Reimagining American Community

We live in the time of the Commoner, one who rises to defend the things in which we all should share.

After all, we Commoners inhabit a landscape in great need of regeneration. Therefore, finding ourselves in what one recent author has called the Kingdom of Whatever, we seek to go beyond this climate of indifferentism and anomie to a new sense of duties and obligations, gladly undertaken.

In this effort at redefinition, neither the State nor the Market can help us, as it is their mutual erosion of our common life that has, in part, brought us to this point. In a contracting economy and what has been called a shrinking trust horizon, whom then can we trust? We propose to trust each other, and to seek to become people whom others can trust.

In the very teeth of an slow-motion collapse and a scarcity of both financial and social capital, we propose a restoration of trust and a redefinition of our obligations to each other through a new civil economy.

Citizenship, as author Rebecca Solnit has suggested, is now survival equipment. It must equip us to be no longer merely consumers but rather producers–of value, and discoverers–of meaning.

And it must remind us of the need to reverse that privatization of the moral imagination which tries to convince us that we are not, after all, our brother’s keeper. Indeed, civil society is what the habit of regular, spontaneous mutual aid creates.

Thus the Commoner works to reclaim the Commons, understood both literally and figuratively.

In most of our cities and towns, we are losing common spaces, shared public assets, community wealth, as governments large and small find themselves as well as their citizens on hard times.

Accompanying this loss of the Commons is the collapse of social capital, by which those with less access to financial capital– children, the poor, the elderly–are being hurt the most.

The figurative Commons—that of our shared sense of a common good—must likewise be recaptured from the forces that want to atomize and divide us. We must recapture this visionary high ground, which is now almost gone from common memory.

It is the mental stage for our roles as civic actors, people who are trying to be loving and decent enough to be free, and free enough to be active participants in their own lives, both civic and private, rather than simply consumers of both government and entertainment. It is only by such participation that we can hope to restore the mediating institutions that are the markers of a healthy civil society.

Like the Solidarity movement in Poland, we must resist the climate of thought control which attempts to thwart and trivialize our every effort. Like the Charter 77 movement in Czechoslovakia, we must collaborate as civil actors in order to present a wide front of cultural resistance.

We must stand together and affirm our agenda as Commoners, as follows:

  • We must break the fever dream of our duopoly politics in order to turn our attention to our own homes, our own neighbors, our own communities. We must hope for a day when most of us know more about our city’s mayor than about the President. That is, we must become localists and proponents of local sustainability.
  • We must work to make the State and the Market subservient again to Civil Society. Where social ties and mediating institutions are again strong, we can safely let go of our addiction to the large: to corporations that are too big to fail and to higher-level governmental structures that do jobs badly that could be done well at a more local level.
  • We must also resist the reflexive rejection of all government, the teenage-style rebellion of the hyperlibertarians who see no legitimate role at all for the state; and cultivate instead a balanced view of what our leaders in national and local government can do, seeing in them neither messiahs nor despised oppressors, but as members with us of the fabric of a common society.
  • We must take the insights and best practices of the New Economy movement and create a collaborative civil economy.
  • We must foster the rise of not only business entrepreneurs but also social and civic entrepreneurs, individuals who can act as social architects rebuilding our life in common.
  • As part of the general trend toward devolution, we must learn the importance of self-organizing to find solutions and avoid occurrences of “elite panic”.
  • To overcome the financial and cultural barriers (including shifts in expectations concerning male responsibility) to marriage in lower-income communities, marriage must become an issue of social justice and marriage inequity an issue to be addressed.
    Because too few citizens still have the experience of autonomous organization and leadership, we must learn to celebrate the heroism of citizen activists—i.e., Commoners.
  • Because economism and “economics envy” have colonized almost all the social sciences—sociology, law and social psychology, as well as economics—we must restore a personalistic understanding of human action which acknowledges human ignorance rather than worshipping that which is measurable or self-defeatingly complex.
  • Our fellow citizens will not be treated as a homogeneous mass to be serviced but rather as a diverse web of persons to be engaged.  To this end of integral human development, we must recover a robust understanding of the nature and transcendental value of the human person.

Note: The term “commoner” is in fairly wide use, especially from the activities of the organization On the Commons (www.onthecommons.org). The related term “commoning” was coined by historian Peter Linebaugh, author of The Magna Carta Manifesto.

 

About Solidarity Hall

We are a team of writers and activists who share a belief in the power of language to create new realities. In our current social and political climate, new policies and prescriptions abound, yet it is new thinking which is required in these difficult times.

Thus Solidarity Hall (www.solidarityhall.org) is an organization focussed on germinating new thought about society and culture through our publishing and outreach.

Because our thinking returns us to the roots, the radices, it is inevitably radical. Because we respect the democracy of the dead (as Chesterton referred to tradition), we also draw inspiration from men and women of past generations, as well as our own.

These guiding spirits include G.K. Chesterton, Jane Jacobs, Wendell Berry, Dorothy Day, E.F. Schumacher, Simone Weil, Ivan Illich, and Christopher Lasch, among others.

Our areas of interest include:

  • Community regeneration, civic entrepreneurship and community wealth-building
  • The dignity of work and labor
  • The New Economy
  • Local food, the small farm renaissance, the new agrarianism
  • Restoring a personalistic approach to societal analysis
  • Reclaiming the common wisdom of mankind in its multiple traditions as the ground for our vision