Thursday, July 8, 2010

Liberty of the Community

The course of modern history, he [FDR] suggested, had been a struggle for individual liberty. 'Today, in Europe and America, the liberty of the individual has been accomplished.' What was now required was a process by which that liberty could be harnessed for the betterment of the community. 'Competition has been shown to be useful up to a certain point and no further. Cooperation, which is the thing that we must strive for today, begins where competition leaves off.' FDR avoided the term 'community interest' as too socialistic. He eschewed 'brotherhood of man' as too sentimental. Instead, he defined cooperation as 'the struggle for liberty of the community rather than the liberty of the individual' and said it was 'what the founders of the republic were groping for.'
Jean Edward Smith, FDR, (New York: Random House, 2007), 84.
Individual liberty v. Community liberty. Nothing could describe the battle FDR fought and the idealogy he clung to better than those two forces. No President (since Lincoln) fought harder for the community of the United States than FDR did. As a result of his beliefs, the interests of the community were taken into far more consideration than each individual. People ignored since the beginning of the republic were finally looked upon. Jobs were created that helped push forward the American economy. Different regions of people were banded together who had previously been estranged. Individual rights might have been touched & toyed with but it was done so for the betterment of the whole United States.

I find the idea of the individual v. the community highly fascinating. I think this is a huge debate in public policy today for all types of situations. The government, the church, businesses, neighborhoods, etc., all struggle with this battle. Who gets preferential treatment, when do they get it, why do they get it, and how is it better if they do? Do you raise taxes to pay for social betterment, or do you cut them in the hopes that less taxes creates altruistic people who will pay for social betterment themselves? Should the government be large in order to use its power to take care of the nation or should the government be small because individuals can handle themselves? Every single decision, policy, and debate hinges upon this concept. And in light of it all, FDR's ideas of competition v. cooperation loom large. I don't know if I have the answer to what the balance needs to be. However, I do believe that the rights of individuals is very sacred to Americans. When those rights are threatened, we become uncomfortable - even if they are sacrificed for the expense of helping others. The question thus becomes how do we help and focus on the community and make the individual okay with it?