BCC Zeitcast 72: Russell Fox, Communitarianism, and What Really Matters

One of the true Fathers of Mormon blogging steps into the virtual studio for the first time, as Scott B. interviews Russell Arben Fox, a professor of political science at Friends University. Topics revolve primary around RAF’s favorite ism–Communitarianism–and the path his philosophical, political, and religious values have taken to arrive at their current state. Some discussion is also devoted to RAF’s beard.

Episode Content Guide
1. Intro & Background on RAF 0 – 6:00
2. The History of RAF’s Beard : 6:30 – 13:20
3. RAF’s Communitarian Philosophy : 13:30 – 35:00
4. Influence of RAF’s mission to South Korea : 35:00 – 45:00
5. Continued Development of Political Ideals: 45:00 – 48:00
6. Influence of Communitarianism on Mormonism : 48:00 – End

Links for your convenience:
1. RAF’s Archives at Times & Seasons
2. RAF’s Archives at BCC
3. RAF’s solo blog, a veritable treasure chest of 80’s pop culture trivia
4. More information on Communitarianism
5. More about Friends University.

Subscribe to the BCC Zeitcast in iTunes or through our dedicated podcast RSS feed.

Have feedback on the podcast? Please leave reviews/ratings in iTunes. Contact me at BCCZeitcast at ByCommonConsent dot com.


  1. Yes, it’s true–3 posts in a row from me. Sorry, but all of my cobloggers quit recently after reading John C’s Ron Paul thread.

  2. One of your heavier zeitcasts, Scott, but I stuck with it to the end and have a lot to think about, starting with this: If all that goes through to the next life is relationships, man, am I screwed.

  3. Ardis,
    One word: Facebook.

    Seriously though, you have a community–unconventional as it may be–that loves and appreciates and needs you, possibly far more than you will ever realize.

  4. …and I apologize if that came across as glib; I just think you’re a gem and invaluable to this community.

  5. Steve Evans says:

    Ardis, “sociality” is the key. It’s not relationships, it’s that society between living and dead, families and friends, strangers and kin. I don’t think you have too much to worry about.

  6. Damn, I talk way too much. I need an editor. Scott, thanks for putting up with me. (Free Bird!)

    Ardis, your relationships are manifold and rich. They exist through your family, through your ward, through your online friends, through your colleagues at the archives, through your readers, through the researchers you have inspired, through more people than you know. The same can be said of all of us, I suppose–which is partly why I’m continually bewildered at people who seem to go through life and approach problems without a consciousness of, without being both burdened by as well as strengthened by, the many connections and obligations they are inevitably part of. We’re all in this together; always have been, and always will.

  7. Steve Evans says:

    I liked it when Russell said he was a child of Tom Selleck.

  8. RAF,
    I tried interrupting you a few times in the early going, but realized that resistance was futile. ;)

  9. Steve,
    No lie, that was one of the moments (referred to in #8) where I tried to interrupt him and talk about that, but he didn’t hear me!

  10. Thomas Parkin says:

    Mostly, we need individuals to show us the way out. Give me one man who has himself walked out of the cave and can show me the way and I’ll leave all these communities behind. I only hope he will come back to rescue me. That would be condescension, indeed. If he does come back to guide me out, it doesn’t matter to me so much whether he has done so out of love or obligation – but some people have said that those who leave the cave become not only more truthful but also more loving. Should I make my way out, I may find I have an obligation, perhaps of love, to come back for others. But, I think the story goes that most will be involved with cave business.

    We are not rescued by communities, more likely we need to be rescued from them. That said, I have an obligation to some of them because God charges me with that. I love many individuals, including individual Mormons, and try to love more both in quantity and quality. But heaven help me I don’t want these communities. If God would permit it, I’d take visits from friends but would leave the community behind.

    So, here is an opposite sensibility, as a foil for you. I think God rewards the one with his desire, though the community hate him and kill him for it.

  11. Thomas Parkin says:

    Another way of putting it: we get citizens of Zion before we get Zion, since Zion itself is nothing more than a community of its citizens.

  12. Thomas Parkin,
    Love it. I am interested to see RAF’s response here–though I think I may be able to anticipate it a bit.

  13. Fun podcast. Good job, guys.

  14. Thomas,

    I’ll take up the gaultlet.

    Give me one man who has himself walked out of the cave and can show me the way and I’ll leave all these communities behind.

    How did the man in question find his way out? How did he develop the desire to find a way out? If he simply stumbled out by accident, without any kind of collectively and historically transmitted sense of the world or value system that would make him appreciate being outside of the gave, why wasn’t he terrified by what he saw, and flee back to the cave immediately? For that matter, why would you trust or believe in him enough to follow him out of the cave? And, if all you knew was the cave, and had no context that would allow to appreciate the existence or meaningfulness of alternatives to being in the cave, why would you want to follow him in the first place?

