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Friday, August 17, 2012

Attributes of a Virtuous Commonwealth

Introduction to the idea that government should focus on the "common wealth."

You can probably read a law textbook talking about concepts like commonwealth. But they are going to look at the subject legally. For example there is a Commonwealth established by the countries of the Pacific that created a charter that lists principles starting with:

"The Commonwealth of Nations is a voluntary association of independent sovereign states, each responsible for its own policies, consulting and co-operating in the common interests of their peoples and in the promotion of international understanding and world peace."

In theory this commonwealth could one day supplant the United Nations, but the very existence of this commonwealth shows that the concept of commonwealth can apply to one community or to many communities and there is no reason why there can't be many layers of commonwealth.

Common Understandings, Agreement

The fundamental requirement for virtuous commonwealth, one that fulfills it's purpose, is that there be a common understanding of the standards by which people should live, and which of those should be enforced by whom. The basis of all commons is agreement.

Res Publica, Republic, Public Entity

People have to agree to something, which gets written down as a statement of organizing instructions that constitutes or organizes a commonwealth. A commonwealth can be: a corporation, a collection of nations, a government of a nation, but the key commonality is that they are united by agreement, law, and shared membership:

An "agreement (concilium)" ... creating a res publica or "public entity" (synonymous with civitas), into which individuals are born or accepted, and from which they die or are ejected. The civitas is not just the collective body of all the citizens, it is the contract binding them all together, because of which each is a civis"

In other words any kind of corporate entity is in a sense a commonwealth for the sake of its organizers. That goes for pirate ships, privateers, gangs, or countries. But that is in the legal sense. What makes a commonwealth an actual commonwealth is the extent that it has the attribute or virtue of being run for the common good.

Virtue of Common Good

A commonwealth can be run as a tyranny. But if that is the case then it's name is a misnomer, like a Court of Justice in a tyranny is really a court of injustice. If a nation is not run for the common good than it is a commonwealth only in name, and is really a tyranny. As noted earlier, any government run for the private separate advantage of its officers is a tyranny. A commonwealth can have the properties of a tyranny or the properties of something that actually promotes the common good. Most Public entities are run for some mission around which the community is organized and not for the benefit of all the community.

But an integral commonwealth is run for the common good, and the common good means that those running an organization uphold the mission specified in their charter and look out for the welfare of all its members as well as of their officers. To the exent that a commonwealth actually does this one can say it has the virtues of "common Good."

Virtue of Consent of Governed.

Because a commonwealth is established and maintained by agreement, tyranny and oppression are its vices. They are also bad processes and limit the extent that the commonwealth can provide for all its people, prosper, or even survive in the face of internal dissent or attack from outside. Agreement is established through communication, and so the virtues of democracy are also the means by which a commonwealth communicates agreements, figures out where agreement is needed, and decides what it should do if agreement is to be preserved.

The virtue of Justice.

Courts are necessary to restore agreement when it can't be had. Justice occurs in two ways. The virtue of Justice is when issues over resources are allocated in a relatively satisfactory manner to all the parties. To get justice executives must make their decisions for the sake of the common good. Tyranny is related to and always amplified by injustice. Justice is also about adjudicating injuries. Most injuries result from misallocations of resources. Violence usually results from disputes over resources. Justice is about restoring a sense that resources are being allocated fairly. Justice can be established by a system that enables people to get what they need and accomplish what they need to accomplish. Injustice is established when the Justice system serves the officers and not the people as a whole. When a commonwealth has the attribute of Justice it is a virtuous commonwealth.

Conversely, although styled a commonwealth, it is not a commonwealth but a tyranny if it lacks the virtues of Justice, liberty and respect for property.

Virtue of Liberty

The opposites of liberty are oppression and slavery. Oppression is where people are prevented from being able to access, use or benefit from resource properties and the spaces they need to use. Slavery is when someone else controls their movements and has the power to oppress them with impunity. Liberty for some is often slavery for others. And no one is truly free unless they have access to the tools, properties, and resources they need in order to do what they need to do to live a life within the commonwealth. Liberty is one of the virtues of a commonwealth where all roles are clearly defined and everyone

Conversely a commonwealth that divides people from resources and keeps them poor is a viscious commonwealth. Because Tyranny results in oppression, dispossession, kleptocracy, and injustice.

The Virtue of Respect for Property / Respect for the commons.

The final virtue of the commons is that it respects the concept of the commons. A commons is any area of property set aside to move people, information or things; or a place where people gather. To the degree that a system is governed as a commonwealth it sets up common spaces, recognizes the rights of minorities, renters, employees and "commoners", and the commoners recognize their role in preserving the value of property they may use but that is not entirely theres. A commoner is anyone who is not a noble. And A commonwealth exists when those raised up to be aristocrats respect commoners. When they don't, they are tyrants and their government is tyranny -- even if they call the place a commonwealth.

The commons

The concept of commons hinges on that wonderful word "common". Common can mean ordinary or it can mean shared. It can mean readily available but it always means a situation where people have to share properties. Lawyers argue about what a commons is because they think that land once divided becomes separated between common property and private property, but even private property is always part of the commons. The concept of the commons recognizes that humans are stewards of their possessions while on the earth, acquiring and surrendering them as they change roles, age, move about. Driving a car down the road we have to own the space around our cars and surrender that ownership as we move along the road. Life is a highway and if we don't share our toys we fight over them.

So a necessary property of the commons is the realization that mankind has to share his toys and work together if he/she is going to survive. Virtue is not just about getting brownie points at Heaven's gate. It's about being selfish enough to realize that generosity multiplies the value of what we have. A person who runs a mall and recognizes that he's providing a commons is wealthier than someone who treats his mall as private property and locks it up at set times and charges stores so much rent they go out of business. Ultimately even aristocrats are but commoners when confronted with Judgment and the Great Beyond. And we live in commonwealths because Tyranny is no fun, even for the tyrants.

Truly Virtue is it's own reward.

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