Subscribe to our mailing list to receive regular email updates of ResPublica's work, upcoming events and recent blogs from the Disraeli Room.
Endemic scandals across the public and private sector from health and policing failures, to market rigging in the banks, have led to a crisis of trust and governance which is deeply damaging enterprise, the economy and our communities.
When faced with such challenges, we often demand that government intervenes to make more laws and draft more draconian regulation. But this compounds rather than addresses the problem, as it leaves the true cultural cause of our contemporary malaise unacknowledged and unaddressed. We have lost any idea of what the shared goods of society are, and what we need to do together in order to progress. Morality isn’t something oppressive or limiting; it is in part a product of the human imagination and the wish to live better and improve the lot of human beings. We have ceased to be moral in the sense that we find it hard to shape and share ideas about how a better life might be achieved for all. Most of the problems we face today are cultural in origin, an indifference to the fate of others, a belief that self-interest is in our interest. If morality or ‘the good’ is to be liberating it must be recovered as a social and political goal, and virtue for us is that practice: moving the ‘moral’ from the realm of the imaginary into a realisation of the better and the more hopeful. This requires a cultural renewal that instils virtuous habits into the heart of society that will deliver the type of social and economic change we need.
So conceived, we need a renaissance of virtue and honour in policy and practice. ‘Virtue’ encompasses not simply an ethical code or guideline by which we measure ourselves and our institutions. It also entails a much deeper understanding of what it means to be human and why it matters to contribute to the ‘common good’. ‘Virtue’ charts a way of life that enables a person, community and nation to properly identify and fulfil the shared goals that they hope to achieve. In this manner, human beings discern and perfect their own talents and vocations. In turn, this favours the pursuit of ethos, excellence and good character. The exercise of virtue is a process of discernment that has an ambitious goal in mind: the flourishing of all humankind.
Ethics are not natural or innate: morality has to be first recognised, then taught and finally practised. This is not something that one can do by oneself; the practice of a ‘good life’, needs to be learned and imparted by organisations that advance and foster knowledge of the real aims of human life. We believe that ‘virtue-endowing’ institutions promote cultural, spiritual and social value, and serve to shape a person’s character. They operate by restoring relationships between people, communities and government, building social networks and providing the social infrastructure to facilitate a more civil society and a more moral economy. Putting people and the ‘common good’ at the heart of our lives means also putting it at the heart of our businesses and our markets. But this is not hostile to either profit or efficiency: the practice of virtue creates a greater return, by making business more stable, sustainable and socially beneficial. It makes markets serve society while serving themselves.
Globalisation and atomisation of markets and culture have detached businesses from those whom they seek to serve: their employees, consumers, communities and supply chains. Businesses have become governed by short-term economic value rather than by a longer term economic and social purpose. Shareholders no longer participate in discerning and implementing the core purpose of the enterprise that they have invested in. The separation between capital and labour has detached employees from a corporate ethos and a transformative financial and personal reward.
Today many British institutions have lost not only public trust, but also their ethos, sense of purpose and their traditional sustaining culture. The NHS has been implicated in massive scandals of appalling care and resultant cover-ups. The journalistic profession has undergone moral collapse, threatening the lives and dignity of those subject to their malpractice. The Police have been hit by the revelations of systemic incompetence and corruption. Trade unions have become lobby groups of static self-interest.
We have come to conceive of humans as purely economic actors, narrowly focussed on financial and commercial success. We have forgotten the importance of a life defined by meaning, a desire for beauty and proper pride in and recognition for, a life well lived. This is because we have stopped asking the question: what do we need for a ‘good life’?
Launched on 26th May on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme, ResPublica’s latest report, The Mission of Media in an Age of Monopoly, argues that the trend for media outlets to...Download as PDF
ResPublica, in partnership with the Jubilee Centre, sets out to reaffirm the value and purpose of our great professions in our latest report In Professions We Trust: Fostering virtuous practitioners...Download as PDF
Published: 28 July 2014On Tuesday 29th July at the Financial Times, ResPublica launched its report, Virtuous Banking: Placing ethos and purpose at the heart of finance, with a keynote speech by Sir Richard...Download as PDF
Published: 21 January 2014A radical change in attitude from our “new economy” businesses is needed if the private sector is to regain the trust of British consumers and promote a new economy of...Download as PDF
Published: 10 January 2012On Wednesday 11th January 2012, ResPublica published Military Academies: Tackling disadvantage, improving ethos and changing outcome. A product of ResPublica’s Models and Partnerships for Social Prosperity workstream, one of the...Download as PDF