EDITOR’S NOTE: When I saw the announcement below from Robert Reich that he was going to share his book “The Common Ground” a chapter each week, I knew that the Pioneer’s book reviewer extraordinaire had read it. So here’s Jim Heffernan’s review, and you reach each chapter, starting on Friday July 28th on Reich’s Substack blog (link is below.)
By Jim Heffernan
Robert Reich is author of 18 books, Professor and lawyer, worked in Carter administration and was Secretary of Labor for Bill Clinton.
Robert Reich and I were born in the same week and I’ve yet to find myself disagreeing with him. His writing is simple and direct. In this book, he traces a vicious cycle where we have departed from a concept of pursuing a common good for all us to doing “whatever it takes” to win elections and accumulate wealth. This book was on my “20 favorite books of 2022” list and I think would be on my top 10 of all time, if I had one.
Here’s an excerpt from page 44.
To summarize, the good we have had in common has been a commitment to respecting the rule of law, including its intent and spirit; to protecting our democratic institutions; to discovering and spreading the truth; to being open to change and tolerant of our differences; to ensuring equal political rights and equal opportunity; to participating in our civic life together, and sacrificing for that life together. Note that these are not the constitutional rights and freedoms we possess as citizens. They are the essential elements of what we owe one another as Americans. We passionately disagree about all manner of things. But we must share these commitments to each other because they are-or have been-what makes us a people. Although we have often fallen short of achieving them, they are ideals that we have strived to realize. They have informed our judgments about right and wrong, decisions we make that could affect others, and our understanding of our obligations as citizens. They have bound us together. They are large and noble obligations.
The central moral question of our age is whether we are still committed to them.
He devotes a significant portion of the book to detailing how our “whatever it takes” attitude has damaged our trust in our country and each other. I particularly enjoyed that he makes it clear that it’s not strictly a “red” or a “blue” problem. Blame falls on both sides.
He paints a bleak picture but does feel that there is some hope for the future. He does not tell us it will be easy.
Here’s an excerpt from page 183.
Whether that common good can be recovered will depend in part on establishing a new ethic of leadership based on trusteeship; an appropriate application of honor and shame; a renewed commitment to truth; and a dedication to the civic education of our children and ourselves, about the obligations we owe one another as citizens.
Some of you may feel such a quest to be hopeless. The era we are living in offers too many illustrations of greed, narcissism, and hatefulness. I, however, firmly believe it is not hopeless. Almost every day I witness or hear of the compassion and generosity of ordinary Americans. Their actions rarely make headlines, but they constitute much of our daily life together. The challenge is to turn all this into a new public spiritedness extending to the highest reaches in the land-a public morality that strengthens our democracy, makes our economy work for everyone, and revives trust in the major institutions of America.
The moral fiber of our society has been weakened, but it has not been destroyed. We can recover the rule of law and preserve our democratic institutions by taking a more active role in politics. We can protect the truth by using facts and logic to combat lies. We can fight against all forms of bigotry. We can strengthen the bonds that connect us to one another by reaching out, and help resurrect civility by acting more civilly toward those with whom we disagree.
As always, discussion is welcome at email@example.com
From Robert Reich: My recipe for a just society
Please join me for my book “The Common Good,” which I’ll be publishing in its entirety here, starting next Friday (July 28th)
Friends, I’m publishing an updated version of my 2018 national bestseller The Common Good — here*, for free — starting next Friday.
I wrote the book to answer a question that has piqued my curiosity for decades and that Trump’s presidency cast in sharp relief: Is there a common good? Or are we just self-seeking individuals who happen to live within the same borders?
The book is also intended to expand America’s moral imagination — about what we owe one another as members of the same society.
Now that Trump is running for president again — and has unleashed even fiercer anger, divisiveness, and bigotry — the book may be even more relevant today than it was then.
(It’s also one of the shorter books I’ve written, which lends itself to 10 relatively easy-to-read chapters each week.)
I’m also eager to have your thoughts and comments — an extra bonus for me for giving the book to you. So many of you have enriched this page with your insights that I’m excited to read what you have to say.
So, please join me on this page, starting next Friday, July 28th with Chapter 1 of The Common Good.
Available Cloud and Leaf Bookstore, Manzanita and Tillamook Public Library. 210 Pages Published February 20, 2018
Goodreads 4.1 out of 5, 2,375 ratings.