I was nerdily thrilled to find out today that Robert Bellah, one of the most elegant authors on religion in American public life, is a blogger at The Immanent Frame.

The topic of his blog-essay is Obama, individualism and social solidarity. Bellah argues that individualism — not a left/right divide — is the strongest strand in the American tradition, and that American history sees cycles of radical individualism followed by times of solidarity:

Radical individualism is what I call the default mode of American culture.  It is where we go when things are relatively stable and we face no enormous challenge, or are denying that we do.

Obama emphasizes the common good instead. Bellah notes how deeply counterintuitive this is to the American psyche, "how profoundly political the idea of the common good is, how strongly it is resisted, and what power, in ideology, public opinion, and legislative votes, is required to implement it."

His conclusion — that Obama may bring us closer to fulfilling America's promise — is not new, but Bellah's historical intelligence lends some erudition to it. Read his classic essay, "Civil Religion in America," to get the background on some of Bellah's ideas. 

 
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Alisa Harris

0 Responses to Counterintuitive Common Good

  1. Jacob says:

    I think De Tocqueville made it clear that we are very individualistic and autonomous, as a people. The problem I have with “common good”/collectivist reasoning is that it is very hard to define what is truly a common good. The “common good” can be used to justify all manner of meddling by an institution of which we ought always to be suspicious. Common good and expediency are conflated far too often.

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