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Political Studies (1984), XXXII, 437-450

The Problem of Fellowship in Communitarian Theory: William Morris and Peter Kropotkin
University of Manchester
This article addresses the problematic nature and implications of fellowship in and for communitarian theory, as illustrated by the writings of William Morris and Peter Kropotkin. The first part examines the descriptive and prescriptive components of fellowship and its role in Morriss and Kropotkins theories. A discussion section then addresses problems arising from this dlial nature of fellowship. In particular, an analysis of its social-psychological dimension on the one hand and its moral dimension on the other suggests a tension between them, inadequately recognized by communitarians, concerning the size of the appropriate communal unit. The paper concludes by suggesting a way in which this tension might be accommodated, if not resolved, drawing on the insights of conservative localism as well as the socialist universalism advocated by Morris and Kropotkin.

Translating communal ideals into a form appropriate to modern large-scale societies is a central concern for contemporary communitarians. The problem is often characterized in political and/or sociological terms-a problem to test the ingenuity and optimism of political theorists or to vex the social planners. It is the contention of this article, however, that the problem at issue is not simply one of social or political practicability. Rather, it will be argued, communitarianism must first resolve a crucial internal contradiction-a paradox inherent in its concept and ideal of fellowship. Fellowship is the heart of community, giving to the concept a moral and emotional dynamism which has, on the one hand, long sustained it as a social ideal and, on the other, led many commentators to despair of its analytic utility. One writer has thus described community as the warmly persuasive word to describe an existing set of relationships, or the warmly persuasive word to describe an alternative set of relationships. Much of the conceptual controversy concerning community has focused upon this apparent descriptive malleability. This article, however, will explore the interaction of the prescriptive and descriptive elements in the notion of fellowship, for while this is central to
* My thanks are due to a number of people whose comments, criticisms and encouragement have greatly assisted me in the development of this paper: Norman Geras, John Harris, Elena Lieven, Tony Manstead, Geraint Parry, Michael Sheehan and Hillel Steiner; and members of the Political Theory Seminar at the University of Manchester to whom an earlier version of this paper was presented. I R. Williams, Keywords (Glasgow, Fontana, 1976), p. 66.

0 1984 Political Studies

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The Problem of Fellowship in Cornrnunitarian Theory

the force of community it seems also to be potentially damaging to it. In addressing this issue it will draw on the writings of two classic communitarian theorists, William Morris and Peter Kropotkin.2 While, in terms of ideological identity, these theorists should be identified as communist-or, in Kropotkins case, anarcho-communist-the relevance and importance of their contributions is by no means confined to that ideological framework. Indeed, in addition to the distinctive problems and insights deriving from their communist interpretation, Morris and Kropotkins writings illuminate particularly clearly what appears to be a crucial problem for any theory of community. Specifically, an examination of their theories suggests that the compelling warmth of community is misleading, since it disguises a significant dissonance between the moral and social-psychological imperatives of fellowship. This dissonance is manifested in an uneasy juxtaposition of relativist and universalist commitments. There are in Morris and Kropotkins writings, two analytically distinct dimensions of community. The first may be expressed as communalify-the quality of relationships that makes them distinctively communal. For Morris this is fellowship; for Kropotkin it is mutual aid. The second dimension is that of actual communifies-those small, quasi-autonomous units of a larger society. For these writers, then, communitarianism involves a theory of fellowship and a theory of decentralization. What distinguishes these as communist theories is that fellowship is linked t o a particular economic structure-that is one in which there is common ownership and distribution according to need. What distinguishes them as communitarian theories of communism is that common ownership is given a highly decentralist interpretation. In what follows the relationship will be traced between communality, communism and decentralization, focusing on both the nature and importance of each element as well as the ways in which Morris and Kropotkin respectively weave them into an overall theory. A concluding section will then address the wider issues and difficulties raised by this communitarianism. Communality For Morris, fellowship sums up the quality that distinguishes communal relationships. Yet it is by no means a simple concept. Rather it seems to imply a whole complex of feelings, attitudes and behaviours. In behavioural terms its key features are sharing, co-operation, mutual assistance and reciprocity. More importantly, perhaps, fellowship denotes the feelings and attitudes which inform such communal behaviour. Fellowship involves, then, a particular kind of social orientation; a sense of identification and solidarity with others, a sense of mutual sympathy and responsibility, of membership and belonging. Kropotkin expresses these notions in his idea of mutual aid. This is a feeling or instinct of human solidarity or sociability3 which is expressed in cooperative and altruistic behaviour.
2 My selection of these theorists should not be taken to imply that they alone were responsible for the development of such ideas; on the contrary, the notion of community was a recurring theme in nineteenth century socialist and anarchist thinking. Morris and Kropotkin are examined here as important examples of such thinking and to illuminate a general problem inherent in it. 3 P. Kropotkin, Mutual Aid (London, Allen & Unwin, 1972), p. 21.



