Essay of the Day: From Common Goods to the Common Good of Humanity

* Article: From ‘Common Goods’ to the ‘Common Good of Humanity’. By Francois Houtart.

This text, prepared by Francois Houtart, was presented by Francine Mestrum to the conference From ‘Common Goods’ to the ‘Common Good of Humanity’, organized by the Rosa Luxembourg Foundation in Rome, 28-29 April 2011, and revised after the conference discussions. The text has also served as the basis of a document for the Instituto de Altos Estudios Nacionales (IAEN) of Quito and the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Ecuador.”

Excerpted from the Foreword, From Crisis to Crisis, Where Are We Coming From, and Where Are We Going?

By Birgit Daiber and François Houtart.

“Must we really destroy the planet in order to develop? Does economic growth necessitate the sacrifice of millions of men and women? Is youth unemployment the price to pay for saving the economy? The succession of crises, the obstinacy in pursuing the path of neoliberalism, the generalization of injustices: all these pose some fundamental questions for humanity. Indignation continues to mount, all over the world. The cries of the oppressed are echoed in the moans of Mother Earth.

Initiatives to solve the crises continue to fail: the UN Climate Conference in Copenhagen 2009 and subsequent meetings have not lead to binding decisions. The recommendations of the UN Conference on the financial and economic crisis calling for a regulation of destructive speculative capital have been ignored.

The time has come to take action and to do so by developing new ideas. However repairing the dysfunctions of the capitalist market economy, preaching green capitalism, regulating financial markets, struggling against poverty by doling out aid, drawing up security systems that are increasingly militaristic and criminalize resistance are all simply ways of adapting the existing system. What we now need is a radical change, another paradigm: in other words a fundamentally new orientation of the life of human beings on the planet.

The capitalist system has run its course: it has become more destructive than creative. We must construct an alternative. Most people live in confusion. Numerous politicians announce a gradual end to the crisis, even though all signs point to the contrary. Political parties considered progressive have become managers of the crisis. Moral institutions usually limit themselves to denouncing abuses without indicating the causes or condemning the logic of the system. The economic precariousness of broad sectors of the population tends to make them cling on to what they have acquired with such effort, rather than take on the risk of change.

So we must think; we must analyse; we must anticipate. This is a task for all of us, not just for a few experts. Where are we going? To reply to that question, we need to set up a permanent two-way dialectic exchange between doing and thinking.

To do so, we have to look at the many movements and projects which have already begun to take on this new challenge. The movements of the Indignados in Europe, the Occupy Wall Street movement in the U.S., the global justice networks, the environmental movements, the indigenous movements, the landless and small farmers movements, and the democracy movements in northern Africa and the Arab world are all an expression of the search for a new perspective. Exemplary projects like the new regional development bank in Latin America, i.e. Banco del Sur, and the new speculation-proof payment system between Latin American countries, i.e. the Sucre, the guaranteed income for small farmers in India (NREGA), the Network for Transformative Social Protection (NTSP) in South-East Asia and many other local and regional projects show the determination of people wasting no time and working for a better future against all odds.

This booklet presents an analysis of the crisis as well as a prospect for the future. It has taken into account the hundreds of initiatives that foreshadow a new paradigm, that of the Common Good of Humanity, which means living harmoniously with nature, in a society that is just and which has an infinity of cultural expressions – in other words a utopia that calls for commitment. But if this is not to remain an illusion, the concept of the Common Good of Humanity has to be translated into practical terms. Theoretical orientations must guide our everyday life, but they must be continually updated in step with the experience of peoples’ struggles.

This is now the time to present, for the discussion of everyone, a basis for the kind of thinking that can guide our action, give coherence to our thoughts and to serve as a basis for a convergence of movements to change the orientation of the common life of humanity on the planet. It is a work for the long term, but it needs immediate commitment. The next stage will be to identify the actors and formulate strategies – not to reinvent what already exists but to give new strength to the struggles and initiatives that are working towards the achievement of the Common Good of Humanity. This is what we want to achieve. ”

Brussels / Quito, 30 November 2011.