The Good Society
IT USED to be-it seems to have been so even yesterday-that people with a reforming bent of mind knew, or thought they knew, what they meant by the “good society,” and they knew, or thought they knew, what forms of social action ought to be taken in order to achieve it. In the 1930′s radicals and liberals alike were relatively secure in their attachment to first principles, and each group was guided by a firm assurance as to what such words as “progress” and “justice” meant, and what means were necessary to bring about a society in which all men could finally live together contentedly, creatively, and as brothers. The history of the great reforming movements-of Communism, socialism, anti-colonialism, the American labor movement-did much to break down this assurance. By the 1950′s the reigning temper had become skeptical-skeptical of “ideologies,” skeptical of blueprints for the future, skeptical of human possibility itself.
Conceivably we are better off for having learned to become aware of all the questions wrapped up in terms like “liberalism” or “progress” or “justice” or “the good society.” Yet it may also be that by understanding too well how ambiguous both our means and our goals are, we have become unable to improve things even in the limited ways which our more complex view of society and its problems suggested.
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