Answers to the Challenge of Civic Responsibility

The results are in on the first question in the Forward Thinking project, launched by former FTBers Dan Fincke and Libby Anne. Libby has a roundup of some of the responses to their first question: What is civic responsibility? There’s a lot of really thoughtful answers to the question and they’re all very much worth reading. Ian Cromwell, as always, provokes much thought with his response:

As with most values-driven issues, my understanding of civic responsibility lies between two divergent value axioms. First, there is the recognition that our presence in a society confers a duty to take care of each other. No individual exists without some level of input from each other – a social infrastructure of laws and values and instrumental assistance exists. We are not in a position to remove ourselves from the implications of this social contract, and have a corresponding obligation to participate in it.

The second and competing value is that of individual autonomy – that it is unethical to compel someone to comply with a behaviour unless that person is interfering with the autonomy rights of another.

While he argues that civic responsibility is “a work-around for resolving the friction” between those two competing values, I tend to think of them as not being in conflict, at least in most cases (there are, of course, some questions that involve a genuine clash of rights). That’s what I meant when I said we have a civic responsibility to protect the rights of others even when their exercise of those rights bothers us (as opposed to harming us).

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