Foundation for Healthy Community: The Social Individual

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.” [1] 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. [2] 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”. [3] 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.” [4]

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

[1]  Josiah Royce The Problem of Christianity, Volume 1 (Barnes & Noble Digital Library) (Downloaded July 20, 2020).

[2] 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.

[3] See, John E. Smith, The Spirit of American Philosophy: Pierce, James, Royce, Dewey, and Whitehead (Oxford, ENG: Oxford University Press, 1963), 95.

[4] Josiah Royce. “The Problem of Christianity, Volume 2 (Barnes & Noble Digital Library).” Apple Books. (downloaded July 27, 2020).


Politics and the Order of the World

The paradigm for visualizing the world and human society Newton created, thought of the universe as made up of matter, and of society as being made up of isolated individuals, both of which were bound together by forces. Reason was mental power servicing the goal of modifying the world. In the realm of industry this meant technology. In the political realm this meant the power of mind put to the service of gaining political and economic power. In the hands of Nietzsche this became a recipe for disaster, because all that mattered was raw power and the desire to dominate (Will to Power).

Basing Politics on an Outdated Model of the World.

Philosopher’s use a big word “ontology” to describe the ultimate nature of reality. [1] The modern world viewed reality as ultimately materialistic. The “Real” were material things joined together by different kinds of forces.  In this way of thinking, the universe, including the human race, is visualized as a big, complicated machine made up of matter and energy.

In recent years, this materialistic model of the world has been superseded by a model of the world that assumes deep interconnectedness, relationality, freedom, and inner sensitivity. It is an “organic model” that sees the universe not as a machine but as an organism or a process. In my view, and in the view of others, the older way of thinking has led modern politicians, policy-makers, and intellectuals into many errors. Henry Sapp puts it as follows:

[We] are faced today with the spectacle of our society being built increasingly upon a conception of reality erected upon a mechanical conception of nature now known to be fundamentally false. … As a consequence of this widely disseminated misinformation, “well informed” officials, administrators, legislators, judges, educators, and medical professionals who guide the development of our society are encouraged to shape our lives in ways predicated on known-to-be-false premises about “nature and nature’s laws.” [2]

A Relational World

If the world is not solely, or fundamentally, made up of forces and matter, the way is open for a new and different kind of ontology, one that is not materialistic. From a physical perspective, quantum physics indicates that the ultimate reality (the “ultimate being” from a scientific point of view), is that particles not material bodies, but disturbances in a universal field. There are even physicists who believe that the ultimate reality is information. In the famous words of John Wheeler, “The ‘it’ is a’ bit’.” [3] In whatever way ultimate reality is to be visualized, science no longer supports a purely materialistic approach to solving basic problems, because reality is not fundamentally material at all.

Einstein’s Relativity Theory describes a universe that is deeply relational, in which time and space, ultimate attributes of reality in Newtonian physics, are known to be related to one another, and in fact cannot be separated. There is one “Space/Time Continuum.” At a quantum level of reality, there is a deep interconnectedness that is revealed and symbolized by so-called, “spooky action at a distance,” or what physicists call, “entanglement.” Reality is deeply connected at a subatomic level. Even at the level of everyday reality, there is a deep interconnectedness that is evident in so-called open systems and their tendency toward self-organizing activity—the so-called “butterfly effect.” [4]

Finally, it is the insight of quantum physics that it is ultimately not possible to disengage the observer from the event being examined as was the model of investigation dominant in the modern world. This insight, first discovered at the subatomic level of physical reality, has implications in other areas. The American philosopher Charles S. Pearce foresaw this insight in his relational theory of signs, in which he spoke of the relationship between reality (an object under observation), an interpreter (observer), and the sign used to understand the reality observed. [5]

A World Imbedded with Love

Pierce, who was the founder of Pragmatism, had a fundamentally organic, or process, view of reality. Of particular interest is his view that the reality is characterized by freedom (or chance), law (or regular order), and love (or a harmonizing principle). [6] In other words, the world is constantly evolving in a kind of interplay between chance, order, and love. What Pierce calls “Evolutionary Love” is essentially a cosmic principle of cherishing love, what I have elsewhere called, “Deep Love,” that operates throughout the created universe. [7]This love is a cherishing form of love, because it recognizes that which is lovely in another being and sympathetically supports its existence. [8]

It is by no mistake that Pierce begins his discussion of Agapistic love quoting from John, where the author says:

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us (I John 4:7-12). [9]

At a deep level, at the level of the ultimate nature of the universe, Peirce posits a harmonizing force that can only be described as love, a disinterested relational love at seeks the best for that which is loved. If the universe is in fact characterized by a kind of Deep Love or Deep Relationality, then it is at least possible that our economics and politics do not have to be, and should not be built on force alone: for that goes against the fundamental nature of the universe itself. [10] This insight of Pierce is consistent with Christian faith and with a Christian political theology. [11]

If we believe that the world is finally relational, and that a kind of “deep love”—a deep relationality that is the physical and spiritual ground of all created loves—is the final reality of the universe, then one might believe that our overly-competitive, power-based, winner-take-all politics needs to be supplanted by a different approach, for the approach we have taken goes against the grain of the universe itself and the ultimate nature of human being and human society. The new approach I suggest is what we might call, “a politics that takes account of love.”

