A New Social Compact

john a. powell

Director

Our society is undergoing a profound shift. In the aftermath of the 2016 election, many of our foundational values and assumptions about our democracy are being called into question. Our core institutions and norms are under attack and in need of defending and reclaiming.

There are certain things that most people consider not up for grabs in our society: Democracy. Human dignity. Separation of powers. Equality. Dialogue. These are core values that also represent our best aspirations. Many rest on a profound moral footing with ties to religions and spiritual practices. Movement forward has not always been straight and there has been disagreement about the reach and boundaries of our pluralism, yet there has been a general understanding that America was gradually moving towards a more inclusive society and future.

For many of us, that belief has now been ruptured.

There is currently in the White House a person who shows little or no regard for our Constitution, who disrespects the law, and who openly disregards democratic norms; a person who seems to not only have little concern for most people outside of the US, but a great many of the people inside; a person who has embraced and surrounded himself with explicit racists; a person who is hostile to facts; a person who rarely adheres to rules unless they fit within his very narrow self-interests; a person whose choices do not appear to be tethered to any sort of moral system.

We must actively resist the hate, racism, misogyny, homophobia, and xenophobia from this political administration and those who would support it, and must refuse all attempts to institutionalize these forces into practice and policy.

But resistance alone is not enough. We also need to state and claim what aligns us and brings us together. There are certain times in which we are called upon to rethink, reclaim, and boldly articulate what we stand for and to act, and this is one of those times today. I believe we are in need of articulating a new social compact for our country that builds on our past and embraces our future—an inclusive social compact that gives us a foundation for a new birth of freedom for all, and that helps us understand who we are and who we must become. This compact should reflect our grounding in a morality that recognizes the equal human value of all people. This compact should give us clear moral and practical directions.

With the support of many others, we have created a compact that lays out a set of values and practices that we believe represent some of these most fundamental tenets of society (see newsocialcompact.org). Even as we recognize we have many different strategies for achieving our goals, we are united by core values that guide our actions.

This pact is not partisan, because these values are not about left/right or Republican/Democratic, or even solely about America. This pact anchors us in an ethics of care not just limited to any one group or country, but a care for all, without reducing us all to the same. Given our differences and similarities, we are still part of one global society.

There is a clear choice now to either fully live into our relationships with each other across the planet, and with the planet, or to slip into a narrow tribal nationalism. We choose the former.

This is not a question of whether we want to be connected. We already are connected. Whether I state it or not, I am connected to all other people on this planet. Whether I consciously live it or not, I am related to the earth. Whether I structurally live it or not, I am related to all other living beings.

But in this time of assault on even truth itself, giving public expression to that which we hold unshakable empowers us and gives us a shared language. Claiming and committing to our interconnectedness must become fundamental to our allegiance to our society. Pushing towards an integrated, pluralist world where human fairness and caring are the norm is necessary.

In the last two weeks alone we have experienced enormous demands on our attention that have called for us to respond to many urgent affronts to our liberty. And in the coming months we will need to continue to be vigilant and respond. But what we cannot do is cede any of the space that holds our core values. And we must not only hold onto our values, we must actively live them.

With conviction, tenacity, humility, joy, and love, we must claim a new social compact to live by—for our society, our democracy, our future generations, and for our life-giving planet itself.

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[Editor's Note: This New Social Compact is a collaborative effort produced by the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society along with many individuals and a coalition of partners who have signed on to support this effort, who can be viewed here. Design and website development were donated in part by Column Five. If you would like your organization to join this effort, please email your agreement with these values and your logo here.]