Jean Valjean and the Warm Fuzzies (Not a Music Post)

7 Mar

Originally posted at Iqra’i.

I’m sure Nicola or Kate will wax more eloquent regarding last night’s debate about welfare, but thanks to the fact that they are done with midterms and I am not, I’m waking up earlier, and I have questions that went unresolved.

  1. Is it really possible to believe that coercion is exclusively synonymous with violence — that is, that no one is ever coerced to action by circumstances (economic, social/cultural, etc.)? It seems obvious to me that the scope of options a man has is circumscribed by circumstance — sometimes so tightly that only one option remains. The normative question aside, is it even coherent to say that Jean Valjean could and should have chosen to let his sister’s child starve?
  2. It’s widely agreed upon that intermediate institutions are usually more efficient (and sometimes even more effective) than the state, and that they allow people to connect to others in a more direct way than through taxation. But their effect on civil society as a whole seems to be a bit more ambiguous, because the people to whom one feels connected through a non-state institution are only a subset of the community in which one lives. Is there hope for communitas in postmodernity? And if so, what mediates it if not the polity (and therefore, by extension, the state)? (I suspect localism might be the answer, but cities have governments too.)

While fishing for links for this post I discovered an impressive number of charitable organizations called “Communitas,” or some variation thereof. I approve of the branding but hasten to point out that the fact that so many different organizations have such a name moots any persuasive value the name would have. And the link I eventually found, while AWESOME (Wikipedia does virtual sociology, goes meta), doesn’t quite cover it either — unless we’re trying for communitas through vanguardism.

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