The community is one of the oldest forms of human social organization. The private individual has little value apart from the group. The family is responsible for an individual’s behavior, and this behavior is determined by sharply defined traditional roles based on age, sex lineage, and family position. Thus, individual choice and rational decision making are precluded.
The community regards itself and its traditions as divinely created, and the elders of the community are highly respected as the transmitters of this sacred tradition, ceremony, and ritual. Violation of tradition results in ostracism or even death.
The ideal type of community emerges as an intellectual concept when social change threatens to destroy a locality’s isolation, traditionalism, and social solidarity, and the decline of the community has been a recurrent theme in theories about society from ancient to modern times. This decline has been attributed to contacts with other cultures because of depletion of natural resources, trade, conquest, the growth of city and national states, industrialism, mass transportation and communication, mass democracy, and the emergence of mass society. The ideal type of community is considered to create social and psychological limits on the individual that constitute boundaries within which he can comfortably live. The decline of the community is reputed to destroy these boundaries of self and create a sense of loss that results in personal alienation or social disorganization.
The rise of modern mass industrial urban society has undoubtedly destroyed the “natural boundaries” created by social isolation. But the need for a sense of limits within which personal identity and response can be expressed has led to the construction of “discretionary communities”, where the psychological benefits of community life can be gained without recourse to the social isolation of an ecological community. These newer forms, including occupational and professional groups, neighborhood groups, social cliques, and ethnic, political, and purely cultural groups, become the functional equivalents of the older, ecological, isolated community, and they make is possible for their members to avoid the social and psychological problems of an infinite, multidimensional mass society. Their members can find a focus for their relations, loyalties and interests.