Communitarianism champions the importance of community in the shaping of individual identities and values, standing as a vital counterbalance to the often emphasized individualism in contemporary discourse. This philosophy advocates for a society where communal interests and individual rights are harmoniously balanced, emphasizing the role of social responsibilities and community engagement. At its heart, communitarianism suggests that individual welfare is deeply intertwined with the health and vitality of the community at large, proposing a more collective approach to societal issues.

In this article, we delve into the top 20 examples of communitarianism in action, offering a clear definition and showcasing its implementation across various societies and cultures. These examples illuminate how communities can come together to solve problems, support one another, and create a more cohesive and resilient society. Through exploring these instances, we aim to provide a comprehensive understanding of communitarianism’s principles and its potential to inspire positive change in our interconnected world.

What is Communitarianism?


Communitarianism is both a philosophical stance and a social ideology that underscores the critical role of community in shaping individual values, identities, and overall well-being. It champions a harmonious balance between individual rights and communal responsibilities, positing that the well-being of individuals is deeply intertwined with the health and dynamism of their communities. This philosophy advocates for collective action and decision-making, emphasizing social cohesion and the common good above the interests of the individual. Communitarianism aims to cultivate a sense of belonging and mutual support, promoting policies and practices that reinforce community ties and collaboratively address societal challenges.

Further, communitarianism advocates for weaving communal values into the societal fabric, fostering civic engagement and the pursuit of collective objectives. It questions the supremacy of individual autonomy, arguing instead that robust, unified communities are fundamental to unlocking individual potential. By embracing traditions, cultural norms, and shared experiences, communitarianism strives to forge a more just and sustainable societal structure. It urges a critical examination of societal frameworks and policies to ensure they mirror the needs and ambitions of the community, calling for governance that inclusively prioritizes the well-being of all members. Through championing collective responsibility, communitarianism envisions a society where individuals are both supported by and actively contribute to their community, paving the way for a more interconnected, empathetic, and resilient world.

The Best Examples of Communitarianism


1. Kibbutzim in Israel
Kibbutzim are collective communities in Israel traditionally based on agriculture. They exemplify communitarianism by sharing nearly all aspects of life and work, from collective child-rearing to shared ownership of property and production. Members contribute to the community based on their ability, while the community ensures that all members’ needs are met, reflecting the core communitarian ideals of mutual responsibility and shared well-being.

2. Community Gardens
These are plots of land gardened collectively by a group of people, providing a space not only for growing food but also for fostering community bonds. Participants share tasks, resources, and the harvest, embodying communitarian principles by working together for the common good, enhancing local food security, and strengthening neighborhood ties.

3. Cooperative Housing
Housing cooperatives are owned and managed by their residents, with everyone contributing to the maintenance of the property and making decisions democratically. This model promotes a sense of community and collective ownership, as decisions are made with the well-being of all members in mind, reflecting communitarian values of shared responsibility and mutual aid.

4. Credit Unions
As financial cooperatives, credit unions provide their members with a safe place to save and borrow at reasonable rates. Owned and governed by the members, credit unions operate under the principle of people helping people, demonstrating how communitarian values can be applied in the financial sector to serve the community’s needs rather than maximizing profit.

5. Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA)
In a CSA, consumers buy shares of a farm’s harvest in advance, directly supporting the farmers and sharing the risks and benefits of food production. This model creates a strong farmer-consumer relationship, encourages local food production, and fosters a sense of community and mutual support, all central to communitarianism.

6. Local Exchange Trading Systems (LETS)
LETS are community-based mutual aid networks where goods and services can be traded without the need for money. Members earn credits by providing services or goods to other members, which they can then spend within the network. This system strengthens community ties and encourages cooperation and reciprocity.

7. Tool Libraries and Sharing Economy
Tool libraries allow individuals to borrow tools and equipment they need, reducing the need for personal ownership of infrequently used items. This concept, part of the broader sharing economy, emphasizes access over ownership, community cooperation, and sustainability, resonating with communitarian principles.

8. Indigenous Communal Practices
Many indigenous communities around the world practice forms of communitarianism, living in close-knit societies where resources, responsibilities, and benefits are shared. These communities prioritize the collective well-being and cultural traditions, illustrating deep-rooted communitarian values in action.

9. Volunteer Fire Departments
In many rural areas, firefighting services are provided by volunteers who commit their time and risk their lives for the safety of their community. This selfless service is a powerful example of communitarianism, where individuals come together for the common good, emphasizing community safety and solidarity.

