In 1909 Beatrice and Sydney Webb published The Minority Report envisioning ‘a good society’ where the state provided the basics; health, education and welfare, while civil society and the private sector offered extension to this in the form of wealth, prosperity and societal support.
Research, conducted by myself and Professor John Diamond at Edge Hill University, into the Good Society in 2017 revealed that the strong compassionate civil society and community spirit of the Blitz has always existed; it never went away. So how can we harness this ‘spirit’ to build a vision of a Good Society post COVID-19?
As part of a series of collaborative conversations with civil society groups across the United Kingdom in 2016 and 2017 John and I developed a set of three visions of a Good Society. Revisiting these now is pertinent as I feel that they can serve as a basis for re-imaging our society in the wake of the pandemic.
The first is one that repairs the current welfare state, restores institutions and reimagines the Webbs’ extension ladder model, where civil society adds value to the welfare, education and health delivered directly by the State.
The second is of a society based on strong human values of public love, care, tolerance, respect and kindness.This vision of a Good Society reignites the philosophical debate around what a Good Society might look like. By reinvesting in democracy, civil society can help to build a Good Society. To do this we need to reconsider our understanding of society as beyond that of nation state; recognising the globalised heterogeneous world in which we sit. This vision of a Good Society post COVID-19 involves listening to the expertise of people with different lived experiences, to the voices of civil society in the voluntary community and faith sectors, and re-modelling public policy framed around deliberative democracy.
The third vision, recognises that a Good Society develops through the recognition of heterogeneity and diversity, and from a solidarity of tolerance and respect. Hybrid organisations, experienced at integrated working, that are no longer sector specialised but expert collaborators, operating within a heterogeneous globalised world, will be the ones in this vision to create a Good Society. COVID-19 has seen the automotive industry work collaboratively to design ventilators, it has seen big pharma work collaboratively between companies to develop a vaccine. All sectors; public, private and voluntary, have responded with an unprecedented willingness and openness to collaboration. This vision of a good society would build on these collaborations and seek to develop responsible and ethical organisations that can work within integrated settings for the public good.
Thus the vision of a Good Society that could be reimaged in the wake of COVID19 is perhaps one of mutual aid, community strength and public policy, led by strong, independent voices with lived experience.
Author: Dr Katy Goldstraw, ISR Visiting Fellow.