The Common Good

Michael Gerson: Conservatism and the Common Good

My friend Mike Gerson wrote a significant column in the Washington Post today, titled "An Ideology Without Promise." It takes a deeper look at the now infamous Romney video and addresses the crisis that we all have to face now. He says in part:

        This crisis has a number of causes, including the collapse of working-class families, the flight of blue-collar jobs and the decay of working-class neighborhoods, which used to offer stronger networks of mentors outside the home. Perverse incentives in some government programs may have contributed to these changes, but this does not mean that shifting incentives can easily undo the damage. Removing a knife from a patient does not automatically return him to health. Whatever the economic and cultural causes, the current problem is dysfunctional institutions, which routinely betray children and young adults. Restoring a semblance of equal opportunity — promoting family commitment, educational attainment and economic advancement — will take tremendous effort and creative policy.

       Yet a Republican ideology pitting the “makers” against the “takers” offers nothing. No sympathy for our fellow citizens. No insight into our social challenge. No hope of change. This approach involves a relentless reductionism. Human worth is reduced to economic production. Social problems are reduced to personal vices. Politics is reduced to class warfare on behalf of the upper class.

       A few libertarians have wanted this fight ever since they read “Atlas Shrugged” as pimply adolescents. Given Romney’s background, record and faith, I don’t believe that he holds this view. I do believe that Republicans often parrot it, because they lack familiarity with other forms of conservatism that include a conception of the common good.

       But there really is no excuse. Republican politicians could turn to Burkean conservatism, with its emphasis on the “little platoons” of civil society. They could reflect on the Catholic tradition of subsidiarity, and solidarity with the poor. They could draw inspiration from Tory evangelical social reformers such as William Wilberforce or Lord Shaftesbury. Or they could just read Abraham Lincoln, who stood for “an unfettered start, and a fair chance, in the race of life.”

       Instead they mouth libertarian nonsense, unable to even describe some of the largest challenges of our time.

I encourage you to read the whole piece, consider the consequences of the crisis, the necessity of rediscovering the common good, and what it really means to live in our post-recession society. 

Jim Wallis is the author of Rediscovering Values: A Guide for Economic and Moral Recovery, and CEO of SojournersFollow Jim on Twitter @JimWallis.

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