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A good society?

December 5, 2007

What sort of society should a progressive politics aim to achieve?

Here is one clear vision. It is a society based on equality and dignity for all citizens. It embodies the idea of social responsibility — the conviction that society has some meaningful obligations to all its members. It embodies institutions that somehow effectively assure a reasonably high minimum quality of life for all. It provides real equality of opportunity for its citizens. It avoids discrimination among citizens based on gender, race, ethnicity, and other irrelevant factors. It is a democratic society: individuals have genuine opportunities to discuss and influence the decisions that affect them — both public institutions and private. And it is a society that commits itself to environmental sustainability and progress towards global justice.

This vision entails numerous rights — rights of expression, association, and participation. And it implies the guarantee of quite a number of social goods by society to all citizens — education and training, access to healthcare, policies that assure housing and food under all circumstances, …

The existing state-society configuration that best matches this set of values is Scandinavian social democracy — of the 1970s. (See Esping-Anderson, The Three Worlds of Welfare Capitalism, for a good discussion of Scandinavian social democracy.)

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