We classical liberals are often criticized for undermining communitarian values by emphasizing individual liberties. In reality, though, a liberal society (in the classical sense, not the welfare-state sense) fosters community by allowing people to associate in ways they find most meaningful. Indeed, one of the great things about a liberal, live-and-let-live city is that it can accommodate so many communities that cater to different preferences and values: Orthodox Jews, devout Muslims, evangelical Protestants, gays and lesbians, and various ethnic groups can create their own little communities to foster shared values. As long as nobody injures the person or property of another, folks are free to commune as they will.
Unfortunately, the sort of liberalism that fosters the spontaneous formation of community groups can be tough to maintain, especially when governments create regulatory bodies charged with “protecting” people from improvident choices. Those regulators, under constant pressure to “do something” in order to protect their turf, often impose rules that prevent people from communing as they will, even when they’re not hurting anybody else.
I was reminded of this point yesterday when I read that the Bloomberg administration, in the name of “public health,” is cracking down on bars that allow dogs (even in outdoor areas). How sad for New York City. Nothing builds community better than a collection of spaces — bars, coffeshops, diners, etc. — where neighbors can go to relax, converse, and share their lives. And nothing is more likely to keep people coming back and to get them talking to each other than to allow them to bring their dogs. If you don’t believe me, head down to your local dog park and watch people interact. Nobody’s a stranger at the dog park.
Of course, there are lots of people who are scared of dogs, or don’t like them, or believe that their mere presence renders a place unsanitary (even though millions of Americans have dogs in their homes — often in their beds — and seem to suffer no ill-effects). Such dog phobes needn’t worry. Profit-seeking entrepreneurs will cater to their preferences by creating dog-free spaces. The rest of us, then, can head down to our canine-friendly pubs and bond with our fellow dog lovers.
As much as I hate to say it, the French are sometimes right.