Introduction




Introduction

Human Dignity

Social Responsibility

Intermediate Organizations


Index by Topic

Timeline

Gallery of Organizations


Return to Main Page


Scope

This website attempts to gather a few threads dealing with the common good in today's context. After an introduction, three pages discuss different aspects. First, concepts relating to Human Dignity are presented, highlighting the value of the human person. Next, political apects are discussed in the context of Social Responsibility. Lastly,  Intermediate Organizations are taken up, making the point that without neglecting the individual or the political, a great deal can be accomplished through associations and group activites. In practice, our four pages follow a mostly historical sequence, and a Timeline situates the primary thinkers that we are quoting.


Civil society

Civil society is not a new concept, 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]


One of the issues that that have come to the fore in this context is the importance of "intermediate" or voluntary groups that often occur naturally in society, and where perhaps civility may be more easily learned, and where the multiplicity of choices encourages human creativity and freedom. Political philosopher Michael Walzer characterizes this view of civil society as: “the space of uncoerced human association an also the set of relational networks- formed for the sake of family, faith, interest, and ideology... The picture here is of people freely associating and communicating with one another, forming and reforming groups of all sorts.”[2]


Michael Walzer
Photo source: Wikipedia
(public domain)

Walzer points out the particular value of these groups for those in the margins of society: "Dominated and deprived individuals are likely to be disorganized as well as impoverished, whereas poor people with strong families, churches, unions, political parties, and ethnic alliances are not likely to be dominated or deprived for long."[3] In the last page we will present several examples of beneficial groups.


Dagoberto Valdés, another civil society expert has a fuller definition as "the formation of human beings as persons and active, conscious and responsible members of society."[4] 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.[5]





Dagoberto Valdés Hernández
Photo Source: © Facebook

Historical Development

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.[6]


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. The love of neighbor is a stronger force than the understanding of rights.



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

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. A number of thinkers provided an evolving of social and political philosophy that was not much applied in practice but contributed to the heritage of knowledge. An interesting thinker was the French intellectual Baron of Montesquieu (1689-1755) who looked to the organized action of noblemen as an intermediate power between the monarch and the people so as to limit concentrated power.[7]

 

The Age of Enlightenment is a term used to describe a phase in the history of Western civilization, during the late seventeenth and the eighteenth centuries,  that emphasized rational thought and empirical observation. There is general agreement that the sociopolitical view that has held until modern times was largely constructed during this period. This was particularly true of the Scottish Enlightenment, since it had a direct influence in the democratic thought of the United States,[8] and from there this influence spread to the other democracies in the Western hemisphere.


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

[2] Michael Walzer, “The Concept of Civil Society” , 7,16.

[3] Michael Walzer, “The Concept of Civil Society”, 19.

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

[5] Ibid., Etica y Cívica, 107-108.

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

[7 Baron de Montesquieu, The Spirit of Laws, Thomas Nugent, trans., (London, George Bells and Sons, 1897).

[8] Douglas Sloan, The Scottish Enlightenment and the American College Ideal (New York: Teachers College Press, Columbia University, 1971), 122-138.