In a previous blog, I briefly outlined the way in which, from conception through adulthood, human beings are the creation of community. Human beings are intimately connected to the life of other people from the moment of conception. This connectedness is physical, emotional, and mental. There is, however, another side to the story that is the subject of this blog: No Christian political philosophy or theology can ignore the individual and his or her intrinsic value.
The Social Individual
Already at the moment of conception, an individual both exists and begins to emerge in his or her uniqueness. Although intimately connected to the body of the mother, the child is a genetically distinct person with components from both mother the father. The child in utero is a unique individual carrying a genetic makeup unlike any other person, and through the mother an emerging part of the human community. This uniqueness continues to develop in the womb. The mother’s emotional state, the food the mother eats, the music the mother listens to, and other factors will continually work to create the growing human person.
After birth, the child continues to develop his or her uniqueness. Eventually, every child begins to say, “Yes” and “No,” choosing some life-experiences and rejecting others. Although profoundly impacted by his or her family of origin, the child differentiates his or herself within the family and community. This process of self-differentiation and growth continues for the rest of the person’s life.
Slowly but surely, the sense of individuality develops. Once a creature of his or her parents, the child develops his or her own unique life-history. Every drop of experience, every moment of learning, every decision, makes the child the unique individual he or she is and will become. As the child goes through adolescence and young adulthood, it further develops its own unique personality, now as an individual who does and is expected to make his or her own life-decisions. As an adult, decisions regarding career, spouse, life-style, religion, etc. continue to form the unique person, unlike any other and creates a “life trajectory” as the person moves into the future.
There is a social element in all this: each human person reacts with and against the family, neighborhood, city, state, culture, religious history (or lack thereof) society, and the like, in the formation of the human person he or she is called to be. As philosopher Josiah Royce put it, “This self is known to each one of us through its social contrasts with other selves, and with the will of the community.”  Yet, the person is a unique individual, who is, as the psalmist says, “Fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14)
Communities and Selves
Understanding the “individual self” is important to the notion of community. The word “community” indicates a “communion of individuals.” Every community is a community of more than one individual. Complex communities, like the United States of America, are communities of many, many individuals. This notion of individuals as both emerging from communities and creating communities has great importance in understanding what is profoundly problematic about our current divisive, “winner take all” American politics. We are trying to create a polity of individuals in abstraction from communities. On the other hand, socialist and collectivist nations have the reverse problem: they are trying to submerge individuals for the sake of community in abstraction of the individual. One of the most disturbing trends in American politics is a division that reflects both a hyper-individualism and a collectivist communalism that is contrary to the nature of the human person, which is both individual and communal
The Danger of American Excessive Individualism
It has been recognized for some time that “American Individualism” carries with it dangers to the common good. Where there is little or no communal loyalty, there will inevitably be chaos or a strong regulatory state. Excessive individualism empowers the central state, which becomes the only means of social control. The recent upsets in some American cities is illustrative. America today shows the signs of a defective sense of both community and the place of the individual within the community. The best response is to build both healthy individuals who have the skills and experience to maintain freedom and a sense of communal bonding.
There is also the danger of the destruction of the many small, private communities that make up and provide the foundation for both sound individualism and our democratic republic. A nation without strong families, neighborhoods, cities, and states, without strong churches, synagogues, temples and mosques, without strong neighborhood associations and political parties that are all part of and committed to the maintenance and growth of the common community, as well as respectful of the rights of the members of those communities, simply cannot be a strong polity—it is based upon an unsound foundation of socially deformed individuals and an inadequate and truncated communal nexus.
Loyalty and Love; Individuals and Communities
Near the turn of the last century, the philosopher Josiah Royce wrote a number of works in which he discussed the relationship between individuals and communities.  Without individuals there can be no community. Without healthy individuals there cannot be healthy community. Therefore, healthy community require healthy individuals who freely chose to be a part of the community and who serve the community out of love of and loyalty to its ideals and purposes. Coercion, physical or legal, can create a collective, but not a community.
It may well be that our current problems as a society result from a government that has become too reliant upon force, albeit legal force, and which has neglected to nurture the voluntary bonds of love of country and of its history and ideals upon which a free society depends. Leaders, Christian and non-Christian, might ponder the need to restore the social and historical bonds of our heritage and people. The vicious behavior seen recently and the tearing down of statues of national heroes and the like, is destructive of freedom, democracy and the very ideals for which demonstrators seemingly wish to stand.
“Mobs” vs. “Beloved Community”
This leads to a final aspect of Royce’s thought with which I want to end this blog: Royce points out that a “mob” is not a “community”.  A mob is a destructive anti-community. There can be and are demonic forms of community of which people and leaders should be aware and wary. These sorts of communities, which we see evident in America today.. This includes demagoguery, incitement to violence and destruction, shallow advertising, and simplistic and emotional political rhetoric conducive to mob behavior, are not conducive e to healthy community, as we have recently seen.
On the other hand, there is an ideal form of community, what Royce calls the “Beloved Community.” In his works on Christianity, he developed the notion of the church as a kind of eschatological community, a community of perfect loyalty and love among members. This Beloved Community is a kind of “lure” drawing existing imperfect communities towards greater wholeness. Thus, Royce says,
“The beloved community embodies, for its lover, values which no human individual, viewed as a detached being, could even remotely approach. And in a corresponding way, the love which inspires the loyal soul has been transformed; and is not such as could be given to a detached human individual.” 
The Beloved Community, unlike a mob, is created by reason and love, sustained by reason and love, and motivated to extend reason and love. It can only be created imperfectly in this world, but it stands as the ideal community for which the human soul longs. It is made up of, and only of, those who have freely chosen its history, tradition, values, and common life.
Interestingly, if people know anything about Royce, it is this term “Beloved Community”. Martin Luther King Jr. came across the work of Royce in his doctoral studies and adopted the term for his moral and ethical vision. His vision of a Beloved Community continues to impact American politics to this day. Some Catholic charities and other groups use this term in their literature. What is important for us to remember is that a Beloved Community, or any approach to the Beloved Community, cannot be formed or sustained by violence. Only the loyalty and love of free individuals can form any kind of Beloved Community,
Next week (or whenever I finish it), more on Community and the Beloved Community.
God bless you all,
Copyright 2020, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved
 Josiah Royce The Problem of Christianity, Volume 1 (Barnes & Noble Digital Library) https://books.apple.com/us/book/problem-christianity-volume-1-barnes-noble-digital/id1280398775 (Downloaded July 20, 2020).
 See Josiah Royce and such works as The Philosophy of Loyalty (Sophia Omni Publisher, 2017) and The Problem of Christianity (Washington, DC: Catholic University Press, 2001). The notion of community and its relationship to individuals is central to Royce’s thought.
 See, John E. Smith, The Spirit of American Philosophy: Pierce, James, Royce, Dewey, and Whitehead (Oxford, ENG: Oxford University Press, 1963), 95.
 Josiah Royce. “The Problem of Christianity, Volume 2 (Barnes & Noble Digital Library).” Apple Books. https://books.apple.com/us/book/problem-christianity-volume-2-barnes-noble-digital/id1280399789 (downloaded July 27, 2020).