Building a ‘Culture of Us’

Photo by Vonecia Carswell on Unsplash

Tim Shriver and Tara Isabella Burton have a new essay on American culture, liberalism and the ‘hyper-liberal worldview’, and different forms of postliberalism. Drawing on personalist and communitarian insights, they call for the embrace of “spiritual realism” and the creation of a “culture of us”:

Identifying the roots of our collective political, and indeed spiritual malaise is only part of the problem. The challenge of our time is to shift from criticism to construction – from fighting old wars to creating new institutions of shared flourishing.

That flourishing must transcend individualistic notions of profit or success and equip us to live with greater awareness of our inner tug toward the ultimate goodness, beauty, truth, and love which are the only things capable of overcoming fear, oppression, pain, and despair. The challenge is clear, bold, and urgent: for centuries, our conception of meaning has been centered on the all-important individual. That focus has proved materially powerful, politically liberating, but devastating to our hunger for ultimate meaning and value.

We need a conception of meaning that is centered on the transcendent Good, on the wholeness from which individual dignity comes, and which is manifested in the basic structure of human knowing and acting. We need to recognize that wholeness is first and most importantly a matter of relationship. We are born in and for relationships: we are indeed individual selves, but those selves can never thrive without connection to others. That connection preserves the sanctity of the individual and the sanctity of interdependence.

We need, in other words, institutions that understand who and what we are. We are bearers of a dignity that is given to us and not earned. We are called to a quest to live out that dignity in seeking the highest good alongside others. We are social creatures who depend on our capacity to cross the boundary of the solipsistic self to find belonging. Our need as human beings, our shared telos, does not lie simply in the accumulation of personal profit but instead lies in awakening to joy, to justice, and to love.

You can read the full essay here.