The Civic as the Foundation for the Commons, Markets and Governments
I know, many people think of three spheres: market, government, and civil society. Well, most of these people are on automatic pilot. Like unmanned drones, they attack anything that proposes a different framework. OK, this is one way of sorting things out, but it now prevents us from directing the market to make provisions for all, from controlling our government, and from protecting the commons. Actually, I suspect the idea behind this triad is that if we give a place for the good guys (civil society), they will leave the bad guys (business and government) alone. Well, we need a different framework.
First of all, both the economy and government are social institutions. They exist in all the social differences and antagonisms. The social structures of privilege and oppression provide the context for both market and government interactions. When we abstract them from the social, we simply reveal our social identity. Only the privileged willingly ignore their social location.
Secondly, the civic should not be isolated from the market and government, but rather should provide the foundation for both. If one asks what holds us together, it is either the civic or guns. You might argue the rule of law, but the rule of law is only as good as its enforcement—the use of guns. Actually the legitimacy of law is not provided by the tyranny of law enforcement, but rather by a civic foundation of moral equality and equal protection.
The modern absence of the civic has allowed the privatization of the commons for commercial interests to the benefit of the few at the expense of the many. We now know that the commons—our planet, our knowledge, our technology, our cultures, and our inheritance—requires robust conversations about how we will share it.
These conversations among citizens—civic conversations—from local to international general assemblies, are the source of the civic. The civic is an on-going conversation, or rather a set of conversations in which participants argue about how to preserve the planet, how to direct markets to provide for all, and how to push governments to seek the good. Many people are already walking on this path. We need to join them.