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“America First!” and Anti-Social Communitarianism

The problem with communitarianism is that many communitarians make for bad community members. Many of them are “society first, individual second!” to the point of being anti-social. They aren’t the kind of people you’d want to live near.

Look, I get why people like community. I live in a fairly tight-knit community myself. We have little parades and fun runs. Various civics groups throw get-togethers all year long. The PTA works miracles. People know their neighbors. We have block parties. People come out to watch the various dad bands (and even the occasional mom band) play at the pool club. It’s nice.

But “American First!” isn’t just a plea to put America first or to treat our co-nationals as members of a giant community. Rather, it’s quite literally a threat, backed up with violence.

Suppose you have a group of friends in high school. One of your friends starts to hang out with people in a different clique. You don’t like that–you think your friend isn’t taking your friendship seriously. So, you talk among yourselves and come up with a solution: You decide you’ll beat up your friend next time he tries to hang out with the other kids. (Or, alternatively, you decide you’ll let him hang out with the other kinds, but only if he first pays you $3000. Otherwise you’ll beat him up.)

In this case, this doesn’t show that you really are loving, good friends who care a lot about community. Rather, it shows you are contemptible pieces of crap. You’re using anti-social methods to force people to maintain the kind of community you want. No reasonable person would want to be friends with you.

Nothing changes when it comes to how we spend our money rather than whom we befriend:

Random American: “Hmmm. I think I’m going to splurge on an entry-level luxury car. While Cadillac has made great strides over the past seven years, I’m going to go with a BMW 3-series instead of the Caddy ATS.”
America First! Guy: “Are you kidding? Don’t you think you should buy American?”
Random American: “Well, I considered it, but the 3-series better suits my needs and wants. I mean, I believe there is a time and place for charity, but I don’t buy cars out of a sense of charity.”
America First! Guy: “You know what, bub? If you aren’t gonna buy American voluntarily, I’m going to make you do it. This here gun says you better buy that GM car, or otherwise I’m going to take $3000 out of your bank account to spend on whatever I damn well please. And you better hire an American to clean your house. And you better not rent your other house to some Haitian or Dominican. You put America first, or I’ll make you put it first.”

Even if you think Random American should buy a GM car (a questionable claim at best), the America First! guy is a piece of garbage.

If you think American First! justifies economic protectionism, then you aren’t worthy of being in community with anyone. You’re like a teenager who beats up your friends when they find new friends. You’re like a priest who beats up people when they convert to a different sect. You’re like an abusive boyfriend who threatens to beat up his girlfriend when she wants to see other guys. In short: You’re an abusive member of the community. You’ve shown your true colors. The louder you make your threats and the more America is filled with people like you, the less reason I have to care about America or want to put it first.

Published on:
Author: Jason Brennan
  • j_m_h

    But the general setting of the political American First is within the context of a social system and institutions that exist to define the rules. The individual exchange offered is not the same.
    Not saying I disagree with the overall message but not sure I agree with the argument/logic.

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  • Static Variable

    I liked reading this, it speaks true to me on many levels. I agree that using force or manipulation to change the will of others is bad. Your analysis seems oversimplified, because nowhere in your writing I see the cost or consequence associated with making a choice.

    Buying a BMW3 vs GM is a choice, who gets the money is the consequence. Choices are often not as clear cut as you make them out to be, by choosing a car, you are also making a choice as to who benefits financially from said transaction. (you may just not care). Some choices are not going to benefit everyone, because even in your example, either BMW3 or GM will not get paid when you make a purchase, which makes some choices a Lose-Lose. Not sure how that makes someone an asshole or a bad friend, if they have no choice. I thought an asshole would be someone who willingly makes a bad choice.

    I see America First as choice in a Lose-Lose situation, ideally it would be nice to have free trade and both sides benefiting from such an arrangement, but I feel that cannot always be the case, especially if such trade causes suffering in the American industries. You have to make a choice, and you will be an asshole either way it seems.

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  • CJColucci

    Free trade is, generally, the most expedient and beneficial economic arrangement, but that’s all it is. The case for it isn’t all that hard to make, but it is counter-intuitive, and, whatever its overall benefits, it does create identifiable losers. Those of us in lines of work making us unlikely to be among the losers should show a little more class — and get a grip on our emotions.

  • Theresa Klein

    Which co-nationals should we be loyal to? The ones who got here first, or the ones who will come here tomorrow? The ones who make cars or the ones who want to buy cars? Any time you restrict the liberty of one citizen for the benefit of another, you’re creating winners and losers. You’re choosing which co-nationals are privileged and which are not.

  • gliberty

    I agree with your arguments, but that isn’t communitarianism. Not as I understand the term anyway. That is protectionism. Communitarianism used to be when people build a community similar to a commune, where stuff is shared; more recently it is a political philosophy where the community is seen as just as important as the individual. In this latter meaning, there are many policy implications in addition to some very interesting and worthwhile theoretical questions, but the primary policy implications are not about protectionism.