10. Neighborhood Watch Programs
These community-driven programs involve residents working together to reduce crime in their area, demonstrating communitarianism by fostering a sense of collective responsibility for safety and security. Through cooperation and shared vigilance, neighborhood watch programs enhance community well-being, illustrating how communal efforts can achieve common goals.

11. Community Land Trusts (CLTs)
CLTs are nonprofit organizations that acquire and manage land to ensure long-term affordable housing and prevent displacement. By holding land in trust for the community and leasing it to residents at affordable rates, CLTs embody communitarian values by prioritizing community stability and access to housing over market-driven interests, ensuring that development meets the community’s needs.

12. Worker Cooperatives
These are businesses owned and controlled by the employees, who share in the profits and decision-making processes. Worker cooperatives exemplify communitarian principles by emphasizing democratic governance, equitable distribution of resources, and a commitment to the welfare of all members, fostering workplace environments that value collaboration over competition.

13. Time Banks
A time bank is a reciprocal service exchange that uses units of time as currency. For every hour participants ‘deposit’ by helping others, they can ‘withdraw’ equivalent support in time when they need it. This system promotes community solidarity and mutual aid, as it values all contributions equally and strengthens social networks.

14. Community Renewable Energy Projects
These initiatives involve local groups coming together to develop renewable energy sources, such as solar or wind power, that benefit the entire community. By collectively investing in and managing these projects, communities can reduce their environmental footprint, lower energy costs, and ensure energy independence, demonstrating a communitarian commitment to sustainability and collective well-being.

15. Public Libraries with Community Programs
Beyond offering access to books and information, many public libraries serve as community hubs that host educational programs, workshops, and social events. These services are designed to meet community needs and interests, fostering a culture of learning and connection that strengthens communal bonds.

16. Mutual Aid Societies
Originating as self-help groups among marginalized communities, mutual aid societies provide support to members in times of need, such as sickness, unemployment, or death. These societies rely on contributions from all members to fund their services, embodying the communitarian ethos of solidarity and collective welfare.

17. Community Education Classes
These classes offer lifelong learning opportunities that are open to all members of the community, encouraging personal development, skill acquisition, and social interaction. By focusing on community-relevant topics and fostering a collaborative learning environment, these programs promote communal growth and enrichment.

18. Neighborhood Co-ops
Grocery or retail co-ops owned and operated by members of the community not only provide access to products and services but also reinvest profits back into the community. These co-ops prioritize local needs and sustainability, encouraging community engagement and economic resilience.

19. Civic Tech Initiatives
These are technology projects designed to improve civic engagement, enhance public governance, and foster community problem-solving. By leveraging digital tools to facilitate participation and collaboration, civic tech initiatives empower communities to address their own needs, reflecting communitarian values in the digital age.

20. Restorative Justice Programs
Rather than focusing solely on punishment, restorative justice seeks to repair the harm caused by criminal behavior through inclusive processes that involve victims, offenders, and community members. This approach promotes healing, accountability, and reconciliation, embodying communitarian principles by emphasizing the restoration of community harmony and relationships.


Origins of Communitarianism


The origins of communitarianism can be traced back to a rich tapestry of philosophical, social, and political thought that emphasizes the importance of community in human life and society. Unlike individualism, which prioritizes personal autonomy and rights, communitarianism focuses on the collective good, mutual responsibilities, and the social contexts that shape individual identities. Its roots are deep and varied, drawing from ancient philosophies, religious traditions, and modern social theories to form a comprehensive critique of excessive individualism and a guide for achieving a balanced, cohesive society.


Ancient and Religious Foundations

The philosophical underpinnings of communitarianism can be found in the works of ancient thinkers like Aristotle, who argued in his “Politics” that humans are inherently social creatures meant to live in polis or city-states, where the good of the community is integral to the good of the individual. Similarly, Confucianism in ancient China emphasized harmony, moral conduct, and the importance of family and community roles, laying early groundwork for communitarian values.

Religious traditions have also played a significant role in shaping communitarian thought. Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and many other world religions incorporate teachings that stress the importance of community, altruism, and the common good, often advocating for social justice, shared responsibilities, and the welfare of the less fortunate.


Enlightenment and Reaction

During the Enlightenment, the rise of liberal thought with philosophers like John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau brought a focus on individual rights, liberty, and the social contract between individuals and their governments. However, the industrial revolution and the rapid changes it brought to society led to critiques of pure liberalism and the negative effects of unbridled individualism, setting the stage for communitarian responses.


