Community and Alienation: Essays on Process Thought and Public Life

Community and Alienation: Essays on Process Thought and Public Life

Community and Alienation: Essays on Process Thought and Public Life

Community and Alienation: Essays on Process Thought and Public Life

Excerpt

We live, alas, at a time and in a place when public life, while increasingly important in determining our fate, is not highly valued. The corporate world and the professional guild are more respected than the town meeting or the congressional caucus. Production of goods and services is more treasured than the deliberation of political policies and the struggle for social reform. There is a strong tendency to think of public life as a tiresome necessity to be tolerated only so long as it conduces to a more secure private life. John Locke is often cited as a proponent of this judgment, although what Locke himself intended is currently under debate. Nonetheless, many passages from his famous treatise on civil government might be and have been used to support this understanding of public life as of but instrumental worth. Take as a paramount example Locke's thesis on the purpose of civil society: "The great and chief end therefore, of Mens uniting into Commonwealths, and putting themselves under Government, is the Preservation of their Property." Government's purpose is to secure the individual's property; public life is for the sake of private life; civil society is subordinate to the happiness of the individual.

Since the seventeenth century, these sentiments have been widely held in the Western world, especially in the Anglo-American community. While they give expression to an idea of eminent importance -- namely, it is the individual who lives, suffers, grieves, and dies -- they belie the actual condition of our life and constitute a threat to a fuller happiness that, in principle at least, is possible for us. That is the negative thesis underlying the essays collected in this book. Individualism, including its curious transmutations into the forms of corporativism, racism, and nationalism, is a constraint, depriving us of a deeper, more complex understanding of ourselves and a richer, more thickly textured sense of the goodness of our lives.

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