Human Dignity

Political Responsibility

Intermediate Organizations

Economic Steps

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This website attempts to gather a few threads dealing with socially responsible life in today's context, primarily by quoting selected thinkers and analizing examples, all in the context of Western civilization. After an introduction, four pages discuss different aspects. First, concepts relating to human dignity are presented, highlighting the value of the human person. Next, organized government action is discussed in the context of political pesponsibility. Intermediate Organizations are then taken up, making the point that without neglecting the individual or the political, a great deal can be accomplished through associations and group activites. Several active examples of beneficial intermediate organizations are presented. Lastly, economic issues are discussed in the context of a civil society.

Civil society

The term "civil society" is not new, and it has been used with many different meanings,  but it has acquired new actuality in current political discussions. Beyond a precise definition, it is an approach or philosophy that recognizes the complexity of human social life. This is in contrast with historic movements that have overemphasized the role of government or of the economy. The interest in these discussions rose at the end of the twentieth century as Eastern European countries, newly independent from Russia, attempted to develop democratic societies. [1]

In this website, we will adopt Dagoberto Valdés' defintion of the task of civil society as "the formation of human beings as persons and active, conscious and responsible members of society."[2] He brings out the need for balance between the person and society, emphasizing the two needed processes in a community:

Personalization: To contribute to liberty and responsibility, to the development of being a subject, to the opening to the transcendent, to being fully a person.

Socialization: To contribute to the interpersonal community, to group relations, to conscious and responsible participation, to being open to the larger groups.[3]

Individuals, private organizations and governments all have natural and positive roles to play in society, and their interactions build a "civil" society.

Dagoberto Valdés Hernández
Photo Source: © Facebook


We can reach very far back in seeking the social and political roots of Western civilization. The writings of the Greek philosopher Aristotle (384-322 BCE) and the Roman senator and philosopher Cicero (106-43 BCE) can be considered foundational documents. They both incorporated material from other authors, but their formulations have been the most influential. Cicero provides an excellent description of the human social nature:

We are not born for ourselves alone, and our country claims her share... men are created for the sake of men, that they may mutually do good to one another; in this we ought to take nature for our guide, to throw into the public stock the offices of general utility by a reciprocation of duties; sometimes by receiving, sometimes by giving, and sometimes to cement human society by arts, by industry, and by our resources.[4]

Classical thought assumed that the basic principles of social ethics are available to all human beings through the use of reason.  But putting these principles into practice is another matter. In spite of the lofty thoughts discussed above, Greece and Rome ended up as military tyrannies. In the actual context of Western civilization, Christian motivation has grounded and reinforced these social principles, providing a more effective motivator for civility, in its concept of community.

The most important transmitter of classical thought into the ongoing Western streams was the medieval Italian Dominican friar St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), who attempted to integrate classical philosophy with Christian theology. He also contributed original ideas and arguments on our subject. Political and social views from the end of the Roman Empire to the Renaissance consisted mostly of a tension between an absolute ruler and the people at large. Some rulers were more benevolent towards the people than others and wars were a continuous obstacle to social stability. Nevertheless, a number of thinkers contributed to a growing heritage of social and political philosophy. 

Curia Julia, site of the Roman Senate
Photo source: © Wikipedia

The Florentine Renaissance

As the German emperors lost effective control of Northern Italy, many of the cities in this area became self-governing republics. Florence was one of these cities. Its wealth was mostly based on a widespread network of banking and commercial activities, and a group of families effectively controlled the political system. This system resembled republican Rome, with the signoria or governing council, composed mostly of members of the merchant families, taking the place of the Roman Senate. Foremost among the administrative offices of the city was the e position of Chancellor. Leonardo Bruni (1370-1444), one of these chancellors, made significant contributions to civic thought:

The constitution we use for the government of the republic is designed for the liberty and equality of indeed all the citizens. Since it is egalitarian in all respects, it is called a "popular" constitution.... The hope of attaining office and of raising oneself up is the same for all, provided only one put in the effort and have talent and a sound and serious way of life... And when a free people are offered this possibility of attaining offices, it is wonderful how effectively it stimulates the talents of the citizens.[5]

Vecchio Palace, Florence
Photo  © Margarita Gavaldá Romagosa

[1] Michael Walzer, “The Concept of Civil Society” in Toward a Global Civil Society (New York: Berghahn Books, 2002), 7.

[2] Dagoberto Valdés Hernández et al., Etica y Cívica, my translation (Pinar del Río, Cuba: Ediciones Convivencia, 2014), 20.

[3] Ibid., Etica y Cívica, 107-108.

[4] Cicero, Three Books of Offices, tr. Cyrus R. Edmonds (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1892), 14-15.

[5] Leonardo Bruni, “Oration for the Funeral of Nanni Strozzi”  in Gordon Griffiths, et al., eds., The Humanism of Leonardo Bruni, 124-125.