Does the U.S. pursue a moral purpose in the world any longer, or are we just another schoolyard bully?
Our civil society – the social and political foundation that undergirds and sustains our democracy with its ideals of freedom, equality, justice, diversity – is in danger. If we lose that moral underpinning, what will keep our efforts to exert economic and military “leadership” around the world from amounting to just bullying?
Stanford scholar Bruce Sievers, in his book “Civil Society, Philanthropy, and the Fate of the Commons,” says that in civil society, we share common social values and struggle together in “a creative tension between individual interests and the common good.”
Democratic decision-making is rooted in civil society – citizens expressing their interests and commitments, affirming their rights and freedoms, and empowering the state to achieve the well-being of the community.
Sievers lays out seven characteristics of civil society we can use as a report card to see how well we’re maintaining our civil society balance between individual interests and the common good.
One important feature of civil society is the rule of law, the existence of fair and predictable rules that apply to everyone. Unfortunately, graft and corruption are common in our land. Those who wield economic power buy elections and legislative favors.
Regulators turn a blind eye as financiers manipulate their balance sheets and sell faulty securities. Meanwhile, millions lose their jobs and homes. Where’s the care for common good?
Another civil society indicator of is the prolific, extensive and free public communication for discussing solutions to the issues we face. We have plenty of “media coverage,” complemented by blogs and social media. But corporate-owned sources of news spin it with their own bias and discerning fact from fiction on the Internet is never easy. Similarly, politicians aren’t really talking with the people – they’re manipulating public opinion just to get the votes, not helping the public form reasoned, thoughtful opinions.
Civil society thrives on philanthropy, the love of humankind.
Generous giving to causes that meet public need expresses a sense of obligation to the wider community. But now we see the misuse of our national tax preference for charitable institutions.
Organizations with quite different purposes now bend their charter language to conform to IRS standards. This confuses and cheapens charitable intent.
Large numbers of voluntary charitable institutions also mark civil society. We have two million voluntary organizations, of which over a million are “non-profits.” But an invasion of market values into the charitable sector now prompts many donors to envision a “return” on their gifts as if it were an “investment.” These donors press nonprofit managers for metrics that demonstrate how to achieve a return on their investment in social progress. Doesn’t this violate the spirit of philanthropy?
Respect for individual rights is another critical gauge for civil society. Midway through the 20th century, human rights such as public accommodations, education and voting rights received attention. But much of that progress is now being rolled back. Our prejudicial incarceration system has overruled justice in many cases.
Finally, people in civil societies typically develop an ability to tolerate different beliefs and opinions. It’s been said that democracy’s vibrancy can be measured by its ability to foster dissent. But ideology now replaces tolerance. Wrecking becomes the daily agenda, confrontation the only means to achieve it. Have we lost our capacity for collaborative decision-making? Do we see the “other” as just another obstacle to be bulldozed?
Civil society is the base our democracy needs to flourish. These tears in the fabric of our civility and respect for each other suggest we are losing the moral foundation that otherwise might legitimize our national ambition to lead the world. And if that’s the case, we’re just another bully, pushing other nations to do our bidding.
The strange god and false prophet are the "brains" ...
Why on earth would anyone be this stupid?
Another interesting read from the best writer The ...
Legalize marijuana, earn millions in tax revenue and ...
It's an opinion piece, you idiot.