Students and scholars gathered at the GW Bookstore for a book signing Monday to mark the release of University Professor Amitai Etzioni’s new book Next: The Road to the Good Society.
Etzioni’s book advocates “communitarianism,” which aims to balance the rights of the individual against the interests of society. Communitarianism attempts to find an equilibrium between three sectors of society – the economy, the state and the community, Etzioni said.
To put values of society before individuals’ rights “there is a need for a moderate counterculture,” Etzioni said.
He said Democrats and Republicans ignore principles of community, and people need to ask themselves, “What values should govern and guide our lives?”
Communitarianism suggests the solution comes from instilling community values.
President George W. Bush has been labeled a “communitarian” because he eluded the conventional tags of conservative or liberal, Etzioni said.
Bush’s inconsistent ideology might lend to communitarianism, according to a Feb. 1 Washington Post article. Etzioni said he supported the notion in the article, but when asked Monday if this label fit, he was reluctant to apply the characterization to the president’s policies.
“Much of what (Bush) has said is communitarian,” he said. “Making his cabinet `look like America’ is a step.” But Etzioni said proposals such as Bush’s initiative to federally fund faith-based organizations might threaten the movement.
“It is not enough to have good sentiments . we are looking for a system of beliefs,” he said.
Etzioni, who said he personally proposed communitarianism to Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain and former president Bill Clinton among other world leaders, said he plans on making the case to the current president.
Etzioni’s comments resonated with his audience.
“It’s time to look for a middle way for society,” D.C. resident Margaret Feldman said.
Others audience members said they are more skeptical of communitarianism.
“It just sounds contradictory to me,” GW student Bill Sack said. “Trying to help the community is a very tricky thing. Is regulation of the market the answer to the problems, or will government assistance just lead to inefficiency and bureaucracy?”
Etzioni said he does not foresee major re-allocation of wealth in the future. He pointed to studies that confirm that additional income does not relate to happiness.
“How much is enough?” Etzioni said. “It seems there never is enough.”