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

Share
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. www.londoncitizens.org.uk

React Now

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

Recruitment Genius: Maintenance Assistant

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Maintenance Assistant is requ...

Recruitment Genius: Business Manager

£32000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Manager is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Panel & Cabinet Wireman

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Panel Wireman required for small electro...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Newspaper stands have been criticised by the Child Eyes campaign  

There were more reader complaints this year – but, then again, there were more readers

Will Gore
 

People drink to shut out pain and stress. Arresting them won’t help

Deborah Coughlin
A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?