Essay of the Day: Marvin Brown on the Necessity for Civic Design

Excerpted from Marvin Brown:

“A citizen is one among the many—one among others. Citizens are members. We are always citizens “of.” “Of what?” Of the many? Yes. But citizens are not mobs or crowds. Citizens are members of civic communities, and citizens create and re-create civic communities. The civic, in other words, comes into existence when we participate in civic conversations as citizens.

Civic conversations are quite different from commercial conversations. Commercial conversations are about commerce—about the exchange and the overall flow of things. Civic conversations are about how we want to live together—about the design of our collective life. Civic conversations should be the context or platform for commercial conversations. Only when we know how we want to live together will we know how to design the flow of things.

In the history of the United States, for the most part, commercial conversations have dominated civic conversations. Still, we have witnessed the rise of the civic, such as in the civil rights movement. And, now, we see it again. The civic is occupying the commercial.

The goal, of course, is not to eliminate commerce, but to civilize it—to have commercial conversations about how to provide for one another on a civic platform of moral equality and reciprocity. Commerce is not the problem. The problem is its separation from civic norms.

When people say, ”We have seen the problem and the problem is us,” they deceive themselves. We are not the problem. The problem is one of design. Our current design of how we live together in unjust and unsustainable, and it is still controlled by commercial conversations without any moral foundation. Those who control financial markets are sovereign. If we expand and protect civic conversations we may, in time, participate in the solution—an economy based on civic norms making provisions for this and future generations.”

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