19th and 20th Century Developments

In the 19th century, various social movements, including utopian socialism and cooperativism, sought to implement communitarian ideals by creating communities based on shared ownership and mutual aid. These experiments aimed to counteract the alienation and social fragmentation wrought by industrial capitalism, emphasizing collective living and economic fairness.

The 20th century saw a further development of communitarian ideas in response to the challenges of modernity, including world wars, totalitarian regimes, and continued economic disparities. Philosophers and social theorists like Martin Buber, Charles Taylor, and Michael Sandel critiqued the predominance of liberal individualism in Western political thought, arguing for a renewed emphasis on community, shared values, and the common good.


The Communitarian Movement

The formal communitarian movement emerged in the late 20th century, particularly in the United States, as scholars and activists sought to address the perceived moral, social, and political deficits of contemporary society. Amitai Etzioni, one of the movement’s leading figures, emphasized the need for a balance between individual rights and social responsibilities, advocating for community-building and the strengthening of social institutions to foster a sense of shared values and mutual accountability.

Communitarianism today draws on this diverse heritage, proposing solutions to the complex problems of modern societies by reinvigorating the sense of community and emphasizing the interconnectedness of individuals. It stands as a powerful critique of both unrestrained individualism and overbearing statism, offering a vision of society where personal freedom is balanced by communal harmony and cooperation.

In summary, the origins of communitarianism are multifaceted, rooted in ancient philosophy, religious teachings, and centuries of social and political thought. Its evolution reflects a consistent concern for the well-being of the community and the integral role it plays in individual fulfillment and societal health. As societies continue to navigate the challenges of the 21st century, the principles of communitarianism remain relevant, offering a pathway to a more cohesive, just, and sustainable world.

Key Ideas of Communitarianism


Communitarianism, at its core, presents a compelling vision of society that emphasizes the importance of communities and the intricate web of relationships that bind individuals together. Unlike ideologies that foreground individual autonomy as the pinnacle of societal organization, communitarianism argues for a nuanced balance, suggesting that the health and prosperity of the individual are deeply entwined with the well-being of the community at large.

One of the foundational ideas of communitarianism is that individual identity and moral understanding are largely formed within the context of community life. This perspective challenges the notion of the ‘self-made’ individual, proposing instead that our values, beliefs, and even our capacity for understanding right from wrong, are profoundly shaped by our interactions with others—our families, neighborhoods, schools, and broader social networks. This does not diminish personal responsibility or the value of individual achievement but places these within a broader, communal context.

Another key tenet of communitarianism is the emphasis on social responsibilities over individual rights. While not denying the importance of individual rights, communitarian thinkers argue for a complementary focus on our duties to others—our obligation to contribute positively to the community, to engage in civic life, and to support those around us. This idea encourages a shift from a culture of entitlement to one of mutual aid and collaboration, where the success of the community ensures the success of its individual members.

Communitarianism also advocates for collective decision-making and problem-solving, challenging the primacy of individual choice in determining the direction of society. This approach values the deliberative process, where decisions are made through dialogue, consensus, and a deep consideration of the common good. It suggests that many of the challenges we face—from local issues to global concerns—are best addressed not by individuals acting alone but by communities working together to find solutions that benefit everyone.

At the heart of communitarianism is a belief in the power of communities to shape ethical, responsible citizens. It posits that a strong sense of belonging and participation in community life can foster a deeper commitment to the common good, encouraging individuals to act not just for personal gain but for the benefit of all. This involves a reinvigoration of communal institutions—schools, religious organizations, neighborhood groups—that can nurture these values and provide a space for communal engagement.

In essence, communitarianism offers a vision of society where the collective well-being is the cornerstone of prosperity. It argues for a re-balancing of the scales between individualism and communalism, suggesting that in the interdependence of individuals and their communities lies the path to a more cohesive, resilient, and fulfilling society. As we navigate the complexities of modern life, the principles of communitarianism remind us of the enduring value of community and the shared bonds that make our collective life richer and more meaningful.

Pros of Communitarianism


Enhanced Social Cohesion
Communitarianism significantly strengthens social bonds and fosters a sense of belonging among community members. By emphasizing shared values, collective responsibilities, and mutual support, it encourages individuals to see themselves as part of a larger whole. This enhanced social cohesion is critical in times of crisis, where communities with strong ties are better able to come together, support one another, and navigate challenges effectively. It reduces feelings of isolation and alienation, contributing to a more integrated and supportive social fabric.

Increased Civic Engagement
A cornerstone of communitarianism is its emphasis on civic participation and the active involvement of individuals in the life of their communities. This approach nurtures a sense of ownership and responsibility towards communal spaces and issues, leading to higher levels of civic engagement. When people feel their contributions are valued and that they can make a difference, they are more likely to participate in decision-making processes, volunteer, and engage in local governance. This active participation is fundamental to a vibrant, democratic society, ensuring that decisions reflect the collective will and contribute to the common good.

