Communitarianism has both a general sense, with a long history in social and political thought, and a specific connection to the "liberal-communitarian debate" of the 1980s and 1990s. In the general sense, anyone who believes that community is somehow vital to a worthwhile life - and is therefore a good to be protected against various threats - is a communitarian. Such a person may be either left-wing or rightwing politically. Communitarianism, in this sense, began to take shape as a self-conscious way of thinking about society and politics in the late 19th century. According to one line of thought that developed at the time, the primary threat to community is the movement from the settled, family-focused life of villages and small towns to the unsettled, individualistic life of commerce and cities, which may lead to greater affluence and personal freedom, but at the cost of alienation, isolation, and rootlessness. TONNIES, with his distinction between Gemeinschaft (community) and Gesellschaft (association or society), has been especially influential in this regard. Gemeinschaft, as he defines it, is an intimate, organic, and traditional form of human association; Gesellschaft is impersonal, mechanical, and rational. To exchange the former for the latter, then, is to trade warmth and support for coldness and calculation.

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Copyright © 2001 From Reader's Guide to the Social Sciences by Jonathan Michie. Reproduced by permission of Taylor and Francis Group, LLC, a divison of Informa plc.

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