Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The Irish Pub and Brief Reflections on Community

This past weekend I took the time to watch a delightful documentary on Netflix called The Irish Pub. Lacking any introduction or narration, the film simply dives right into interviews with a variety of traditional Irish pub owners around Ireland.

It is clear that owning a traditional Irish pub is a labor of love from the proud way in which the owners describe the history of their establishment, in some cases going back over 100 years. Many of the proprietors work to preserve everything just as it has been, purposefully creating an island of stability in a turbulent sea of change. I found this aspect of traditionalism to be the best part of the film. But this traditionalism extended far beyond simply keeping the ancient flagstone floor and the same furnishings. Rather, it extended to the pub as being a true community place were locals gathered together and truly got to know one another.

Many of the proprietors discussed the ways in which people develop relationships in their pub, all while having a bit of craic, of course. I found it especially touching the how several of the proprietors had come to have such a close relationship with some of their patrons, especially the older ones. In one bar there is an elderly patron who hasn't paid for a drink in years simply because the owner loves him and his company so much. If you like nice old people, this film is full of them.

It is hard to imagine something like that happening in many parts of the United States today, although I will say that I did think of this great article discussing the important role McDonald's serves a community gathering place in many communities. I currently live in Arlington VA, a place that is largely bereft of true community. I suspect that a large reason for this is because so much of the population has moved to the area relatively recently in the grand scheme of things and will likely move again and therefore doesn't have roots in the area and won't invest the time to put them down now.

As Charles Murray's insightful book Coming Apart demonstrates, community and civil society are on the decline in many parts of the country, to the great detriment of everyone involved. I usually think of Murray's book and Robert Putnam's Bowling Alone when it comes to the decline of American communities, but I was at an academic conference a few months ago where one of my former professors mentioned that he thinks that Putnam and Murray's understanding of community differs from that of Robert Nisbet. Nisbet, a very important figure in the history of American conservatism, wrote the book The Quest for Community, which I have unfortunately not read yet but plan to in the future.

Such details aside, I do truly think that the decline of community is a major problem that is contributing to current societal problems and will continue to do so in the future. If community can act as a shock absorber to some extent (much like family does, another institution that seems to be ailing) then it seems prudent to worry about how society would deal with a large-scale problem or disaster. The problem is that building community certainly isn't easy, and requires a long term personal investment, rather than just throwing more money at the problem. Even more than that, it seems that many libertarians fail to appreciate the importance of community in preserving liberty.

I suspect that this libertarian antipathy might be the result of how most libertarians are pretty strong individualists, and even more than that, libertarians are a weird bunch. That can certainly discourage libertarians from getting involved in communities. Perhaps more libertarians need to open pubs in their hometowns rather than moving to DC to write a white paper or spending all their time in virtual communities arguing on the internet.  

Anyway, I do highly recommend taking some time to watch The Irish Pub. It is the perfect film to watch on an occasion when you are stressed out and can't deal with the tension of a drama and want something more substantive than some junk food television. It is a charming film that I found to be very enjoyable and entertaining.

If any of the books I mentioned sounded interesting, consider ordering them through my Amazon Associate links.