhors.  Mass society requires isolated automatons, not individuals in real social communities.  The “Total Community” is the abstract mass society so it has no place for individualism.  If someone belongs to a strong religious group, strong family and extended kin, and has a strong sense of localism, if they are someone with membership and status, then they are not susceptible to mass movements and totalitarianism. They have no need for the “Total Community”.  The individual must be separated from all other forms of belonging, before he can belong to the “Total Community.”
 
The Past and Total Community
 
It seems like every day, a street is being renamed, a statue toppled, a building burned to the ground, a new word not allowed, another name erased from the history books.  This is the new normal in the “Total Community.”  This is because a sense of the past is a bulwark of strength to fight against totalitarianism.  The past is a form of historical community which competes, therefore it must be obliterated.  
 
This is one of the most powerful passages in the book:
 
“A sense of the past is far more basic to the maintenance of freedom than hope for the future. The former is concrete and real; the latter is necessarily amorphous and more easily guided by those who can manipulate human actions and beliefs. Hence the relentless effort by totalitarian governments to destroy memory.”
 
-Nisbet, Robert. The Quest for Community . Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ORD). Kindle Edition.
 
The Total Community’s Totality is Death.  
 
The “Total Community”, having obliterated all other forms of real community, stands alone.  It creates its own history, its own symbols, its own language, its own vocabulary.  It doesn’t crush physically the will of the former persons, it rather bends it, softens it, and corrodes it slowly from within.  New meanings are created, even new memories.  New conceptions of good and evil, new science, new art, new history, all placed in a different “context.” 
 
This is because totalitarian power is unsustainable unless the “Total Community” is supreme in every facet.  It must create true believers.  It can’t kill everyone or there won’t be anyone left.  So it uses softer means, especially in 2020.  Even in the religious and spiritual sphere the totality is clothed in the garments of deep belief.  Eventually human consciousness is reshaped and remade.  Human agency is lost.  The powerful control even the thoughts of the weak before they happen.  It has happened before, and it will happen again if we let it.  Real community is different, it brings agency, independence, and freedom.  It is based on limits and belonging, on membership not on mass atomized society.  Real community is the only bulwark against nihilism and death.  
 
“This is the true horror of totalitarianism. The absolute political community, centralized and omnicompetent, founded upon the atomized masses, must ceaselessly destroy all those autonomies and immunities that are in normal society the indispensable sources of the capacity for freedom and organization. Total political centralization can lead only to social and cultural death.”
 
Nisbet, Robert. The Quest for Community . Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ORD). Kindle Edition.
 
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This is a tough topic, but one worth learning about, if you want to live a healthy life.

I write about 3 things:

Fitness- What we do, how we train, etc.
Nutrition- What and how we eat.
Wellness- Lifestyle, culture, and everything else.  

And remember…there’s never been a better day than TODAY to make it happen!
 
Read Next: Speed and Power Training Simplified​
 
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