Professor Emeritus Richard Herr explores the role of the community and the individual in SEPARATE BUT EQUAL? Individual and Community since the Enlightenment (Institute of Governmental Studies Press; November 2016). Herr offers a detailed, fascinating account of two themes that permeate and profoundly impact modern culture.
Western societies in the twenty-first century are faced with the challenge of providing a happy relationship between the dominant sector of the society and the other communities within it. Struggling with the burden of racial, ethnic, and gender prejudices coming down from the past, these societies have been seeking workable solutions to the dilemma, can a society that contains different communities achieve fairness for all.
The dilemma is a constant challenge for all societies, but behind the experience of Western societies one can trace developments that took their origin in the eighteenth century. This book will argue that fundamental features of contemporary Europe and America can be understood as molded directly or indirectly by a new belief in what spirit was needed to guide a successful society. The call of the Enlightenment for human liberty is familiar, as it the credit it receives for inspiring modern democracy. Less noticed is how it broke with the religious doctrine that the fear of divine punishment after death was essential for maintaining social order. In the more secular atmosphere of the Enlightenment, two rival motivations came to the fore as guides for a peaceful and rewarding society—individual self-interest and dedication to one’s community. A sense of community and the drive for personal gain are human constants, but since the Enlightenment these drives have taken new forms, central to the evolution of Western societies down to the present.
In focusing on this topic, our story looks at Western Europe and the United States. It starts with the competition between community spirit and personal ambition for influence over public behavior during the late eighteenth century and the American and French Revolutions. In the nineteenth century, the deep changes in peoples’ lives, with the industrial Revolution and an expanding population, raised a new dilemma: what kind of society it natural for a person to identify with? Was it a social class, or was it a nation or an ethnic group? Or was it a disenfranchised gender? Conscious communities took all of these forms, and we look at how individualism was a key factor in making national loyalty overshadow class consciousness in 1914.
Western societies now face the problem, how should they deal with heterogeneous elements within them? Should a society remold them into the image of the dominant group through some version of a melting pot, or should it exclude them?
SEPARATE BUT EQUAL? Individual and Community since the Enlightment is a fascinating exploration of a timely and controversial subject.