An international community

Dr. Demarche has started another cross-blog conversation (as he does so well) over at American Future. This time around his topic is the “international community”. Is there such a thing? What is its scope of action? Blog-friends Mark Safranski of ZenPundit and Callimachus of Done With Mirrors have weighed in on the “Qualified ‘No’” and “Yes” sides, respectively.

It might help if we defined our terms. Here’s the dictionary definition of “community”:

1 : a unified body of individuals: as a : STATE, COMMONWEALTH b : the people with common interests living in a particular area; broadly : the area itself the problems of a large community c : an interacting population of various kinds of individuals (as species) in a common location d : a group of people with a common characteristic or interest living together within a larger society a community of retired persons e : a group linked by a common policy f : a body of persons or nations having a common history or common social, economic, and political interests the international community g : a body of persons of common and especially professional interests scattered through a larger society the academic community
2 : society at large
3 a : joint ownership or participation community of goodsb : common character : LIKENESS community of interests c : social activity : FELLOWSHIP d : a social state or condition

and here’s the etymology of the word from the Online Etymology Dictionary:

1375, from O.Fr. communité, from L. communitatem (nom. communitas) “community, fellowship,” from communis “common, public, general, shared by all or many,” (see common). L. communitatem “was merely a noun of quality … meaning ‘fellowship, community of relations or feelings,’ but in med.L. it was, like universitas, used concretely in the sense of ‘a body of fellows or fellow-townsmen’ ” [OED]. An O.E. word for “community” was gemænscipe “community, fellowship, union, common ownership,” probably composed from the same PIE roots as communis.

My own definition of community would include common history, interests, and values. In my view community is an emergent phenomenon of shared experience.

It is quite possible for two people (or nations) to inhabit adjacent spaces and not comprise a community. For example, a householder and a burglar share a common interest (the householder’s property) but they do not comprise a community because of the difference in their values, namely, the householder believes that his possessions belong to him and the burglar doesn’t really care. However, as the shared experiences of the householder and the burglar grow a community may develop through the growth of sympathy between the two.

I would conclude that, to the extent that an international community exists at all, we in the United States are less a part of it than many other nations and that is not a bad thing. Our values are, in many ways, an outlier by world standards. By world standards our mainstream political Left and Right share many beliefs about civil liberties, property, the role of government, and what constitutes a good society. These beliefs are quite different from what most people in the world believe—even the people in the nations whose beliefs are closest to our own. For example, even the United Kingdom does not have the freedom of speech or of the press that we enjoy here (or, apparently, feel the need for it). In most of Europe education, health care, and social benefits far exceeding anything we have over here are considered fundamental rights. And so on.

As Callimachus correctly points out developments in trade, communication, and personal interaction among people all over the world are changing the world. Every time I call for technical support I’m engaging in the formulation of US foreign policy. But that doesn’t mean that an international community actually exists, only that one is forming. That was precisely what Qutb warned about in Milestones and that nascent international community is the precise topic of our disagreement with Al-Qaeda.

Mark Safranski is also correct when he writes:

Any “community” that the media speaks of really refers to a transnational elite of diplomats, high government officials, journalists, academics, central bankers, bureaucrats of international organizations and a strata of highly connected and influential private citizens.

These are the people who have historically had the greatest amount of interaction with each other and, consequently, the greatest degree of shared experience and values. I fear that the value they most share is a general agreement that they are entitled to powers unanswerable to the people of the countries which they purportedly serve.

But an international community will surely develop and its nature and shape will be beyond our individual control or the control of our government or other public and private institutions.

UPDATE: Marc Schulman of American Future and Dan of tdaxp have posted their own thoughts on the subject.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Dr. Demarche has posted his contribution to the discussion.

6 comments… add one
  • Heh. No fair, you quoted me twice. The Online Etymology Dictionary also is my project.

  • I’m aware of that, Callimachus. It was deliberate. 😉

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