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A Spanish viewpoint on communitarianism

by Jos Prez Adn


Sociology Department, University of Valencia.

The lecture delivered by Amitai Etzioni at the Complutense University in Madrid in February 1996, had
permanent long lasting consequences. I had the opportunity to chat with Dr Etzioni before and after the
lecture and as head of the Spanish Chapter of SASE I was introduced to most of the relevant attendants.
On one hand there were a broad representation of Spanish academic life, on the other, there were
members of the different public institutions and political parties. I would like to focus on these two
groups to explain the interest and repercussion of Etzioni's work in Spain.
As far as my university colleagues is concerned, let us remember that Spanish society is by constitution,
tradition and culture, a good example of communitarian life. Spain has the most evenly distributed rent
in Europe and it is undoubtedly the European country which relies more on the family, although not by
law but by custom. In this sense, the work of Etzioni has been seen, at first glance, as a good thing for
the highly individualistic citizens of the United States. The question of "what does it say to us", is one
that I have been trying to answer to those sceptic local university professors and researchers doubtful
that from the US may came any enlightened idea about the meaning of the good life. My task, as a
communitarian thinker trying to show the originality and social excellence of Etzionis ideas, is not at
all an easy one, and to give the reader an idea of what challenges there are, let me tell you a personal
experience.
When I show Valencia to overseas lecturers I tend to propose to them a "professional tour" of the city. If
they accept, I accompany them for a walk at the Central Market, at the City Graveyard and at the
Central Hospital. In these three places and in a quick look it is easy to keep in mind once and for all
some particular traits of local communal life. At the Market we may observe the spontaneity of human
interactions; that is, for instance, the absence of great visible social borders that one may relate to the
small relevance of minorities (almost non-existent) and the intermingled urban lodging. We may also
take note here of the readiness to communicate, of the importance and social benefits of the informal
economy, and, if we are good observers, of the social relevance of children (the perils of childhood
violence been unknown here).
At the Cemetery, we may see the strength of inter-generation solidarity. Spain has, among OCDE
countries, the lowest percentage of people over 65 years of age living on their own or outside an active
family unit (generally that of one of their sons or daughters). Besides having the opportunity of
observing the different generations of a family together on active duty, one may learn here of the
importance of the huge variety of civic feasts and rituals, so common and relevant, for the process of
community building.
Lastly, at the Hospital, we will surely appreciate the huge social force of family bondages. The extended
family unit is active here in a manner that even the daily hospital routines consider useful to take into
account. Certainly, family relations are some of the great assets of Spanish social life and culture. All of
my colleagues know that without this family the country would not have survived 20 years in a row with
a constant rate of unemployment of about 15%. This is why the scenes one can observe in these three
places will, in all probability, give the visitor the impression of been in a not at all "cold" (Spaniards
mean by that dull and individualistic) society.
Nevertheless, societies are always on the move and Spanish society, as any other, is experimenting great
changes. Many of these changes go precisely in the direction pointed by the global economic modern
culture; and many of the traits of this culture are distinctively "cold": individualism, exclusivism (as
opposed to inclusive attitudes), and materialism. The effects of these changes may cause huge damages
to the social fabric of a society which is not prepared (legally prepared) to protect those customs and
traditions one has easily taken for granted.
This is the argument I use to underline the importance of Etzioni's work to my university colleagues. We
certainly may take the trip to the future that supposes to project some trends of global modern culture
onto present day Spanish social fabric. When we see the results, for instance when we see the prospects
of deterioration of the family, and we reflect on our recent past, we may infer that the enactment of
certain communitarian policies and proposals are dearly needed to safeguard the future well-being of our
society. Our capacity of communal deterioration is, in this matter, higher than in other places. We have
more to loose: the weakenning of the Spanish communal life will cause havoc in a society much less
prepared than others to undergo the perils of internal social isolation.
As for the politicians is concerned, in that lecture at the Complutense University there were members of
the Fundacin Sistema (linked to the Socialist Party) and of the Fundacin Cnovas del Castillo (linked
to the Popular -Conservative- Party). Both foundations have showed a political interest in
communitarianism. I have had requests from both to give lectures on the topic and the two are on the
alert trying to advance any possible political gain for the respective political platforms in view of the
importance that communitarianism has acquired in European politics. Within this field, as in the
academic arena, the interest in communitarian ideas has been so far very superficial. There are
prominent political figures like Calvo Sotelo and Rodriguez Arana from the Popular Party and Ramn
Jauregui and Jos Tezanos from the Socialist Party that may called themselves communitarians from
time to time, after all Kohl and Blair have done so too. But as it is often the case in the power game, the
profits in the sense of vested electoral interests override political ideology.
The ideology of communitarianism is not unknown in Spain. The English editions of Amitai Etzioni's
books are well known in academic circles and two books of mine: "Socioeconoma", with a prologue by
Dr. Etzioni, and "Sociologa", that is a manual of Communitarian Sociology, have been an editorial
success. But still, Communitarian thinking has not been locally rooted and nourished. In this, Spanish
communitarians are also to blame for we have not proposed as yet a genuine local platform for a
communitarian social programme. We are in the process of doing so and my forthcoming book entitled
"The Social Health" is aimed at filling this gap.
In our conversations with thinkers from the main political parties, we hace agreed that communitarian
ideas need to be translated into local jargon taking into account the different social and cultural
circumstances. Thus the northamerican emphasis on Family, Schools and Neighbourhoods, comes out of
the "translation" of Etzioni's ideas into US jargon. The translation into other social environments is a
priority for communitarians everywhere. I can advance that, as for the Spanish case is concerned, the
emphasis, as we see it here, ought to be focused on three points:
1.- On the Family, in the sense of translating into law the importance that the family already has in
social life and thus avoiding its progressive deterioration.
2.- On the revision of the migrant law common for all Europe: fostering an inclusive Europe recognising
wherever possible freedom of movement and settlement and fostering social mobility.
3.- On political (less levels of government: direct democratic involvement wherever possible) and
economic (communitarian economics) reforms.
In any case, we in Spain believe that the examples of other countries are a valid tool for reflection: none
better that the "translations" than Etzioni himself has made of his own work for the benefit of the society
he knows best. For this and for other reasons we think that Amitai Etzioni is a guiding figure and a
revolutionary intellectual whose height will increase with the passing of time. In a small degree the
speed of this process will depend on the capability of many of us in putting Etzionis ideas at reach for
those who design political programmes and policies. Let us hope that we do a good work and that his
message keeps on spreading fast for the benefit of all mankind.

Bibliography on Etzioni and communitarianism in Spanish:

- Bjar, H. "Una poca de fro moral: la sociologa comunitarista de Robert N. Bellah" Reis, 74/96

- Bouza, F. "Debatiendo con Norbert Elias: entre el yo y el nosotros" Reis, 65/94.

- Colomer Viadel, A. et al. Sociedad solidaria y desarrollo alternativo, Fondo de Cultura Econmica,
Mxico DF, 1993.

- Daz, C. Manifiesto para los humildes, Edim, Valencia, 1993.

- Gurrutxaga, A. "El sentido moderno de la comunidad", Reis, 64/93.

- Martnez Navarro, E. "La polmica de Rawls con los comunitaristas" Sistema, 107/92.

- Mndez-Vigo Martnez, J. "Racionalidad y accin colectiva" Sistema, 131/96.

-Prez Adn, J. "Hacia una reinterpretacin socio-econmica del trabajo", Revista de Trabajo, n 83,
1986.

-Prez Adn, J. and Artal, M. Weber y Etzioni, un contencioso sobre los valores Revista Internacional
de Economa y Empresa Esic- Market Oct-Dic.94, n.86.

-Prez Adn, J., Artal, M. and Maraguat, E. Individualismo metodolgico y anlisis comunitarista. Una
presentacin del comunitarismo a travs de la obra de Amitai Etzioni y Alasdair MacIntyre Sistema
124/1995

-Prez Adn, J. "El Comunitarismo: una apuesta por la esperanza colectiva" Temas para el Debate,
Extra: 9-10, 1995.

-Prez Adn, J., Artal, M. and Maraguat, E. Necesidades bsicas; pertinencia de un enfoque
multidisciplinar Revista de Trabajo y Seguridad Social, n.15/1995.
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- Prez Adn, J. and Martnez Llopis, J. "Identidad contra identidades: el destino contra babelia" Poltica
y Sociedad, n. 22, 1996.

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Internacional de Sociologa, Las Palmas, Junio de 1997.
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Sociologa Medioambiental, Pamplona, Noviembre de 1997.

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- Prez Adn, J. "Comunitarismo, moralidad poltica y la crtica al neoaristotelismo emergente",


Sistema, n.142, 1998.

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Provincial, Lugo, 1997.

- Thiebaut, C. Los lmites de la comunidad, Centro de Estudios Constitucionales, Madrid, 1992.

- VV. AA. (Collective work) Comunitarismo, 4 vols. Actas, Jornadas Internacionales sobre Pensamiento
Comunitario, Mrida (Venezuela), 1984.

- VV. AA. (Collective work) Curso sobre Socioeconoma y Comunitarismo; en busca de Paradigmas
Alternativos, Actas, Valencia (Menndez y Pelayo International University), July, 1995.