The Fraternal Conceit: Individualist versus Collectivist Ideas of Community

Socialists frequently argue that liberals in emphasising the autonomy of the individual neglect the values of community, fraternity and social solidarity.

In this Occasional Paper, Dr Chandran Kukathas defends the liberal conception of civil association, in which individuals bound by rules of just conduct can peacefully coexist and pursue their private individual or group ends. He claims that socialists have fallen victim to ‘the fraternal conceit’: ‘the fanciful notion that community and social solidarity can be secured in extended societies by developing the bonds of political association’. Multicultural policies are a prime example of the fraternal conceit in modern Australia, since, against the intentions of their supporters, they have actually led to social divisiveness and resentment.

Liberalism does not reject fraternity and community but puts these values in their place. ‘Society is composed of individuals who belong to many different communities… But if the extended order of society is to allow many such communities to coexist, it cannot be conceived as one large community”