The Revival of the Polis
Russell Arben has a nice piece on Front Porch Republic on the city as the proper locus of communitarian concerns. A key passage:
In his wonderful and too-little read second book, The Good City and The Good Life, Daniel Kemmis hardly made any explicit reference at all to communitarianism or republicanism or any other type of philosophical orientation–and perhaps, exactly because he didn’t, going back to that book provides an insight to civic developments which those of us often too enamored of theory miss. His discussion of citizenship and the “civic wholeness” that a proper relationship to one’s local natural and social environment–one’s polis, in other words–effectively closes off any of the grand cultural narratives which came to warp much communitarian thinking, instead grounding the pressing need to belong in one’s locality: “states and nation-states are abstractions to which we cannot easily apply any of the key concepts discussed here: not wholeness, not presence, not grace, and therefore not…citizenship” (pg. 25). Kemmis’s arguments in favor of relocating our sense of attachment to the active, participatory city seem to anticipate the political dysfunction that, over the past decade, has come to seem normal for large, overburdened democratic states. For him, art and governance and a sustainable economy were most authentically realized in a city (preferably a small to mid-sized one), wherein “the web of culture comes down to earth in countless ways, situating people in a dynamic balance between their innermost aspirations and struggles and the world they find themselves inhabiting” (pg. 69). He was, in other words, years ahead of many others in looking back at Jane Jacobs to find his own particular kind of communitarian inspiration, predicting “the postnational renaissance of the city” (pg. 139)Yes, I think Aristotle was correct: a polis with an extensive division of labor but in which one knows most people by sight is about the right size for true political participation on the part of the whole citizen body. Above that level, the ideal is federations of poleis.