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Thoughts on “Place” from Pete Peterson

We wanted to share a thoughtful note that Pete Peterson sent to our transpartisan listserv the other day. Pete is not only the executive director of the Davenport Institute and an NCDD organizational member, but he’s also running for Secretary of State in CA, and he has some great insights to share on “place” from a newly released book…


I thought you might be interested in knowing about a new book project on the subject of “Place” and its relationship to civic engagement…

Why Place Matters: Geography, Identity, and Civic Life in Modern America was just released on Thursday at an event at Pepperdine (reviewed here in today’s Sacramento Bee). I have an essay in the book about how we should be incorporating an understanding of place into public policy formation and education.

Of particular note to this group is how the essays in this volume address the issues of ideology from a communitarian perspective. My experience has been that many friends from the left-side of the aisle see conservatives as viewing the world from a “rugged individualist” perspective, and that they are the more “community-minded.” You hear this many times from our President, who, when met with opposition to some of his policy prescriptions describes his opponents as those who say “you’re on your own.”

There is certainly a growing libertarian movement in America (that has both left and right components), but there is also a long history of conservative communitarians. A tradition that begins with Edmund Burke and runs through De Tocqueville to Russel Kirk, Wilmoore Kendall, Donald Davidson and (especially) Robert Nisbet, through to today’s Rod Dreher, Ross Douthat, and others.

I’ve thought for some time that one way to find some “common ground” between ideologies is in this communitarian arena. I see many strands of this way of thinking in the recent Slow Democracy by Susan Clark and Terry Teachout. And while I may draw the line differently in how centralized policies either inhibit or promote the creation of something called “community” than folks like Susan and Terry, I think we’re all trying to get to (nearly) the same… place.



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Roshan Bliss
An inclusiveness trainer and group process facilitator, Roshan Bliss serves as NCDD's Youth Engagement Coordinator and Blog Curator. Combining his belief that decisions are better when everyone is involved with his passion for empowering young people, his work focuses on increasing the involvement of youth and students in public conversations.

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  1. Mary Jacksteit says:

    I agree with you Pete – about this communitarian area being a place where left and right have strong overlapping values which they seem to be committed to ignoring much of the time, each side claiming this space and denying that the other values it. I have worked with a great guy, Mark Shoul, and his local organization, HANDS. He and his colleagues have created a practical embodiment of this common ground in rural Massachusetts driven by the necessity that without everyone working together the community will fail. Love of place and neighbors trumps partisan divisions. The Abundant Community folks also challenge the political definitions. Several years ago I read an essay by the very smart conservative Bill Schambra accusing progressives of caring only for a big national government and dismissing local activism, community work. If he’d come a couple miles to my bluer than blue town he’d have seen something far different. These arguments simply mirror one another. I look forward to reading the book.

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