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A Society for the Common Good. That’s what I want.

When, many years ago, the lady with the bad hair do uttered her famous and dispassionate condemnation of the human species

‘’There is no such thing as society. There are only individuals making their way. The poor shall be looked after by the drip down effect from the rich’’


I was horrified. It was a statement that could only be expressed by someone with a deep sense of isolation, selfish indifference, or indulgence. Was she saying that families only consisted of individuals making their way without any dependency on societal structure? The basic need for companionship, for each other.

We are by nature a herding animal. We form groups because no individual can survive without the assistance of others. ‘’No man is an island’’ as John Donne said. Margaret Thatcher’s statement condemns us to class self-centredness and serfdom.

Successful societies should be built around a common good and we need to examine which political ideology is best placed to build such a society.

Firstly, let’s ask ourselves what is an ideal society based on the assumption that’s it’s an attainment we may never accomplish, but none the less is a worthwhile aspiration? Even call me idealistic if you want.

In the modern Western sense an enlightened society is a populace of men, women and children who as a collective desire to express their humanity, work, aspirations, spirituality, art, poetry and play with the richest possible diversity.

It cultivates a common good with equality of opportunity for all. A society where ones sexual preference or gender is not a judgement upon your character and the colour of your skin says nothing about you other than perhaps your geographical place of birth. A society that believes in individual pursuit, intellectual accomplishment and financial reward only regulated by what is beneficial for the common collective good. In other words everyone is entitled to an equitable share of the country’s wealth.

A society where freedom of expression is guaranteed but limited only by the innate moral personal decency of the individual. Where free speech is fair speech. An enlightened society in which the suggestion that we need to legislate ones right to hate another person is considered intellectually barren.

A society where the health and welfare of all is sacrosanct and access to treatment is assured. Where the principle that we should treat others in the same manner as we expect them to treat us is indelible in the mind of every citizen. A society that respects science before myth and mysticism, but at the same time recognises the individual’s right to the expression of their own form of spirituality so long as it doesn’t hinder with the common good.

A society that should be judged by its welcoming, and how well it treats its most vulnerable citizens. By how well protected we are and how accessible the law is regardless of stature.

In Democratic Societies (the best-or least bad form of government) our herding instincts are realised by the election of leaders who form government. Even in the imperfection of democracy we realise that a group mentality advances society better than dictatorial individuality.

So we need government that is subservient to the will (the common good ethic) of the people and is responsive to public opinion.

It is government that decides and regulates the progress and ambitions of society. Or at least provides the environment in which to do so. There is very little that is done in the name of progress that cannot be attributed in some way to government. Individual or collective ambition can only be achieved within a social structure built and controlled by government.

Currently we are experiencing a shift in power from government to those who control the means of production, financial institutions, the media and large corporations.
Government by the people for the common good needs to be taken back.
So which ideology is best placed at this time in our history to form a government based on serving the common good.

Firstly, let us appraise the ideological political philosophy of the left and right.

What is a conservative?

I would say that Conservatives (LNP) believe in personal responsibility, limited government, free markets, individual liberty and traditional values. They believe the role of government should be to provide people the freedom necessary to pursue their own goals. Conservative policies generally emphasise empowerment of the individual to solve problems. And they are cautious about change or innovation, typically in science, politics or religion.

What is a neo conservative?

Neo conservatism goes back to the 1930s however in its modern form it is identified with George W Bush who embraced unbridled capitalism, corporate greed together with literalist Christianity to form a modern neo conservatism. Carl Rove, Donald Rumsfeld and others added global superiority to the mix believing that America in all aspects was above the rest of the world. A further element in this mix is Tea Party Republican politics.

What is a social progressive?

My view is that Social democrats (Labor) believe in government action to achieve equal opportunity and equality for all. That it is the duty of the government to alleviate social ills and to protect civil liberties and individual and human rights thus believing the role of the government should be to guarantee that no one is in need. Progressive policies generally emphasise the need for the government to solve problems.

Before going further, and for me to end with the conclusion that social progressives are best placed to formulate a better society I need to paint a picture of the present. For this I will use the current position of two nations. Australia and the United States.
America is a country in turmoil with a political system in disarray. It has a President of formidable intellect, but is hamstrung by conservatives who border on irrationality. Some say insanity.

There was a time when Americans believed that anyone could move from rags to riches. That anyone with enough guts and gumption, hard work and nose to the grindstone could achieve the American dream. Now the life chances of Americans is determined to an unprecedented degree by the wealth of their parents.

America is now more unequal that it’s been for eighty or more years, with the most unequal distribution of income and wealth of all developed nations. Equal opportunity has become a pipe dream. For more than three decades it has been been going backwards. It’s far more difficult today for a child from a poor family to become a middle-class or wealthy adult. Or even for a middle-class child to become wealthy.
Taxes have been cut for the rich, (Bush gave them 3Trillion and the current crop of conservatives want to give them more) public schools infrastructure has deteriorated, higher education has become unaffordable for many, safety nets have been shredded, and the minimum wage has been allowed to drop 30 percent below where it was in 1968, adjusted for inflation. Obama has raised the wages of public servants.
95 percent of the economic gains since the recovery began in 2009 have gone to the richest 1 percent? Republican ultra conservatives are even trying to repeal Obamacare in its entirety.

