Document Type

Article

Publication Date

Summer 2005

Abstract

This Article analyzes how communitarian political theory addresses poverty and impacts American social welfare programs. For several decades, communitarian and liberal philosophers have debated how best to achieve justice through their competing notions of personhood. Whereas liberal theorists stress the values of individual autonomy and state neutrality, communitarians assert that people are socially constituted and that liberalism therefore pays too little attention to the value of community. Yet despite their attempts to articulate a superior form of justice, communitarian theorists either ignore or misunderstand issues related to poverty, as this Article explains. Nevertheless, their insights are helpful in thinking about combating inequity. Not only does communitarian theory support collective responsibility for alleviating economic injustice, but it also provides a framework for moving away from individual blame as an explanation for poverty. Current welfare law is based on the idea that individual behavior and choices cause poverty. As a result, welfare recipients are required to work without adequate social and economic supports to enable self-sufficiency, and most remain mired in poverty. By contrast, this Article describes an alternative, pragmatic vision for welfare that builds upon the social capital that exists within distressed urban communities as a way to improve individual outcomes.

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