CommonwealthAn earlier comment questioned my use of the word commonwealth as describing all those things Americans hold together—our public lands and resources, our defenses, our air and water, our government, and the list is long.  A commonwealth is described as “a community in which all have an interest.”

Though we are a capitalist economy which respects and protects private property, we also are a commonwealth of all those things in which we all have an interest.  A variation on this ancient notion is the commons.  That word describes not only the British parliamentary house of the people but it also, in early American terms, was the New England green, a common grazing area for everyone’s cattle and eventually a park and meeting place.

As some of my submissions suggest, I’ve always been puzzled by our efforts to leave a private legacy for our children while neglecting our public legacy, the character and quality of our commonwealth and its resources that we also leave to our children.

If a few of us are smart and fortunate, mostly fortunate, we leave large amounts of money, houses and land, maybe yachts and cars to our heirs.  But that private wealth is not worth much if our public resources have deteriorated or been plundered, our climate is warming, our rivers are polluted, or our education and health systems are in decline.  The transfer of massive private wealth does not ensure that our progeny will live in a better nation or world.

So, it seems to me we must all think about our public legacy, our commons and our commonwealth.  That is true of the United States, but in a shrinking world of globalization, information, and necessarily closer inter-national relations, a global commons is also emerging.  Climate and environment are universal.  Security and peaceful trade are of interest to all but the radical few.  International investments, student exchanges, and shared knowledge and research are among the many things the global community has a common interest.

Our leaders and policy makers would do well to focus on the American commonwealth, our public legacy, the global commons, and the “more perfect union…and blessings of liberty” we seek for ourselves “and our posterity.”

7 Responses to “The Commonwealth and the Commons”

  1. danielmcvicar Says:

    Dear Senator Hart,
    I must call you that, because I volunteered in your office in 1975.

    Our common interest is our selfish interest. That is what we all come to learn. Look at Bill Gates now. It is the pattern, make the money, and then figure out that it must go to the common good.

    A responsive political system includes that idea in it’s mechanism. The common good becomes the objective. A capitalistic system encourages performance in it’s ideal. My work brings me reward.

    We are faced with many challenges, and the largest is the climate crisis. If this is not the common good, I don’t know what is. It is the common survival. There may be some who can survive thanks to the money that they made, and therefore a greater ability to adapt, but what do they have at the end of a doomsday?

    Thanks for your continued thoughtful posts. I enjoy them on HuffPo. This is my first visit here.

    I have to tell you, the design of this site hurts my eyes.

  2. Gary Hart Says:

    You have made my case as well as, if not better than, I do.
    Sorry about the webpage. Not sure what specifically hurts. Many comments have been very positive about the layout and design.

  3. Tom Gee Says:

    One of the things that has always been a curiosity for me is how thinly framed in the Constitution is our economic order. Our social compact, the Bill of Rights, is more clearly laid out in detail. Our capitalistic system hinges, I believe, almost entirely on the Interstate Commerce clause. If my assessment is correct, our 240 year history has merely been a “love affair” with self-interest over common interest.

  4. Michael Says:

    Bill Gates might set a fine example (now), but the problems we face can’t be solved by a League of the Extraordinarily Wealthy. They can only be solved by government. But for a generation, we’ve had it hammered into our skulls that “government is the problem.”

    Yet people are again looking to government to help make their lives better, if only by leveling the playing field. Despite that, many in government simply block progress in protecting the national commonwealth, for even the acknowledgement of such rubs against their political orthodoxy. And I’m not just talking about the Republicans here. Every day we see Democrats twisting themselves into pretzels by talking about the benefits a benevolent government can bring to peoples lives while at the same time shying away from advocating too much direct government intervention, even when it make the most sense. The political system becomes less responsive when the interests of the political class lie exclusively in serving the capitalist system. (Some fella just say “public option trigger?”)

  5. Richard Zietz Says:

    Have you read “the Limits to Growth”? Have you seen any updates on the predicted peak population and the rate at which it will crash? I suspect you could write an interesting book describing the typical news bulletins 50 or 100 years from now: “150,000 additional coastal residents displaced last week”; “Canadian grain harvest cut in half by wildfires: 50,000,000 Americans facing starvation this winter”. Perhaps a fictionalized horror story will have more impact than the proceedings of a scientific conference.

  6. Kevin W. Says:

    “Leadership: The ability to share the presence of a new, generally unwelcome, reality or condition to a group of people, then help them to successfully adapt to it.”

    I don’t recall the source of this definition, but it’s precisely what’s needed: transformed people eventually creates a transformed society. Review the leadership brilliance of FDR. In a relatively short span, he transformed an isolationist nation with a standing Army smaller than that of Portugal, into a country of citizens prepared to do whatever necessary, on the homefront or on the battlefield, to defeat our enemies. FDR was neither being pulled by the American people into war, nor was he too far out in front for Americans to follow. He led us confidently, methodically, and honestly, into understanding what we had to do.

    FDR taught our nation that the commons and the commonwealth were inextricably intertwined, as they are today. Today brings a new generation of “unwelcome realities.” Let’s pray that today’s new generation of leaders can do what FDR did to bring us through as a stronger nation with a core of shared values and priorities.

  7. Gary Hart Says:

    In response to Richard Zietz, I did read The Limits to Growth when it first was published. Though some of its projections are still relevant, some believe it was too apocolyptic in a number of regards. Regardless, ours and future generations simply must accept that the earth’s resources are not endlessly replentishable.
    Kevin is right about FDR. Truly a strong leader. But there was considerable domestic opposition to US entry into WWII, oddly from conservatives whose heirs are now more than willing to go abroad seeking monsters to destroy. My definition of leadership is: being able to look over the horizon; having the imagination to create new approaches to new realities; and being able to convince a reluctant electorate to let go of the past and move into the future.

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