The major reason for widening inequality is unregulated capitalism. The supply-side, trickle-down, market-fundamentalist views as advanced by a President who was a better second rate actor, simply have not worked. Obama without control of both houses has had little opportunity to redress growing inequality.

America once had an economy built on consumption. The irony is that conservatives have so successfully held wages to the same as they were thirty years ago that consumers can no longer afford to consume.

Therefore, we have to ask ourselves what responsibility we take for each other as members of the same society.

Australia now has a deeply neo conservative Government led by Tony Abbott. Some of the decisions taken by him in a short space of time show all the characteristics of the American experience. The rivers of mining gold have stopped and we now have to pay our way and the question of who pays arises. It seems based on the decisions both touted and taken by the Abbott government that it will not be the wealthy.

We have already seen a first term budget that has been described by supporter and foe alike as manifestly unfair. The elimination of the schools bonus, the annual pensioner rebate, the reinstatement of superannuation tax (tax haven) concessions for the higher paid, the elimination of superannuation tax breaks for poorly paid workers. It is, with much difficulty, floating the possibilities of a co-payment for previously “free” visits to bulk-billing doctors and charging Australians for consular assistance when they get into trouble overseas. The list goes on but it is inextricably clear that the wealthy will not be making any contribution to a post mining boom Australia.

So far, the impression given by the government is that it is committed to ideologically maintaining the privileges of the privileged, while whittling away at the breaks afforded the not-so-privileged. It is hell bent on the American experience. That wealth is acquired for the few by the deprivation of the many.

For a comprehensive list of decisions taken by the Abbott Government click here. www.sallymcmanus.net

The final question.

Which democratic political philosophy is more likely to form a government that in the very heart of its execution has the common good as its defining and guiding principle?
I am specifically talking about Australia’s two party system here, and the answer lays in comparative political history. The Greens and others of English Liberal philosophy might argue their case for inclusion but at present we only have two possibilities.

By scrutinising the historic social reforms of both of Australia’s major parties and comparing them we can determine who has best adhered to a common good principle.
Noam Chomsky said this. ‘’We are therefor led to enquire into the social arrangements that are conducive to people’s rights and welfare and to fulfilling their just aspirations – in brief the common good.’’

The left side of Australian politics has implemented the following reforms or policies that have directly contributed to the common good. A National Health Scheme, a National Disability scheme, Compulsory Superannuation, a National Broadband Network, Paid Parental leave, Major Educational Reforms, a price on carbon, Equal pay for women, The Aged Pension, Marbo and the Apology, and of course the Hawke – Keating major economic reforms that have given the country continues growth and individual affluence for over twenty years.

The right side of politics has implemented the following. The Howard gun buy back, the GST that benefitted the rich, an increase in immigration after the Second World War and Harold Holt introduced a bi partisan referendum that gave indigenous people the right to vote in 1967.

And there I have to stop. The Liberal Party web site sets out a comprehensive list of ‘’ Achievements in Government’’ and they are achievements as opposed to major policy reforms. Here is the list for you to judge for yourself. If I have missed a major reform please correct me.



In a world where science, technology and the availability of information progresses so quickly change sometimes disregards opinion and becomes a phenomenon of its own making, with its own inevitability.

Conservatives oppose change and are wary of science and intellectualism as has been demonstrated by the Abbott Government. They seem locked in a world that no longer exists without any comprehension of how much the world has progressed. Remember Abbott wanted to destroy the internet.

They believe in traditional values (whatever they are) without recognising the historical elasticity of society. They are confused about personal rights believing that individual choice is the right of everyone even if it harms the common good.

An example of this is the evidence of the harm of fat, sugar and salt in food. A worldwide epidemic of obesity and diabetes is upon us. But regardless of the fact that the resulting illness will impose an unaffordable cost to the nation. Conservatives demand that the individual should still have the right to choose. Where as the common good would be better served if the amount of these substances in our food was regulated. Instead they propose a research fund to find out what we already know.

People like Tim Wilson still argue the case for cigarettes, alcohol and other products.
They are wrong. We are governed by rules and regulations. It is the only way society can be civilised and cohesive. Leaving individuals to pursue their goals without the infrastructure society provides could only lead to disaster. A society that has the common good at its heart can only be attained with conventions, guidelines, systems, laws, policies, instructions and procedures.

Whilst the central argument of conservative philosophy empathises, and overtly supports the rights of the individual it can never serve the common good. Be it free markets, personal liberty or traditional values, it all comes down to what is best for society as a whole. In other words the common good.

I can only conclude that a society for the common good can best be achieved with a social democratic philosophy. An ideology that believes in equality of opportunity, an equitable share of the country’s wealth, individual rights and liberties within a societal framework that guarantees that no one left in need. Where government solve problems with community participation.

As significant as they are, individual rights and freedoms can never be as important as the common good. They can only ever be an essential component of it.

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