RJ Snell, my very good friend from graduate school (Boston College), published an opinion piece in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel the other day provocatively titled “Walker and the Unions: Libertarian twins?” Read it here. Snell’s argument, in brief, is that the unions have too often abandoned their communitarian roots and have adopted the libertarian conception of interest that their hated nemesis, libertarian Gov Walker, holds. His piece, I suspect, has angered both libertarians and union defenders. I think his point is spot on.
Here is his account of the two conceptions: “The popular understanding of American liberty is that of the rugged individualist. In this model, individuals bear rights prior to the formation of the state and subsequently contract with each other to make government for their mutual protection and betterment. But because individuals are sovereign, the state itself threatens liberty with its mere existence.
The rugged individualist model is not the only understanding of liberty, however. Another model could be named “communitarian” and doesn’t tend to think of people as isolated individuals but rather as members of communities with rather thick bonds of relationship and obligation. Instead of the unreasonable assumption that individuals choose to contractually form community, this model grasps that individuality arises from membership in existing community. In other words, I am the individual I happen to be because of my memberships – I’m a son, a nephew, a father, a neighbor and a Marquette alum.”
He concludes, “Unions serve a genuine and reasonable social good by seeking the good of the community. That is, unions serve the good of the community when they do not act like a mob of individuals.
If unions seek the financial good of their members at the expense of the broader, non-union community, then they violate the communitarian standards that ought to govern them. In fact, if they are willing to preserve the financial interests of members at the expense of the common good, then unions would appear not much different than those libertarians indifferent to the parks, schools and museums that exist for the benefit of all.”
Dr. Snell was then featured on Wisconsin public radio today. Link here. Select March 9 as the date, he was in the 6:00am hour. You can play the audio by clicking a link on the right.