The ideal of the Common Good is alive, if not well!

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Peter Whiting attended a conference in February with Professor Maurice Glasman, who founded ‘Blue Labour’ in Britain, aiming at renewing social and economic policies by empowering local networks for shared responsibility in promoting equity and the common good.

Peter Whiting.

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Empowerment, Brian, flickr cc

There are those great times when moments of insight flow not so much from a single event or experience but from the serendipitous relationship of several encounters. For me, this week has seen just such a serendipitous outcome from two separate reading themes.

Deeply disappointed by the absence of a vision for Australia articulated by any of our major political parties, and despairing of government policies which seem only further to marginalise the poor and foster inequality of wealth, income, and opportunity in our country, I was reading with interest about the ‘Blue Labour’ movement in the UK.

Its architect, the Jewish scholar, Professor Maurice Glasman, observed in a speech “Catholic Political Thought as Political Economy” at Durham University, that much work needed to be done in the UK to change the political consensus and “to give a central role to agency, responsibility, solidarity, and vocation in politics and the economy, by building and strengthening institutions that give people responsibility and power over their own lives through association with others”. For him, a key point is that the Labour movement there needed to return to the ethical principle on which it was founded, namely furthering the common good, and building up the institutions and the understanding which would cause it to flourish.

This might as well have been said of the political left in Australia. It seems many Australian voters are disenchanted not only by the sense that we are losing that peculiarly Australian sense of a ‘fair go’ for all, but also that our institutions and political processes are disempowering, and our representatives somehow blinded to the need to work actively to reinstate the ideal and practice of a fair go.

My other reading was driven by curiosity about the title of Meghan J Clark’s recent book, The Vision of Catholic Social Thought: the Virtue of Solidarity & the Praxis of Human Rights, proposing an exploration of the link between solidarity and human rights from the perspective of Catholic social thought. Her proposition is that in this increasingly globalised world with heightened networking occurring at multiple levels of life – not just trade or finance, but also technological, environmental, and cultural – if we are to avoid the scenario of this being increasingly a means to consolidate the wealth of the rich nations at the expense of the poor, we must develop the sense of solidarity and shared responsibility.

For Clark, solidarity emerges as a virtue, calling us to a fully human community which recognises human rights not as individualistic but as communal, “such that when your human rights are violated, my dignity is violated as well”. This is surely a call to foster the ideal of the common good predicated on our common humanity. (The plight of asylum seekers loomed large for me in that thought!)

My serendipitous insight, linking both authors was that, although coming from different traditions and with different objectives, they were nonetheless acting in accord as prophetic voices decrying the individualistic emphasis of the last 50 or so years, and proclaiming the need for a relational world, a world in which working for the common good is not only a desirable aim, but a necessary one.

We need to go back to building trust and relationships, a sense of inter-dependence whether at the local, national or transnational level if we are to pursue a more authentic human development. At the personal level, this insight caused me to reflect with some shame that unwittingly I had allowed my concept of the common good to be something ‘out there’, to be aimed at rather than something that I was immersed in and shared a responsibility for developing and living out.

The link for the Glasman talk is at https://www.dur.ac.uk/resources/theology.religion/LordGlasmansLectureonCatholicSocialTeachingasPoliticalEconomy.pdf

 

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