    We are not rescued by communities, more likely we need to be rescued from them.

    Yes, people often–rightly, desperately–flee from, or plead for help in escaping from, certain communities: abusive relationships, dysfunctional families, close-minded neighborhoods, oppressive states. But what they escape to, when they do escape, is not a liberated solitude, though some attempt to convince themselves and others of that, with varying degrees of success; rather, they escape one community by entering into another–another network, another set of connections. If we are, as the scripture says, “strangers and pilgrims” in this life (and I agree that we are), it’s become we’re all, always, trying to get from one community to the next, better one.

    If God would permit it, I’d take visits from friends but would leave the community behind.

    But you can’t. You wouldn’t have language without community. You wouldn’t have any way to think about the world that wouldn’t ultimately descend into the solipsistic and probably psychopathic. You’d have no way to love, or be loved. Even the desert hermits and holy men of the religious traditions the world over had their communities, their monastic orders, their chain of letters and correspondence and disciples. Such is what makes us what we are. If it wasn’t for the Jewish community which He was part of, Christ wouldn’t have been Christ; He would have been someone else. It is a strange, and possibly uniquely American sensibility, that longs to retreat into the wilderness, all by oneself, cut off all relations with other people, and achieve some sort of individual apotheosis, to get with God entirely on one’s own. That way lies Christopher McCandless–or Ted Kaczynski.

  15. Scott,

    I tried interrupting you a few times in the early going, but realized that resistance was futile.

    You should have just told me to shut the hell up. That’s what Melissa does. It’s really the only thing that works, unfortunately.

  16. RAF, I would have, but I enjoyed listening to you too much!

  17. What a feast! The Augustine shout -out toward its end dovetailed my reflections throughout the cast of a similar trajectory to the Saint’s life: gnosticism> neo-Platonism> Ambrosian orthodoxy, which led in Peter Brown’s words to a position where “although Augustine’s ideal might have been that of a Neo-Platonic recluse, the only alternative he could now envisage would be the active life of a Catholic bishop.” If I heard and interpreted aright (and that’s not a dead certainty–the thing is “heavy”, #2) RAF may not own the term liberal in its philosophically or politically theoretical senses; but in one of the most literal stylings of the word, “characterized by generosity and the willingness to give openly” [Random House dict., Classic ed.], he’s got liberality in spades.

  18. And RAF–I told Thomas Parkin that I thought I could predict your responses to his comments, and I was mostly correct. That said, I wonder if the invocation of Ted Kaczynski or Chris McCandless is really a fair depiction here–do you really believe that such an extreme outcome is the likely or probable result of a desire to be left alone, or escape from larger society, as opposed to an aberration? Is there no hope of becoming…hrmm…a well-adjusted hermit? :)

  19. Thomas Parkin says:


    I have to make this quick, so ask forgiveness in advance for convoluted grammar or too heated rhetoric.

    “How did the man in question find his way out?” and the rest of that paragraph.

    Some folks seem to have a nature, or possibly all people have some measure of a nature, that doesn’t allow them to be satisfied with the cave, but insists that they see more truthfully. It is tough to say than any community could train this nature, as the community, to the extent that it is ‘privileged’, will attempt to confine the individual who so seeks to its own regulations. This is even true of the church, and there is considerable tension between the individuals idea to progress and the community’s desire to protect – protect both the individual – to the extent there is a genuine concern for the individual within the community – and itself.

    I appreciated what you said in the cast about the community being designed to enhance the individual’s , and I certainly follow you that far. The question remains though whether we, individually, emphasize individuals or communities.

    “certain communities” and that paragraph.

    Well, for one thing, I don’t think these are the odd communities that are dysfunctional. I think that in the world we live the dysfunctional is the model. All our communities tend to round us off and even forbid what is most necessary in order to perpetuate some near version of themselves. As to your statement about liberated solitude, all I can say is that you are mistaken. There are few things as necessary as liberated solitude, if not as a way of life then as a major feature of life. It is only in solitude that we come to know God – a thing that we bring back to rather than learn from the community. In so far as we do learn God from a community, it is from those who have learned God themselves in solitude and come back to the community as an example. We may be fortunate enough to see God in our neighbor (very fortunate), but we are called to seek the face of God, mono y mono.

    To paraphrase the misanthrope poet Robinson Jeffers. ‘Love they neighbor as thyself, that is, not to excess … but love God with all thy heart.’

