Many on the right correctly emphasize individual liberty, but they do not emphasize what conservatism knows to be true: It is in community that people learn how to be free.
Ryan argued that "the federal government has a role to play" with respect to community, but that "it's a supporting role, not the leading one." This is generally true. Government should distance itself enough from the individual that civil society -- which exists in the space between government and citizen -- can flourish. Speaking generally, government should help support these institutions, but it should not do their work for them.
But this is not to say that a communitarian ethic should be absent from politics and public policy -- quite the opposite. Proceeding with a spirit of community would help conservatives formulate and support better policies. Let's discuss a few.
The most obvious and immediate need for a spirit of community in the public-policy space is in the labor market. We still have two million fewer jobs than when the official "recovery" from the Great Recession began. More than four million of our fellow citizens have been unemployed for 27 weeks or longer.
Although our labor-market crisis is often discussed in economic terms (if at all), it truly represents a human tragedy. It constitutes millions and millions of workers who are unable to flourish, to earn their own success, to realize their full potential.
A public policy animated by a spirit of community would assign top priority to helping put Americans back to work by reforming the unemployment-insurance system to include relocation vouchers for unemployed workers who need to move in order to find a job and lump-sum bonuses for finding jobs, further delaying Obamacare's employer mandate beyond 2015 if the labor market continues to recover at a slow pace, encouraging high-skill immigrants to come to America and create jobs, encouraging domestic energy production, and getting the government off the backs of aspiring entrepreneurs by reducing occupational licensing requirements and regulatory burdens.
The disappearance of traditional middle-class jobs -- a consequence of technological advancements in automating processes, to a large degree, and of outsourcing -- represents the biggest challenge to American workers since the mass of workers left the farm for the factory. Any solution will involve better education for all Americans, so conservatism motivated by a spirit of community would put education reform at the top of its agenda. That would include embracing school choice, making it easier for local communities to start charter schools, tailoring curriculum to meet the needs of an automated economy, holding schools and teachers to performance metrics, weakening the power of teachers' unions, and pushing for a longer school year -- 180 days is too short a school year for a 21st-century education.