These notions of communality are not entirely idiosyncratic. Indeed, a recent attempt by David Clark to overcome the problem of conceptual contestability and identify an essentialist, uncontested definition of community claims that: The two fundamental communal elements of any social system are a sense of solidarity and a sense of significance. This, he argues, is the core concept around which different and often competing conceptions are constructed. Yet this defines communality in essentially subjective terms-a sense of solidarity, a sense of significance. Morris and Kropotkin wish to say more than this, emphasizing behavioural criteria which are crucial for their communist interpretation. This point will be addressed further in the concluding section of the paper. For the moment, however, it should be noted that Clark claims to have identified the purely descriptive, non-evaluative core of community. It should be logically possible, that is, to accept this definition but contest the value of communal relationships. Yet neither Morris nor Kropotkin wishes to do this. They seek to promote fellowship and mutual aid as major moral values. In the light of Clarks claim, this strong evaluative appeal of communality would seem to merit some explanation. It seems that communality is a moral value for both Morris and Kropotkin in two respects. The first relates to characteristics of fellowship itself; the second to the relation between fellowship and individual happiness and fulfilment. Communality implies for Morris and for Kropotkin relationships which themselves embody social morality. For fellowship implies mutual respect, a recognition of the intrinsic worth of each individual. It connotes relationships which are motivated not by selfish or instrumental considerations but by a sensitivity to the needs of others and a recognition of the moral duty of social responsibility and altruism. Indeed, Kropotkin claims that our most fundamental moral notion-treat others as you would like them to treat you in similar circumstancess-is rooted in the theory and practice of mutual aid. Yet fellowship also seems, for these writers, to have a derivative moral status-a status, that is, distinct from social morality and derived rather from its role in the development and fulfilment of individuality. For Morris, this link is forged by a theory of art which may be read as a theory of individuality and its social preconditions. For Kropotkin, the link emerges from a theory of evolution and an analysis of the factors promoting human survival and progress. Morriss theory of individuality reveals both the influence of the Romantic movement and something of his own temperament and concerns. For him, the essential human quality is creativity. Art, then, should not be regarded as mere aesthetics, something on the periphery of human concerns, confined within the walls of art galleries. Rather, art is an essential ingredient of a fulfilled human existence. Art, he writes is not a mere adjunct of life which free and happy men can do without, but the necessary expression and indispensable instrument of human happiness.6 By art, Morris means creation in the broadest possible

D. Clark, The concept of community: a re-examination, The Sociological Review, 21 (1973),

5 P. Kropotkin, Anarchist Morality in R. B. Baldwin (ed.), Kropotkins Revolutionary Pamphlets (New York, Dover Publications, 1970), p. 96. 6 In May Morris (ed.), William Morris: Artist, Writer, Socialist, Vol II (New York, Russell & Russell, 1966). p. 517.


The Problem of Fellowship in Communitariarn Theory

sense, which should, if we are truly developed human beings, permeate all areas of our existence. In particular, creativity should be expressed in and through labour, that most fundamental area of human activity. For Morris, as for Ruskin before him, Art is mans expression of his joy in labour. Fellowship enters into this theory of creative individuality as a central element in the conditions for and experience of pleasurable labour. Morris claims that creativity emerges out of a close co-operative association with others. It is nourished by fellowship, drawing on the experience and skills of others and expressing itself as a unique contribution to a wider collaborative activity. But it is not only fellowship among co-workers that is important for Morris-a wider fellowship also contributes to the pleasure of labour. There is, he claims, additional satisfaction where work is done in the service of others, out of a desire to serve their needs. Labour is thus a potential source both of creative self-expression and of the self-respect that comes of a sense of usefulness.8 Fellowship is an essential part of this general individual fulfilment: hence his famous claim that Fellowship is heaven and lack of fellowship is he119.9 Morriss historical model of such fellowship is the Medieval guild era. The crucial feature of guild organization for Morris is that individual creativity was developed and expressed within a co-operative social framework. Morris believed that this co-operative and reciprocal character of guild production provided the catalyst for individual creativity and collective artistic achievement, most eloquently expressed in Gothic architecture. As one commentator puts it, for Morris the triumph of Gothic came simultaneously with the triumph of the guilds and both victories were not coincidental but deeply related.I0 These themes are also evident in the writings of Peter Kropotkin. While he did not share Morriss Romantic background or artistic temperament, Kropotkin similarly portrays fellowship as the source of human self-expression, achievement and happiness. These conclusions are, however, derived not from a theory of art but rather from a purportedly scientific examination of the principles governing natural and human history. In this examination he seeks to establish mutual aid as a major factor of evolution. Kropotkin claims, against the Hobbesians, that natural behaviour is prosocial behaviour. Rather than being naturally inclined to competition and aggression, human beings are, Kropotkin claims,]] instinctively sociable and seek to express their innate human sympathy and solidarity in co-operative social and economic associations. And for Kropotkin, what is natural is also what is good; mutual aid, he claims, is both natural and pre-eminently functional. Against the social Darwinists, he claims that co-operation is the
W. Morris, Art under Plutocracy in A. L. Morton (ed.), The Political Writings of William Morris (London, Lawrence & Wishart, 1979), p. 67. W. Morris, Art under Plutocracy, p. 67. W. Morris, Dream ofJohn Bull (London, Reeves & Turner, 1892), p. 29. l o M. Grennan, William Morris: Medievalist and Revolutionary (New York, Russell & Russell, 1970). I I Much of Mutual Aid is concerned with the behaviour of animals, from which Kropotkin extrapolates to his discussion of humans, with additional material drawn from primitive human tribes. The legitimacy or otherwise of this extrapolation need not concern us here.


