Austen Ivereigh: Rewarding civic virtues can renew a spirit of the common good

Related Topics

In a little-noticed document published last Wednesday, the Catholic bishops of England gently point to a route out of the UK's current economic and political troubles. Choosing the Common Good struggled to catch attention because it calls for a renewal of British moral culture on the basis of two ancient but time-worn principles: the common good and civic virtue. Just a few days before the Catholic bishops issued their 10-page summary of Catholic social teaching, Harvard's fashionable Professor Michael Sandel was in London's East End in a workshop with London Citizens, applauding our efforts to secure a living wage, a cap on interest rates and safer streets.

Virtue and the common good are two ideas Sandel is eager to revive. He has led the challenge in recent years to the myth that we enter the public square as unfettered individuals, shorn of other loyalties; and to the lie that the state is neutral in moral matters.

In his wildly popular justice course, and the book accompanying it, Sandel argues that the renewal of our politics depends on taking moral and spiritual concerns seriously, and bringing them to bear on civic concerns. There is a hunger, he says, for a "public life of larger meaning", one that is more capacious and faith-friendly than our liberal individualism envisages. Barack Obama's election campaign exemplified this "new politics", one that does not chase value-laden institutions from the public square but welcomes them on equal terms in a culture hospitable to the disagreements that arise between them.

The Catholic bishops say there are huge reserves of generosity and goodwill in the British people; the question is how to activate these virtues to renew the state and the market – as Obama did. The answer is that both need to be more accountable to "civil society", that place where rooted institutions of the sort that make up London Citizens – churches, mosques, schools, associations, trade union branches – foster civic virtue and the habit of working with others for the common good. The candidates who in this year's election show they get that point will discover that people care about politics after all.

Austen Ivereigh works for London Citizens. His book, 'Faithful Citizens: a practical guide to Catholic social teaching and community organising' (Darton, Longman & Todd) is published later this month.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

HLTA - Higher Level Teaching Assistant

£70 - £90 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Higher Level Teaching Assist...

Science Teacher

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Science teacher requi...

Deputy Head of Science

£36000 - £60000 per annum: Randstad Education Southampton: Our client are a we...

IT Teacher

£22000 - £32000 per annum + TLR: Randstad Education Southampton: Our client is...

Day In a Page

Read Next

The reactions to Renee Zellweger's face say more about us than about her

Emma Gannon
US Secretary of State John Kerry  

When only 4 per cent of those killed by US drone strikes are named members of al-Qaeda, it's hard to trust American foreign policy

Abigail Fielding-Smith
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London