Russell Arben Fox has two posts up, here and here, both of which are of the usual high standard of thoughtfulness, on, slightly indirectly, consumerism, the grounds on which it can be critiqued and the alternatives. I disagree with Russell on two separate grounds, I think. The first is that I think, unlike Russell, that liberalism's concern, dating back at least as far as the aristocratic liberalism of Mill and De Tocqueville, with conformity and the suppression of individuality, seen through the lens of an understanding of how aggregate decisions can raise the cost of choices, provides plenty of grounds for finding consumerism, in some of its forms, reprehensible. As I put it in the comments to the post in question - I was pleased with this phrase, I confess - 'liberal understandings of freedom don't have to be limited to bad stereotypes of Isaiah Berlin'.
Secondly, whilst I wouldn't be so unneccessary as to accuse Russell of the same kind of blindnesses that I accused a variety of people of here, very early on in my internet ramblings - for one thing, much as I would like to believe otherwise, I think he is fully aware of the various authoritarian structures which typically support the kinds of communities he extols - I think the critiques applied to consumerism by liberalism cut directly back at Russell's communitarianism. Just as consumerism tends to create wants whose satisfaction will sustain it, and thus stifles experimentation by raising its social and economic costs, tightly-knit, conservative communities restrict, either deliberately or by an institutionally-maintained lack of demand, access to anything which might upset their careful arrangements of dominance.
I am not blind to what's lost with the (partial) collapse of such social systems - I can bore for England, as people have on occasion pointed out to me, on the various serious social problems of the small Scotish fishing town my mother grew up in, the demise of the solidaristic forms of fishing boat ownership being perhaps the most obvious - but neither should we eulogise such communities. Russell mentions the Amish, and for all the nostalgia of cultural artefacts like Witness, we should not forget that they form closed, incredibly patriarchal communities, which they deliberately make exit from prohibitively difficult. He also makes a comparison between the attitudes of such groups and those of modernity, pointing to in particular the stance of hope and that of a belief in progress or improvement. What it strikes me as being marked as the difference between these two attitudes is that hope is a kind of fatalism, an attitude of subservience, of passivity, typical of quasi-religious world-abnegation, while a belief in progress is active, embedded in the world, more confident of its own ability to shape the world to its purposes. While that kind of attitude can obviously be taken too far, the quiesence of hope is ennervating and, to the extent that politics is about creating the institutions under which we live, apolitical.
That can hardly be the correct way to think about either how we should live collectively or individually: it throws its hands up in the face of every obstacle it faces, does not even attempt to overcome them, sees them as fixed, unalterable and eternal. It is precisely the kind of attitude which sustains injustice by refusing to accept that there could be other ways of arranging our institutions, and to the extent that it is part of the habitus of the closed communities which Russell is such an enthusiast for, it is complicit in the injustice and unfreedom which mark them. We should remember that much of the Communist Manifesto is a paean to the emancipatory effects of capitalism, and while there will be a loss if and when these quasi-feudal communities disappear, I for one will not be amongst the mourners.