In many of his appearances (including the Cato debate at about 38:30) Etzioni makes an unexceptional point about three elements of our world: coercive government, free‐standing individuals, and the “rich fabric of families, places of worship, voluntary associations, Tocqueville’s world.” And he suggests that we need less individualism, less government — though it’s hard to find any actual government program or activity he wants less of — and more civil society.
Libertarians and their intellectual forebears have been celebrating the virtues of civil society for centuries. (See Tom G. Palmer, “Classical Liberalism and Civil Society.”) I note that it’s not obvious in Etzioni’s three‐part analysis where he puts business enterprises, the space where most of us spend most of our time and where the progress that has lifted us from poverty to abundance happens. I include commercial society as part of civil society, the realm of non‐coerced association. And since Americans have been forming associations for centuries (see Tocqueville), I don’t think we need the kinds of government support for civil society that Etzioni calls for.
But it won’t surprise the reader to know that as a libertarian, I disagree with the communitarian argument that we have too much individualism and too many rights. When I hear communitarians like Etzioni describe the libertarian view of individualism, I wonder if they’ve ever read any libertarian writing other than a Classic Comics edition of Ayn Rand. In the Cato debate (39:30, unchecked transcription), he claims: