Pillars of ‘decent society’ focus of Loyola lecture
The ostensibly dichotomous pillars of a decent society versus a dynamic society are capable of co-existing, ultimately creating a community in which the family unit is celebrated and the business arena not viewed with suspicion.
That was the message Dr. Robert George, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University, delivered during a lecture titled “Five Pillars of Decent and Dynamic Societies” March 6 at Loyola University.
Not mutually exclusive
“Some people believe that a truly decent society cannot be a dynamic one,” George, who is a visiting professor at Harvard this semester, said. “Dynamism, they believe, entails forms of instability that tend to undermine the pillars of a decent society.”
“My own view is that though a decent society need not be a dynamic one, I believe that dynamism need not erode decency,” he added. “Indeed, dynamism can play a positive moral role.”
George, a former presidential appointee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights during the Clinton era, went to great lengths to define what he sees as the pillars of a decent society and the pillars of a dynamic society.
Regarding a decent society, George said the pillars are respect for the person and that individual’s dignity, the institution of the family, and a fair and effective system of law and government.
He explained that in a decent society the human being is “regarded and treated as an end-in-himself, and not a mere means to other ends. He is understood to be a subject of justice and human rights, and not an object, an instrument or a thing.”
When this pillar has eroded, he said, the human being might be forced to sacrifice his own flourishing for the sake of collectivity.
“By contrast, where a healthy liberal ethos is in place, it supports the dignity of the human person by giving witness to fundamental rights and civil liberties,” said George, who is considered by some as one of the country’s leading theorists. “Where a healthy religious life flourishes, faith provides a grounding for the dignity and inviolability of the human person.”
Healthy families key
George, originally a Democrat who shifted to conservatism in the 1980s mainly because of his personal views regarding abortion, was passionate in defense of the family unit, calling it the original department of health, education and welfare.
“No institution (excedes) the healthy family in its capacity to transmit to each new generation the understanding and traits of character upon which the success of every other institution, from law and government to educational institutions and business firms, vitally depends,” he said.
Paradoxically, George said, when the family disintegrates through cultural shifts in values, transmission of those virtues is imperiled, thus potentially undermining respect for the human person and potentially threatening the stability of the first pillar.
According to George, the first of his two pillars for a dynamic society are “institutions of research and education in which the frontiers of knowledge across a wide range of fields in the humanities, social sciences are pushed back, and through which knowledge beyond the minimum is transmitted to students and disseminated to the public at large.”
The second pillar, he said, demands business firms and associated institutions managing them in ways that are at the very minimum patterned on their principles.
Ethics in business essential
His belief in the overall wellness of a dynamic society is dependent on the well-being of others, thus completing the link between the business community and the family.
“Business does have a stake in the flourishing of the family, just as it has a stake in the integrity and health of the system of law and government by which contracts are enforced and fair competition is maintained,” he said.
George issued a call-to-arms to businessmen to do what they can to join the pillars of a decent society with those of a dynamic one.
“I hope that many leaders of business and successful entrepreneurs and investors will turn their minds to the question of what they can contribute to the cause of upholding marriage and the family in the face of great threats,” he said. “Business is a calling, even a vocation. It is also a way of serving.
“Just as the family has a stake in business … business has a stake in the family.”
The lecture was part of Loyola’s centennial celebration and co-sponsored by the College of Business and Center for Spiritual Capital.