A Call to Civil Society: Why Democracy Needs Moral Truths

A Call to Civil Society: Why Democracy Needs Moral Truths

Council on Civil Society

Institute for American Values, 1998 - 32 pages

America's civic institutions are declining because the moral ideas that fueled and formed them are losing their power-the power to shape our behavior, to unite us as one people in pursuit of common ideals. Too many Americans view morality as a threat to freedom, rather than its essential guarantor. The nation's main challenge is to rediscover the existence of transmittable moral truth and to strengthen the moral habits and ways of living that make democracy possible.

Subjects: What is civil society?, Civil Society, Institute Hall of Fame

More by: Council on Civil Society

About this Report

Press Release

May 27, 1998, New York, NY

Today the Council on Civil Society, a nationally distinguished non-partisan group of scholars and leaders, releases its new report, A Call to Civil Society: Why Democracy Needs Moral Truth. The Call represents the first time in a generation that that such a diverse body of public intellectuals has so forthrightly examined the moral dimension of America's current social challenge.

Members of the Council include: U.S. Senator Dan Coats, Jean Bethke Elshtain, Francis Fukuyama, William A. Galston, Mary Ann Glendon, Sylvia Ann Hewlett, U.S. Senator Joseph Lieberman, Cornel West, James Q. Wilson, and Daniel Yankelovich, among others.

Civil society is the new buzzword of the hour. Many have defined the decline in civil society as a problem of lessening civic participation. In this view, if we as a nation just spent less time as workers and consumers and more time as citizens and neighbors, if we would volunteer more and watch T.V. less, the decline of civil society could be reversed.

The Council on Civil Society sees a deeper problem: America's civic institutions are declining because the moral ideas that fueled and formed them are losing their power ? the power to shape our behavior, to unite us as one people in pursuit of common ideals. Too many Americans view morality as a threat to freedom, rather than its essential guarantor.

The deeper solution, the Council concludes, is to recover the ideas that moral truth exists and that democracy depends upon certain moral truths. Democracy embodies the truth that all persons possess equal dignity.

Hence, the Council concludes that the nation's main challenge at the close of the century is to rediscover the existence of transmittable moral truth and to strengthen the moral habits and ways of living that make democracy possible.

Professor Robert George of Princeton University said:

"In the Call, a remarkable new consensus emerged: Americans of all people can least afford to be embarrassed by the idea of moral truth. Democracy is a moral imperative, or it is no imperative at all."

Senator Joseph Lieberman stated:

"This Call makes an invaluable contribution to our public discourse not just in terms of what it proclaims but who is proclaiming it. The individuals who signed this document, some of the leading thinkers and doers in American life today, represent a wide array of ideologies, religions, and cultural backgrounds. That they have come together to reaffirm the core of common values that have sustained America for most of our history, and to reassert the integral link between moral truth and freedom, shows that it is possible to reach agreement on a common public morality that is both conclusive and inclusive. It should give us hope that we can move beyond the divisive culture wars to begin rebuilding our seedbeds of virtue and restoring the vitality of our democracy."

And the Council's chair, Professor Jean Bethke Elshtain of the University of Chicago, stated:

This document helps us to re-call what is vibrant and energetic about our democratic tradition at its best ? its commitment to self-help, mutual aid, and respect.

The Council's Recommendations:

The Council proposes three major social goals toward the renewal of our democracy:

  1. To increase the likelihood that more children will grow up with their two married parents.
  2. To adopt a new "civil society model" for evaluating public policies and solving social problems:
  3. To revitalize a shared civic story informed by moral truth.

In addition, the Council offers 41 specific suggestions for achieving these goals.

About the Council on Civil Society:

The Council on Civil Society, jointly sponsored by the Institute for American Values and the University of Chicago Divinity School, is a group of 24 nationally distinguished scholars and leaders who have come together as unpaid volunteers to examine the sources of competence, character, and citizenship in the United States. The Council's current goal is to assess the condition of civil society at the close of this century and to make recommendations for the future.

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