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principal source of survival and of an environment conducive to achievement in all spheres of human endeavour. Here we find strong echoes of Morris, for, to demonstrate this latter thesis, Kropotkin links the spectacle of the Gothic cathedral to the social conditions of its production-namely the practice of mutual aid within the guilds; Like Greek art, it sprang out of a conception of brotherhood and unity fostered by the city.12 In addition to expressing the inner nature of individuals, the explanation for the progressive function of fellowship and co-operation is that the more thoroughly each member feels his solidarity with each other member of the society, the more completely are developed in all of them those qualities which are the main factors of all progress: courage on the one hand and, on the other, free individual initiative.3 Like Morris, then, Kropotkin claims that the true potential for individual development is realized only in and through fellowship. For Morris this human fulfilment is expressed in art and beauty; for Kropotkin the result is more generally expressed as progress-artistic and otherwise. This notion of fellowship is the heart of community, central both to its meaning and to its moral force. The remainder of Morris and Kropotkins theories of community may be construed as attempts to give this fellowship institutional substance. These theories have, broadly, two components; economic and socio-political. Community, Capitalism and Communism Following Marx, both thinkers accord primacy to the economic category, denying the possibility of achieving to any lasting degree something which is absent from or even denied by the economic sphere of human activity. Fellowship may be a social and moral ideal, but its roots must be economic. Morris and Kropotkin argue that fellowship is essentially denied by a capitalist system and that it may be developed only within a system of common ownership. Their critiques of capitalism are neither particularly original nor unfamiliar. It is, therefore, necessary here only briefly to sketch their principal claims and then to go on to examine the implications of their analyses for their commitment to fellowship. Capitalism, they argue, is based upon systematic exploitation, dividing society into two opposed classes, the one using the other for its own material advancement. It is a system of private interest and competition, where others are considered principally in instrumental terms. Human and moral considerations are, at best, extraneous to economic relations and, at worst, entirely sacrificed to what Morris refers to as profit tyranny. This characterization of capitalism clearly places it in diametric opposition to the notions of cooperation, sharing, mutual respect and social responsibility which, as I have noted, comprise the ideal of fellowship. Within this broad framework, Morris concentrates upon the denial of fellowship within the sphere of production. Where the majority is forced to sell its labour power on pain he writes, of death by starvation,14 work is reduced
l2 13 l4

Kropotkin, Mutual Aid, p. 185. Kropotkin, Anarchist Morality, p. 96. Morris, Art under Plutocracy, p. 58.


