The Civic Question
The civic is an answer to a question. What question? Well, a different question than the usual inquiry about what we have. That is a property question. ‘What do we own?” “What is yours?” and “What do you hope to acquire?” The civic question is not about having, but about relating. “How are we related?” and “What does this relationship mean?”
This relational question is not about family relationships. We are either born into a family or we decide to join or to make one. We become family through a shared commitment to live together. Family members, of course, may question how they are related, but this is a family matter. The civic question, on the other hand, is about our relationship to the stranger—to the other.
This question, of course, may not elicit a civic answer. In fact, it seldom has. When the Europeans encountered the “strangers” in the Americas, their answer certainly was not civic. For most of Western history, if men questioned how to relate to women, their answer was not civic. In fact, a civic answer to the question of how we should relate to the other is actually a rarity, and yet, it is the path toward a just global community.
So what is the civic answer? It is that the other, the stranger, and I belong to the civic. We are all members; members with equal moral equality, with equal dignity. We all live at the same time, on the same planet, and our children will inherit the same future. This is all true, but there is more. We share, in different ways, the moral obligations to live together and to care for our planet.
Our various social identities, as you know, cause everything from bad jokes to war. As long as we try to find a social solution to our social alienation, we remain trapped in the structures of inequality. Only when we seek a deeper answer to the question of how we can live together will we find the civic answer. Right now, the emergence of the civic waits for asking the right question in the right way.