My Letter to Commentary,

August 1997 Issue

For the Love of Country


Gertrude Himmelfarb's essay presents the most concise and accurate understanding to date of the implications of the renewed call for the recovery of community in America. She is absolutely right on target that "Civil society . . . is a two-way street. It takes us back to our roots, to our nearest and dearest. But it should also take us forward to our nation and country."

There is one area, in my opinion, where her brilliant essay falls short, however: communities arise not from the top down but from the bottom up. Communities cannot be rationally planned; they arise spontaneously and cannot be mandated or created by an act of national will. Thus, efforts by the federal government, like the Clinton-Powell call for an army of volunteers, will not recreate communities but, rather, weaken what is left of them and replace them with a stronger and more invasive government, one that will, as Miss Himmelfarb says, assume "the domestic, nurturing tasks of parents and families."

The best course of action by the government is to do no harm. Perhaps doing nothing and allowing the natural formation of communities without the aid or sponsorship of the "nanny state" would be the wisest course of action for the future of our nation.

CLIFFORD A. BATES JR. Central Connecticut State University New Britain, Connecticut



I also agree with Clifford A. Bates, Jr. that "do no harm" is a wise principle of government, and that the government does harm by interfering with the natural development of communities. But this does not mean that the government should do nothing or that communities on their own can do everything. In our efforts to discredit and dismantle the "nanny state," we must be wary not to discredit and subvert the state as such. One of the unfortunate consequences of the current welfare state is that it tends to do just that--to illegitimize legitimate government.


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Last Updated on October 3, 1997 by Clifford A. Bates, Jr

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