The Problem of Fell0 wship in Communitarian Theory

simply to a means to another, more important and immediate end-that of survival. It has no intrinsic value or meaning for its participants, who are forced to work at tasks in which they have no interest or concern, under conditions conducive neither to fellowship nor to creative self-expression within the workplace. The imperatives of cost-efficiency and profit-making eclipse the adverse human consequences of large-scale and highly differentiated industrial production. Further, where the object of production is capital accumulation, it will be indifferent to the nature of the product itself. Morris argues that this class-based system generates a demand, on the one hand, for luxury goods to serve a rich, non-producing class and, on the other, for cheap makeshift imitations to serve a degraded labouring class. Hence the worker is merely participating in the production of waste and shoddiness and there can be none of the personal fulfilment that comes of working for the true benefit of others. Morris claims, therefore, that fellowship requires the abolition of the class system. Societies, he writes, are founded upon the battle for subsistence, but under capitalism this battle with nature is compounded by a competitive struggle between people. The only solution, he claims, is communism; an economic system which involves co-operation in the battle for collective subsistence. Thus liberated from struggle and compulsive economic relations, individuals will be able to work co-operatively for the general welfareand hence to express themselves creatively through their labour. For Kropotkin, it is particularly the distributive character of capitalism that is contrary to fellowship. Under capitalism there is competition for resources and private accumulation. This, he claims characteristically, is essentially unnatural. There can be no natural justification for private possession and accumulation. Rather, he argues that the means of production being the collective work of humanity, the product should be the collective property of the race , . , All things are for all men, since all men have need of them, since all men have worked in the measure of their strength to produce them, and since it is not possible to evaluate everyones share in the production of the worlds wealth.S These natural facts have, he argues, been distorted and disguised by capitalism and, in particular, by the wage relation. It is economic co-operation which is natural and its appropriate expression is collective ownership and distribution according to need. Community and Decentralization The commitment to fellowship thus entails, for both Morris and Kropotkin, a wholesale rejection of capitalism and a commitment to the institution of a communist economic alternative. Yet neither theorist believes common ownership to be sufficient for the realization of communality. Indeed, both recognize that common ownership may be given an authoritarian interpretation which they construe to be fatally destructive of its communal potential. Economic revolution must, then, be accompanied by political revolution. There is a definite difference of emphasis and time scale between Morris and Kropotkin on this issue. However, they do agree that communality requires not only common ownership but also the dissolution of the centralized state and its
P. Kropotkin, The Conquest ofBreud(London, Chapman & Hall, 1906), p. 15.



replacement by a multiplicity of small communities. For Kropotkin, historical evidence suggests that the state is destructive of social morality. He claims that: In proportion as the obligations towards the state grew in numbers, the citizens were relieved from their obligations towards each other. In the guild, two brothers were bound to watch in turn a brother who had fallen ill. It would be sufficient now to give ones neighbours the address of the next paupers hospital.l6 The state, then, fatally undermines fellowship. It is in the absence of any form of compulsion-economic or political-that forms of mutual aid, based on altruistic sentiments, can and will develop and proliferate. The socialist revolution must, accordingly, destroy capitalism and the state simultaneously. For Morris, the route is rather different, though the destination is essentially the same. For him, communism is the communal ideal, the system which promises co-operation and fellowship. The root of the communality is economic-the replacment of an antagonistic and coercive mode of production by a collectivized one. Yet Morris is rather more sensitive than Kropotkin t o the debilitating psychological effects of life under capitalism, and accordingly less optimistic about the capacity of individuals to transform the quality of their social relationships overnight. Fellowship, for Morris, is not an instinct that will surface the minute that artificial economic and political forms have been removed. It is, rather, a habit, which develops over time if the right circumstances prevail. Morris foresees, therefore, a period of revolutionary consolidation during which a revolutionary administration will attempt to redirect social relationships from a competitive to a co-operative mode, educating people in communal living and uprooting what he calls the habits of tyranny. However, Morris, like Kropotkin, sees the state as destructive of social morality, and an essential instrument of re-education is therefore the gradual devolution of power. Decentralization provides the opportunity for co-operative selfmanagement within small territorial and productive communities. Against those socialists for whom the commitment to common ownership is taken to justify centralized state ownership and control, Morris argues: It will be necessary for the unit of administration to be small enough for every citizen to feel himself responsible for its details and be interested in them . . . Men cannot shuffle off the business of life onto an abstraction called the state, but must deal with it in conscious association with each other. Through cooperation with others in the management of these communities, people will develop an awareness of interdependence and a corresponding sense of solidarity and fellowship which will ultimately remove all need for a central state apparatus. Morris concludes that when the habit of social life is established, nothing of the kind of authoritative central government will be needed or endured.8 The development of communities thus both nurtures and then expresses the communality inherent in the communist economic formation.

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Kropotkin, MutualAid, p. 191. W . Morris, Looking Backward, in Morris (ed.), William Morris: Artist, Writer, Sociulisf, Vol I I , p. 501. 18 W. Morris, Policy of Abstention, in Morris (ed.), William Morris: Arfisf,Writer, Sociulist, Vol II. p. 431.