Collective Problem-Solving
Communitarianism promotes the idea that many societal problems are best addressed through collective action rather than individual efforts. This perspective fosters innovative solutions that consider the well-being of the entire community. By pooling resources, knowledge, and expertise, communities can tackle complex issues more effectively than individuals acting alone. This collaborative approach not only leads to more sustainable and inclusive solutions but also strengthens community ties as members work together towards common goals.

Moral and Ethical Development
The communitarian emphasis on community and shared values plays a crucial role in the moral and ethical development of individuals. Within a communitarian framework, ethical behavior is not just a matter of personal choice but is deeply influenced by communal norms, expectations, and the common good. This context provides a rich environment for individuals to develop a strong moral compass, guided by principles of mutual respect, responsibility, and care for others. It encourages people to think beyond their immediate self-interest to consider the impact of their actions on the community and future generations.

Resilience and Sustainability
Communities that embody communitarian principles tend to be more resilient and sustainable. The focus on shared resources, collective well-being, and long-term thinking helps communities to weather economic, social, and environmental challenges more effectively. This resilience is particularly important in the face of global issues such as economic downturns or climate change, where the ability to adapt and support one another is crucial. Moreover, communitarianism’s emphasis on sustainability ensures that development meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own, fostering a healthier and more sustainable relationship with the environment.

Overall, communitarianism offers a framework for building stronger, more engaged, and resilient communities. Its focus on social cohesion, civic engagement, collective problem-solving, moral development, and sustainability presents a compelling alternative to the fragmentation and isolation often seen in highly individualistic societies.

Pros of Communitarianism


Potential for Conformity Pressure
One significant drawback of communitarianism is the pressure it can place on individuals to conform to community norms and values, potentially at the expense of personal autonomy and diversity. In tightly knit communities, the desire for social cohesion and the common good may lead to a stifling environment where dissenting views or non-conformist behaviors are discouraged. This pressure can hinder individual expression and innovation, as members may feel compelled to suppress their own beliefs or preferences to fit in, leading to a homogenization of thought that undermines the richness of diverse perspectives.

Risk of Exclusion
Communitarianism’s emphasis on shared values and collective identity can inadvertently lead to the exclusion of those who do not fit the dominant mold of the community. This can manifest in subtle social exclusions or more overt forms of discrimination against individuals or groups deemed outside the community’s core identity, such as minorities or newcomers. The very mechanisms that strengthen cohesion among in-group members can create barriers to entry for others, fostering an us-versus-them mentality that contradicts the inclusive ethos communitarianism aims to promote.

Difficulty in Large-scale Application
While communitarian principles may thrive in small to medium-sized communities, scaling these ideals to larger, more heterogeneous societies presents significant challenges. The diversity of beliefs, values, and interests in larger populations makes it difficult to identify and rally around a shared set of communal values without oversimplifying or marginalizing complex identities and perspectives. This challenge raises questions about the feasibility of applying communitarianism broadly, especially in multicultural or pluralistic societies where consensus on the common good is harder to achieve.

Potential for Overreliance on Community Solutions
Communitarianism’s focus on community-based problem-solving and mutual aid can sometimes lead to an overreliance on local solutions to issues that may require broader systemic change. While community action is invaluable, there are challenges—such as systemic inequality, large-scale environmental degradation, and global economic forces—that may exceed the capacity of local communities to address effectively. This overemphasis on localism can divert attention from the need for comprehensive policy reforms at higher levels of government.

Challenges in Balancing Individual Rights with Community Obligations
Finally, one of the most nuanced cons of communitarianism is the delicate balance it seeks to strike between individual rights and community obligations. In practice, navigating this balance can be fraught with difficulty, as the prioritization of the common good may sometimes come at the expense of individual freedoms and rights. Determining whose rights may be sacrificed for the sake of community welfare, and to what extent, can lead to ethical dilemmas and conflicts. This tension highlights the complexity of implementing communitarian principles in a way that respects both the individual and the collective, without diminishing the value of either.

In summary, while communitarianism offers a compelling vision of community and mutual responsibility, its application is not without challenges. The potential for conformity pressure, risk of exclusion, difficulties in large-scale application, the possibility of overreliance on community solutions, and the challenge of balancing individual and communal needs are significant obstacles that must be thoughtfully navigated to realize the full potential of communitarian principles.

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