Compassion versus competition as the new expression of democracy

The Civil Society Alliance promotes a new form of political organisation in the United Kingdom; compassionate democracy. Our objective is to usher in a transformed expression of democratic governance by recalling vital insights from Christian ethics. We contend that the partisan politics of left and right, so-called progressives, and the so-called conservatives, offer no real alternative to the pressing socio-political and economic challenges of the 21st century.

Arguing the case why progressives apparently don’t progress, and why conservatives apparently don’t conserve, civil society asserts that both left and right have forgotten the third vital element of the motto of the French Republic, which is; ‘Liberté, Equalité, Fraternité’.

The notions of liberty, equality and fraternity were originally linked by Archbishop Fénelon at the end of the 17th century. That linkage became widespread during the Age of Enlightenment. The Civil Society Alliance suggests that with liberalism, especially neo-liberalism, the emphasis has shifted to freedom and equality, and away from fraternity – brotherhood or fellowship.

Our political philosophies are now dysfunctional

As a consequence, the West now sits with a highly dysfunctional political philosophy. ‘Equality’ has become synonymous with ‘sameness’, resulting in merit being relegated to elitism, and ‘liberty’ has become synonymous with ‘license’ (anything goes as long as it has sufficient supporters). Moral responsibility is thus relegated to legal process and compliance and away from personal responsibility and personal agency. Consequently, many progressives see it as the state’s responsibility to resolve and be responsible for all human challenges. In contrast, many conservatives see it as the market’s responsibility to deliver human wellbeing; notwithstanding the implicit contradiction in terms.

Liberty and equality first require the responsibility of fraternity

The alternative case being argued here is that when we return ‘fraternity’ to the mix, we can see it as the apex of a triangle uniting ‘liberty’ and ‘equality’ and thereby enabling both aspirational perspectives to function effectively. But this means we must take personal responsibility for the wellbeing of our families, our neighbours, our communities, and our society. And that in turn implies a vigorous, responsive, and capable civil society – hence the initiative being identified as the Civil Society Alliance.

There are those who assert that competition for power is inevitable in the exercise of politics in systems of human governance. In contrast, we argue it is time for a compassionate democracy that re-establishes Fenelon’s ‘fraternite’, as Christian neighbourly love, at the apex of the triangle thereby not only uniting, but in essence sanctifying both freedom and equality.

Claudius van Wyk

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