The Problem of Fellowship in Communitarian Theory

We have, then, in the work of William Morris and Peter Kropotkin, a theory in which the two dimensions of community are mediated by communism. Thus communality is instantiated by small communities of a particular (i.e., communistic) nature. Discussion As has been noted, these theories of community amount to attempts to give institutional shape to communality. Communality, however, is itself a complex notion. David Clark-along with many others-defines it in entirely subjective terms, yet Morris and Kropotkin use communality to condemn capitalism and advocate communism. This raises the somewhat thorny issue of the relation between a state of consciousness and an objectively-defined economic structure. The subjectivist interpretation of communality is clearly correct in an important respect. We do, it seems, need to build motives and intentions into any definition of communality, for if we rely on behavioural measures alone, we are unable t o make certain key distinctions. Such measures do not, for example, distinguish between co-operation which occurs (a) as an unintended consequence of self-interested behaviour (as in market transactions); (b) as an intended consequence of purely instrumental behaviour (as in certain aspects of trade unionism); or (c) as an expression of fraternal sentiments and altruistic intentions. Yet if we reduce communality to such feelings and intentions, the critical capacity of the concept in relation to economic relationships may be weakened: if communality is purely a matter of subjective experience then it would seem difficult to specify any particular kind of social or economic behaviour as intrinsicalfy and objectively communal (or, indeed, anticommunal). That is, if communality is a matter of consciousness or attitude, it would not seem to be possible to conclude anything about the presence or absence of community directly from the fact of class exploitation or the fact of egalitarian economic, social or political relations. To d o so would be to assume, in the first case, that objectively discernible exploitation will be easily visible to its victims-an assumption which overlooks the potency of ideology as a legitimizing force. Similarly, in the second case, one would have to assume that the fact of equality will be readily translated into a consciousness of communal identity and membership. It is, however, at least conceivable that people will experience a sense of fellowship and belonging under capitalist conditions and that they may not do so under a communist economic system. Can we simply overrule these subjective claims? The burden of proof surely resides with those who wish to d o so. For where the prevailing objective conditions meet the criteria of the political theorist but do not seem to have generated any sense of fellowship among the participants, there would seem to be something inadequate, or at least incomplete, about these criteria. Some recent work by Raymond Plant addresses this issue. Plant also emphasizes the importance of the subjective dimension of communality: Clearly, before we can speak of community, or of solidarity, significance, fraternity and so on, there has to be an intention among members of a group to act in certain ways toward one another, and to value each person as a member of the group.l9 He rejects, therefore, hidden hand market theories of

R. Plant, Community: concept, conception and ideology, Politics and Society, 8 (1978).



community (e.g., Hegel, Rawls) which make the existence of community a matter of the upshot, of the unintended consequences of a sequence of actions undertaken for different reasons.20 This would suggest that the existence of community is a purely empirical question, dependent upon the feelings of the participants, and that theories of community should be regarded as empirical hypotheses about the kinds of conditions in which communal feelings are most likely to occur.21 Plant is, however, reluctant to go to this other extreme and to accept subjective claims unconditionally, since, he argues, it is important not to beg questions about false consciousness.22 He suggests two arguments which may give the political analyst reason not to accept participants affirmations of communality at face value. First, he cites one kind of Marxist argument which claims that any sense of fellowship workers may have with their employers would be shattered were they to recognize the exploitation that underpins employer-employee relations. This argument, however, still relies ultimately on a subjective measure of communality, linking it to objective conditions by way of a claim about what people would experience and feel were they only able to perceive their conditions clearly.23 As it stands, this is not a significant departure from previous subjectively-based definitions, and it has the additional drawback of licensing evaluative and unfalsifiable specifications of the conditions under which people should experience communality. Plant does, however, offer a second, rather more interesting case. This reintroduces the behavioural dimension of communality, suggesting that it is not sufficient that people feel a sense of fellowship if, ultimately, the presence of differential power and/or other structural constraints would limit or even preclude the behavioural expression of their communal sentiments. Plant cites in this regard competition for rewards within the company, the promotional structure, the salary scales and so on.24 On this argument, then communality requires that relationships are co-operative, as well as being felt to be so. Communal feelings may be essential to communality but they need not be regarded as sufficientthere may be grounds for overruling subjective evidence of fellowship where it is belied by behavioural indications.25
20 R. Plant, H. Lesser and P. Taylor-Gooby, Polilical Philosophyand Social Werfare (London, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1980), p. 232. 21 To this extent, community is, like alienation a socio-psychological concept, embodying hypotheses about specific relationships between social conditions and individual psychological states; (S. Lukes, Alienation and anomie, in P. Laslett and W. G . Runciman (eds.), Philosophy, Politics and Society (3rd Series) (Oxford, Blackwell, 1969), p. 134). 22 Plant, Community: concept, conception and ideology, p. 88. 23 A more convincing variant of this argument is provided by Raymond Williams in the course of his critique of communal nostalgia, The Country and the Cily (St. Albans, Paladin, 1975). Whilst acknowledging the possibility of a locally based sense of community that transcends class divisions, Williams claims that this must never be idealized since at the points of decision . . the class realities usually show through (p. 134). The implication here seems to be that the subjective reality of community will be fragile and unlikely to withstand the expression of opposing interests and differential power. z4 Plant, Community: concept, conception and ideology, p. 89. 25 It remains, however, illegitimate to affirm the existence of communality on a priori or behavioural criteria alone, in the absence of any subjective evidence. The sense of community feeds into its behavioural dimension through fraternal and altruistic sentiments, without which communality cannot be said to obtain. This highlights an important difference between the concept of community and that of, say, freedom. In the latter case, subjective evidence can be detached


