1. The erosion of community “Community” is one of those flexible terms in social and political discussions which is used in a wide variety of ways for different purposes. Here we will define the idea of community quite broadly as any social unit within which people are concerned for the well being of other people and feel solidarity and obligations towards others. The value of community, understood in this way, is very close to certain core values in many religious traditions. The moral precept “love thy neighbor” is basically an expression of this idea. A “community” need not be a small geographical locale like a neighborhood, but frequently communities are geographically rooted, since such deep attachments and commitments are often built on direct, face-to-face interactions. One can also talk about the degree of community in a particular social setting, since reciprocity, solidarity, mutual concern and caring can vary in intensity and durability. A strong community is one in which these mutual obligations run very deep; a weak community is one in which they are less demanding and more easily disrupted.
Community is important both as a value in itself and because it helps people solve practical problems of social cooperation. The problems of cooperation and collective action we discussed in the analysis of public goods, for example, are easier to solve when people feel moral obligations to each other and a shared sense of community. The free- riding problem within collective action depends upon people acting strictly on the basis of their own self-interest without regard to any moral commitment to contribute to the public good. In social settings where there is a strong sense of community, free-riding is less likely.