A Subtle, Multifaceted Politics

As mentioned before, the founder of modern pragmatism viewed reality as characterized by freedom (or chance), law (or regular order), and love (or a harmonizing principle). Love, or a harmonizing principal, it’s not the only feature of the universe at work at any moment in time. From a political perspective, for example, chance or freedom plays a role. The recent COVID-19 pandemic is an excellent example of a chance happening in history that both shapes and constricts political realities. Given the emergence of COVID-19, policymakers could not ignore this chance occurrence. Other priorities had to be put on the back burner as policymakers focused on the crisis at hand. A good bit of the time political realities are shaped by the factor of chance. Some of these chairs factors are also the results of the activity of free human beings. Once again, COVID-19 is a good example. The decisions made by policymakers early on in another nation, freely chosen by them as a response to the problem, shaped the crisis and constrained but American policymakers could do.

Secondly, although policymakers have some freedom, and although chance his operative in history, a good bit of the time historical forces are at work. In the case of Coved 9, by the time the United States learned of the danger, the disease existed, had escaped from the place where it originated, and was spreading across the globe. US policy makers had to act within the boundaries of the situation as they found it. In addition, policy makers had to operate within the Constitution of the United States, the two-party system which we have, the medical and political system that already existed. These are historical constraints.

Finally, policy makers had the freedom to choose those results which had the best chance of saving lives and doing minimal damage to the economy. Within the boundaries of our legal system and the administrative and other resources available, the administration and others provided temporary hospitals, medical supplies, testing, and other responses. In so doing, they were motivated by the desire to save lives, limit suffering, and encourage the best possible outcome for the nation.

Copyright 2020, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] The word, “ontology” describes the branch of philosophy that analyzes the nature of being.

[2] Henry F. Sapp, “Whitehead, James, and the Ontology of Quantum Theory” 5(1) Mind and Matter (2007) downloaded at (June 16, 2020), 85. In this quote, Sapp is not speaking of the exact phenomena that I am concerned with here—the tendency to view all reality as a machine—but his quote is equally applicable to what I am saying in this essay. Sapp is concerned with the assumption of materialistic theory that our experience of human freedom and the efficacy of human thought is an illusion.

[3] See, Paul Davies, Niels Henrik Gregerse, Information and the Nature of Reality – From Physics to Metaphysics (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2011). The term was coined by renowned physicist, John Wheeler.

[4] This is not the place for a discussion of these phenomena. For those who would like a deeper discussion, see John Polkinghorne, ed, “The Trinity and an Entangled World: Relationality in Physical Science and Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2010).

[5] See, C.S. Pierce, “Questions Concerning Certain Faculties” in The Essential Charles S. Peirce Edward C. Moore, ed (New York, NY: Harper & Row), 1972.

[6] Pierce has technical words that describe his three principles.  In his view, there are three modes of: evolution by fortuitous variation, evolution by mechanical necessity, and evolution by creative love. He refers to them as tychastic evolution, or tychasmanancastic evolution, or anancasm, and agapastic evolution, or agapasm. The doctrines which represent these as severally of principal importance we may term tychasticismanancasticism, and agapasticism. The mere propositions that absolute chance, mechanical necessity, and the law of love are severally operative in the cosmos may receive the names of tychismanancism, and agapism.

[7] G. Christopher Scruggs, Centered Living/Centered Leading: The Way of Light and Love rev. ed. (Cordova, TN: BookSurge, 2016).

[8] See, “Evolutionary Love, at (Downloaded June 29, 2020). The role of “Evolutionary Love” in Pierce is similar to the role of love as an eternal object in the philosophy of A.N. Whitehead.

[9] I have quoted a bit more than Pierce quotes in his essay. The reason for this is that Pierce discusses an element of political philosophy relevant to my interests here in his essay, what Pierce calls “the Gospel of Greed” that is inevitably tied up in a purely evolutionary and mechanical view of creation.

[10] I think that this is exactly the point that Pierce was attempting to make. The universe is characterized by (1) chance, and therefore by fortuitous evolution; (2) by laws of nature and regular order, and therefore by forces that have great control over the future; but however (3) a deep, cherishing agapistic love also has a role to play in the evolution of the world. This kind of approach can also be applied to our political, economic and social systems.

[11] See, Centered Living/Centered Living: The Way of Light and Love for Christ-followers, previously cited.