The Problem of Fel/owship in Communitarian Theory

The use of communality to condemn capitalism and commend a system of common ownership would seem, then, to involve two distinct claims; concerning the economic preconditions of communalfeelings on the one hand, and of communal behaviour on the other. This is consistent with Morris and Kropotkins own writings, yet ultimately their communitarianism has to go beyond these narrowly economic considerations, since the concern for communalfeelings also has important socio-political implications. Kropotkin regards distribution according to need as the appropriate behavioural criterion of communality but also argues that, to be truly communal, such behaviour must be spontaneously and voluntarily effected. He claims, further, that such communal sentiments will be stifled where a centralized state apparatus assumes responsibility for economic organization and distribution, thereby imposing a purely behavioural communality. Morris seems rather more optimistic about the capacity of behavioural fellowship to generate-albeit over time-the appropriate communal sentiments, but he too specifies the particular circumstances under which this is likely to obtain. Thus, he locates the basis for communal behaviour in common ownership, but supplements this with a theory of the social-psychological effects of selfmanagement, claiming that active daily cooperation in the management of social and economic life is necessary to translate behavioural fellowship into a subjectively real sense of fellowship. For Kropotkin, then, communal sentiments are instinctive but must be free to develop and express themselves behaviourally, while for Morris the development of those sentiments is consequent upon a prior behavioural communality. Both theorists agree, however, that only the experience of close co-operative living can adequately nourish the requisite feelings of fellowship and mutual concern and that, accordingly, the abolition of private property must be complemented by socio-political decentralization. This emphasis on the crucially subjective character of communality and its dependence upon groups of limited size characterizes most popular and sociological thinking on the subject. Community seems to convey significant and personally fulfilling social relationships, in contrast to the alienating and impersonal quality of mass society. Hence the emotive force of the conceptand, presumably, its persistence as a social ideal. As the editors of a sociological study put it: Everyone-even sociologists-has wanted to live in a community; feelings have been more equivocal concerning life in collectivities, networks and societies.26 Further, it is a sociological truism that the sense of neighbourhood and of close social bonds is substantially diluted as the size of the group increases, and that the small local and/or functional grouping is accordingly the most appropriate context for the development and expression of communal sentiments. Morris and Kropotkin are thus not alone in positing decentralization as a social-psychological imperative of fellowship. Yet in order to evaluate the political and normative coherence of communitarianism, it is important to distinguish two components of this decentralist
from the application of the concept t o agiven set of social relations. The fact that Ifeel free to d o an action does not affect a judgement of whether I am free to d o it. This contrasts clearly with community, which relies crucially-though not exclusively-on the perceptions of its subjects.

