Monday, April 24, 2006

For the Common Good

Tomasky puts a spotlight on what should be at the heart of Democratic politics and policy. Republicans appeal to selfishness with tax cuts and a determined effort to destroy government's ability to interfere with the accumulation of great wealth. For them the purpose of government is steer money into their pockets. Michael reminds us of what true good government should be about.
In terms of political philosophy, this idea of citizens sacrificing for and participating in the creation of a common good has a name: civic republicanism. It’s the idea, which comes to us from sources such as Rousseau’s social contract and some of James Madison’s contributions to the Federalist Papers, that for a republic to thrive, leaders must create and nourish a civic sphere in which citizens are encouraged to think broadly about what will sustain that republic and to work together to achieve common goals.


The common good is common sense, and the historical time is right for it, for two reasons. First, what I’m trying to describe here is post-ideological in the best sense, a sense that could have broader appeal than what we normally think of as liberal ideology, because what’s at the core of this worldview isn’t ideology. It’s something more innately human: faith. Not religious faith. Faith in America and its potential to do good; faith that we can build a civic sphere in which engagement and deliberation lead to good and rational outcomes; and faith that citizens might once again reciprocally recognize, as they did in the era of Democratic dominance, that they will gain from these outcomes. Maintaining such a faith is extraordinarily difficult in the face of the right-wing noise machine and a conservative movement that, to put it mildly, do not engage in good-faith civic debate. Conservatism can succeed on such a cynical basis; its darker view of human nature accepts discord as a fact of life and exploits it. But for liberalism, which is grounded in a more benign view of human nature, to succeed, the most persuasive answer to bad faith, as Martin Luther King showed, is more good faith. All Americans are not Bill O’Reilly fans or Wall Street Journal editorialists. While they may not call themselves liberals, many of them -- enough of them -- are intelligent people who want to be inspired by someone to help their country.

1 comment:

S.W. Anderson said...

". . .this idea of citizens sacrificing for and participating in the creation of a common good has a name: civic republicanism."


I've heard this concept referred to many times (and have indulged a bit myself) as communitarianism.

For those not inclined to work with a dictionary, that term does not denote a cross between a commie and a member of a Unitarian congregation.