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Communitarians have suggested that a balance must be struck between individual rights and the public welfare, and that our self-seeking tendencies must sometimes be set aside in pursuit of the common good. Government is often (although not always) the mechanism through which common interests are advanced. An abdication of government responsibility may result in disaster, as was the case with respect to Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. At the other extreme, the accumulation of too much power in government can also bring about catastrophic consequences, as in the case of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear plant disaster in the Soviet Union. A balance must be struck between the extremes of government passivity and "all government, all the time." Traditionally, this tension has been framed as one of libertarianism versus collectivism; in current American political parlance, that of liberalism versus conservatism. But communitarians are more likely to view these issues in terms of an adjustment of interests, to be determined in the political arena, than as a clash of rights, to be adjudicated in the courtroom. This essay suggests a communitarian framework for analyzing the boundaries of government power and responsibility. Part I of the essay focuses on the Katrina disaster and the abdication of government responsibility on the local, state, and national levels both before and after the hurricane. Part II suggests the Chernobyl experience as a counterpoint, cautioning us regarding the dangers of too much government control. Part III explores the underlying attitudes toward government in the United States, suggesting that hostility toward government has resulted in a "tragedy of the commons" that undermines the public welfare. Part IV outlines a series of communitarian guidelines for principled consideration of the proper role of government.


Law and Society | Other Law