    I have been thinking a lot about how we become across fields of tension – and, maybe, after finals this week, I can finally get to a place where I can write at length on it. Emphasis on community stresses fields of tension that distract from the main line of becoming, imho. It will therefore contain a strong tendency to silence God.

    “You wouldn’t have language without community.” and the rest of that paragraph.

    I’m not suggesting that we withdraw from all community. As I said myself, I will welcome friendship into my life as often as it can happen. And I’m all for forming better communities based on higher principles, as you suggest. Friendship itself is an ideal that I love. And as you said: “we’re all, always, trying to get from one community to the next, better one.” Friendship may be something like the ideal community, but I’d prefer not to call it that. Bringing up McCandless and the Unabomber rather proves a point. Having an ideal to which one is committed will tend to call us out of communities. Where a higher community that embraces more perfectly that ideal isn’t available, there is a great deal of personal tension and heartache. All folks ideals are not good, including the ideal of community without a great deal of qualification.

    I realize that as this point we are probably talking past each other.

    Just a quick coda – this is a poem I adapted from a Danish poet whose name I can’t recall. I basically totally remade it to make my point rather than his.

    I say, “Thy Eternal Spirit”
    He says, “My body on the tree”
    I say, “Thou art Agape.’
    “Eros!”, answers he.

    Eros is always the love of the one for the one, and always ‘privileges’ accordingly.

    Best! !~

  20. RAF, Scott, there was really some good stuff here. I have no liberal arts background (so for example, I haven’t a clue what Brent just said), but what you shared regarding communitarianism and libertarianism really helped explain some of my own internal conflicts. I feel strongly about both, which has left me feeling inconsistent. Every time an issue comes up and somebody argues it from the one perspective, I always start to argue from the other. Doesn’t win me any friends. Anyway, you’ve helped me organize my messy moderateness.

  21. Brent, thanks very much for your comment (especially your shout-out to Augustine, whom I think is unfortunately not given due respect as a Christian thinker in Mormonism). I may not be a liberal, but I do strive to be “liberal” in my thinking. I’m gratified that some of that came across in the interview.

    Scott, please introduce me to this well-adjusted hermit you’re thinking of. I don’t know of him. Please note, though, we’re talking here about a real hermit, someone who has honestly rejected community association and experience and learning. If you point me towards a Hindu yogi silently meditating in a cave for years on end, I’ll point out that he or she is part of an extensive and ongoing community of experience, someone who at some point was schooled in that meditation and whom is a conscious example of such to others.

    Thomas, that’s a great reply. I don’t have the time to fully respond to all your response now, but I would note that what appears to come out most fully in your thoughts is the “tension” that membership in a community can (and usually does) entail. Please don’t think I believe there’s some way to escape that tension, because I don’t. Just like human beings generally suck, all human communities are going to generally suck too. They are what it possible for us to conceive of, to receive and to reject, inspiring ideals, and they are also what makes it possible for those ideals to be crushed. People immigrate, they change their names, they convert to new religions, they “do without” their communities all the time, for the sake of minimizing that painful tension or deprivation. I just would insist that that tension will always replicate itself, because everyone is always going from one community to another. And as for the idea of seeking the face of God, one on one, I find the whole idea terribly simplistic. If I go up on the mountain and God reveals Himself to me, the only reason I have any way of making sense of it is because I came from a community, and will be returning to it. Absent that community context, it’s just a big shiny face in the sky. It might as well be the Wizard of Oz.

    Martin, I’m glad my way-too-lengthy ramblings were some help to you.

  22. Marvelous job, guy. I really enjoyed that. And the thought that community is all that matters is food for some profound thinking. Thanks.

  23. Chris H. says:

    Loved it! More political theorists….please.

  24. Thomas Parkin says:


    Tailing off conversations are the best kind.

    I think you are simplifying what I’ve said when you say it is too simple. *wink* I gave that we emerge from and return to communities from the first. For me, there is quite a bit of regret in that reality; I do it mostly because I feel that is what God wants me to do, and for the sake of a handful of true friends – for you, it is different.

    My point stands that there are spiritual attributes that are developed only in solitude. We Mormons with our busyness and our ‘selflessness’ (a god awful word), live below our spiritual rights in part because we fail to emphasize the importance of a spiritual solitude. In solitude you can learn to distinguish the sound of your own thoughts, to distinguish them from the still small voice. The soul part to which revelation comes, through which you can understand God, develops mostly in solitude. (Though what is learned is solitude naturally touches and influences the work that follows and that involves other people.) It is far more than getting out into nature, or whatever. It is a part of the long and difficult process of becoming whole. One simply must have time alone with spiritual things. With God or whoever it is that God sends. It is indispensable.


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