C. Bell and H. Newby, Community Studies (London, Allen & Unwin, 1972), p. 21.



idea. The first relates to the internal relations of any one community; the second relates to the relations between communities. In the first place, it is important to recognize what is entailed by a commitment to internal communality. Clearly, the very notion of group membership, identification and belonging-all crucial to the subjective nature of communality-necessarily imply some degree of social differentiation. My claim to be a Mancunian is, after all, only intelligible in a world which includes nonMancunians, and only significant (to me or anybody else) to the extent that being a Mancunian involves something different from being a Londoner or a Glaswegian. To wish to maximize my sense of community is, accordingly, to advocate a heightened awareness of the specificity and distinctiveness of my own communal experience and identity, as against that of others. Communitarianism has, to this extent, a relativist flavour-as a commitment to the development and integrity of distinctive ways of life within which people may experience a sense of attachment and loyalty. Further, community membership seems to involve-among other things-a special identification with and concern for the welfare of fellow community members. But can the ideal of fellowship survive this degree of differentiation and insularity? If fellowship is morally compelling in part because it connotes respect and concern for others, social responsibility and so on, is it not compromised when confined in expression to a particular group of people? It is not at all clear why the needs of, say, Mancunians or of university lecturers should be accorded more respect and attention than those of other human beings elsewhere and in other occupations; territorial and functional boundaries seem, in relation to fellowship, to be morally arbitrary. If the psychological constituency of fellowship is the small, intimate and clearly demarcated community, its moral constituency would seem to be common humanity. The communitarian ideal thjus leads in both relativist and universalist directions. On the one hand, it recognizes that it is the day-to-day co-operation in small face-to-face communities that generates and/or expresses the fellowship of which human beings are capable, and wishes to maximize this communal experience for the sake especially of psychological wellbeing and fulfilment. On the other hand, to maximize the personal communal bonds within small groupings without achieving a comparable communality between members of different groupings may be to implement a fellowship which is at best partial and at worst exclusive. A clearly delimited fellowship may, then, be in the nature of communal differentiation and consistent with its psychological function, but it is at odds with the moral logic of fellowship which seems to lead to nothing less than a communitarianism in which all civilised nations would form one great community.27 There would seem, then, to be a crucial tension at the heart of the communitarian ideal, a tension which cannot be resolved by any easy extension of internal comrnunality to the communal context. For, as one recent critic of community theory points out; an association of mutualities would not be a mutuality writ large.** Indeed, an argument by David Miller suggests that the
27 W. Morris, How we live and how we might live, in Morton (ed.), The Political Wrifingsof William Morris, p. 139. 28 S . 1. Benn, Individuality, autonomy and community, in E. Kamenka (ed.), Community as a Social Ideal (London, Edward Arnold, 1982), p. 59.


The Problem of Fellowship in Cornrnunitarian Theory

very notion of a communal world of small communal groups may be incoherent. In his discussion of the generalizability of the guild model of social organization, he notes that solidarity may mean a sense of the common humanity of all men as such . . . or it may mean a sense of unity with your own sectional group, into which the existence of other potentially hostile groups enters as a necessary ingredient. Clearly it will not do to present instances of the latter as partial realizations of the former, since it is essential t o group solidarity that it is non-universal.29 Communitarians may have a particular problem here. They do not wish simply to dissolve group boundaries and universalize a previously sectional communality; rather they seek both to achieve such universality and to maintain intense group loyalties. The crucial factor, then, would seem to be the nature of inter-group relations. Morris and Kropotkin do not seem to be sufficiently aware of the problems of establishing a positive sense of inter-group communality to complement the primary but partial affiliations of community membership. Kropotkin recognizes the importance of inter-group fellowship and, indeed insists that the true communitarian society of the future must eliminate the ethical distinction between intra- and inter-group relations that characterized the early and inadequately communitarian tribal societies. He argues therefore that mutual aid will not and should not be constrained by boundaries-rather it will cover society with a network of thousands of associations to satisfy its thousand needs. Communities will federate for all possible P U ~ P O S ~ S However, .~~ the federation of communities for particular purposes does not seem adequate to fill the communal bill. Such co-operation sounds distinctively instrumental, and t o this extent satisfies only the behaviouruf criterion of fellowship. While essential, this cannot, as we have seen, be identified as a genuine instance of fellowship without additional communal motivation. And it is precisely this motivation that is problematic. Kropotkin has an unsatisfactory tendency to beg the question by assuming the existence of such motivation. On the other hand, Morriss rather more convincing account of the development of communal identification and responsibility (through the experience of co-operation itself) raises rather more problems than it solves. For he has either to assume that the habitual fellowship generated within communities will spill over into relations with other communities-altruism breeding altruism-or that we are involved in sufficiently close and frequent co-operative relations with other communities to develop a wider sense of communal identification in addition to our primary ties. The communitarian commitment thus seems to require both that communities are cohesive enough to be communal-to generate a strong sense of membership and a distinct group identity-and that they are loose enough to allow for a wider fellowship based upon a sense of common humanity. If there are difficulties in reconciling internal communality with a positive sense of inter-group communality, there may, however, be an alternative way of achieving a communal world. This involves some dilution of the communal
D. Miller, Social Justice (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1976), p. 236. P. Kropotkin, Anarchist Communism, in Baldwin (ed.), Kropotkins Revolutionary Pamphlets, p. 140.




