In Search of the "Good Society"

Peace and prosperity are generally illusive goals for most societies. What are the supports of the “good society”? I argue that they are more indebted to the efforts and values of families than to the efforts of government. If so, what key implications does this have upon public policy?

What is the nature of human civilization, and to what is the world indebted for societies that are just, prosperous, healthy, caring, and supportive of human liberty? This is a very complex question that few give the deep reflection it deserves. However, as remote as this discussion may seem, governments daily act on their presumptions both in the national and the international realms as they attempt to bring peace and prosperity. Are average people capable of self governance; is class conflict the core “evil,” or does liberty naturally rise when dictators are removed?

The success of America’s early experiment in self government showed that people could rule themselves through representative government. However the founders hung their confidence not just on a form of government, but upon a people whose morality was shaped by strong, socially supportive religious beliefs. A century later, world leaders questioned the role of religion in society. Communists believed it led to passivity toward social injustice. Believing that economic in-equality was the
real source of oppression and evil, communists believed that the “good society” would blossom from the leveling of economic power. This flower never bloomed.

Without disbanding their form of government, America and many other western civilizations also questioned the role of religion in society by replacing it as a key source of civic nurture. They came to believe that religion was unnecessary to the moral and civic education of good citizens. On the basis that teaching knowledge and reasoning skills apart from any “worldview” would produce citizens of superior morality and compassion, secular education was believed to be superior to the nurture of the “good society.” However, the gradual social degeneration of the West seems to demonstrate that human nature is less reasonable than secularists presumed. Without higher commitments regarding truth, value, and beauty (religious beliefs), humans tend to be self-serving rather than benevolent citizens.

Although many Americans readily believe we are witnessing the failed “liberal” philosophy of the West, they often propose a “conservative” philosophy associated with the “good society” that perhaps equally misses the mark. Whereas liberals tend to emphasize government control over economic liberties while allowing moral liberties, conservatives tend to emphasize the reverse. They push for government control over moral issues while allowing greater economic liberties. Though I believe both visions reflect valid Christian concerns, and I place myself more in the conservative political camp, both philosophies
grossly fail to address the moral foundations of society, which are only weakly nurtured by governmental, economic, or other “secular forces”. While liberals aim at “social justice” and conservatives aim a prosperity, both are illusive targets when the moral and philosophic foundations of society are deteriorating as a result of the shallowness of our secular education philosophy.

Society is made of individuals, and the “good society” begins with good individuals. America’s form of government originally reflected an understanding of its own limitations concerning the shaping of its citizens. It recognized that human nature was religious - i.e. shaped by transcendent beliefs and values - rather than merely “rational.” While the “good society” recognizes religious liberties, it must also strive to bring peace and prosperity while consciously attempting to support the reproductive seedbeds of society. Historically, home, church, and school were mutually supportive toward the moral and philosophic nurture of children. When the philosophic (mis)understanding of modern government separated schooling from deeper ideological foundations, it did not act “neutrally” toward religion, but reflected a non-theistic social ideology. One in which religious beliefs were detrimental or merely irrelevant to the educational foundations of a “good society.”

So, to what are prosperous and peaceful civilizations indebted? First, they require governments that recognize human liberties. Second, they require political philosophies that recognize
human goodness as the source of societal goodness. The latter reflects deep ideological beliefs and commitments beyond the reach of economic manipulation, public law, or secular education. Thus, as another election cycle stirs public reflection regarding social and political philosophy, I urge public discussions that engage the reality that good societies are more indebted to the beliefs of their families than to the efforts of their governments. How can government support families in the nurture of future citizens rather than displacing, hindering, or overlooking their roles (especially in education)?
blog comments powered by Disqus