ideal at the inter-group level and seeks to specify the minimum conditions for inter-group relations such that the insularity of internal fellowship does not compromise the moral status of the communitarian ideal. This view retains the universalist core of fellowship: equal respect for persons. Interestingly, it is a very different theorist--(;. K. Che~terton3~-who suggests the shape of such an alternative position. Chesterton rejects any universalist social ideal and claims that what he calls patriotism-a strong sense of attachment and loyalty to a particular community-is quite compatible with a commitment to equal respect for all humanity. It must, however, satisfy two conditions. Firstly, the community in question should be geographically based, and hence random in its social composition. Secondly, patriotism should only be expressed internally and defensively and should be accompanied by a respect for the patriotism of others. Condition (1) ensures that the favouring of ones own community members does not imply that preferential treatment should be apportioned to any particular, specially distinctive type of person. Since geographical communities will include a fair cross-section of human types, he argues that patriotism can be construed as loyalty to and concern for humanity, writ sma11.32 Condition (2) ensures that the favouring of ones own community members does not deny the equal status of the rights and needs of others; equal respect and concern for non-community members is here expressed in a recognition of and regard for the communities to which they belong. This argument recognizes the psychological need for intimate community life, and seeks to overcome the moral ambiguity of such small-scale, exclusive fellowship by an acknowledgment of the right of everyone to this experience of fellowship within parallel communities. Inter-group relations are consistent with the ideal of fellowship not in the sense that they themselves are in some way communal, but rather than they embody a recognition of and respect for the communal principle as it is expressed in a multiplicity of small communal units. It is a relation of civility rather than communality, and implies tolerance and non-interference rather than the positive warmth and identification of fellowship itself. However, the non-interference principle may not be sufficient to ensure that, within the economic sphere at least, according priority to ones immediate fellows does not actively disadvantage non-community members. Whilst, in conditions of abundance, my preferential attention to the needs and desires of my fellow members would seem to be compatible with respect for non-members (since their needs are being similarly catered for within their communities, and I do not interfere with this process) this is clearly not so in situations of scarcity and maldistribution of resources. In these circumstances, to ensure that my relative neglect of those outside my community boundaries does not constitute
3 See, particularly, Chestertons article The Patriotic Idea, in L. Oldershaw (ed.), England: A Nation (London, R. Brinley Johnson, 1904). 3* There may be a problem of circularity here, since Chestertons claims for the legitimacy of a geographically based patriotism hold only if that geographical community is in fact random in its composition. Further (and 1 am grateful to an anonymous reader for Political Studies for drawing this problem to my attention), this random composition requirement may itself be in tension with the social-psychological requirements of communality, since geographical communities below a certain size are unlikely actually to contain within them a fair cross-section of humanity.


The Problem of Fellowship in Communitarian Theory

a morally compromising actual neglect would seem to require more stringent distributive specifications. Here Morris and Kropotkin come back into their own. They are willing to check the relativist tendency of communitarianism by a universalist commitment to an egalitarian framework within which communities develop and relate to one another. For Morris and Kropotkin, universal communism is necessary to the survival and integrity of communitarianism. They both insist that communist principles obtain not only within communities but also across them. The abolition of property thus applies not only to individuals but to communities, on the grounds that the worlds resources are common property and should be cooperatively managed, rather than owned, within particular territorial groupings. The distributive criterion of need must then apply between as well as within communities, so that the expression of communal sentiments and values in one limited context does not constitute an effective denial of the wider responsibility of person to person, irrespective of particular communal identities.

As we have seen, it is the notion of fellowship which gives to communitarianism its considerable moral and emotive force. However, it is precisely the dual nature of this appeal which is problematic; communitarianism must somehow reconcile the moral demands of fellowship with its psychological and emotional imperatives. Morris and Kropotkin, whilst recognizing the importance of small-group communality, are also sensitive to the problems of parochialism and exclusivity. Hence they follow the moral logic of fellowship and seek a communality which transcends particular group boundaries. They arrive, however, at a notion of positive intergroup fellowship which may drain the communal ideal of some empirical credibility; can communities be so interchangeable and have such fluid boundaries and generate strong communal identifications and loyalties? It seems that to maintain the moral integrity of the communitarian ideal without empirical vacuity requires some modification both of communal insularity on the one hand, and notions of positive inter-group fellowship on the other. The free expression of particular communal sentiments, needs to be limited by a mindfulness of wider, human responsibilities, and the ideal of a fellowship uniting all humankind into one great community needs to be diluted to allow for the necessarily differentiating effect of strong communal loyalties. The result is a vision of non-competitive diversity rooted in a fundamental equality of economic circumstance-a vision which seeks to harness internal communality to civil co-existence and distributive justice. This modified position may lack the mesmerizing quality of much communitarian theorizing. However, communitarianism can, perhaps, afford to shed some of its warm persuasiveness in favour of greater coherence.