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  • Editor's Introduction
  • Trygve Throntveit

It is an honor to take the editorial reins of The Good Society at this critical juncture in the history of self-government—the enterprise the journal exists to examine and advance. It is also a big responsibility.

Though small by some measures, The Good Society is large in scope and even larger in ambition. Since its founding in 1991, its purpose has been to examine, from any and all relevant perspectives, the essential character and necessary conditions of a genuinely free polity—one that reconciles individual flourishing with the social conditions that promote and sustain it across cliques, classes, interests, and eras. The journal's ultimate goal has been the reform of institutions—whether state structures, social conventions, or habits of thought—that impede the realization of such a polity. In other words, The Good Society's purpose is to change the world.

In small but significant ways, it has done so. When Stephen Elkin founded the journal (then a newsletter) in 1991, relatively few in the academy or in government had time for disputes over the normative, cultural, or constitutional foundations of a decent society (see Elkin's "Historical Note" to this issue, pp. 136–137). If there was any dominant trend in the formal study of democracy, it was a focus on determining how best to export existing Western ideals and technologies of capitalist democracy in the wake of their much-lauded triumph over communism.

Now, as several large democracies turn toward nationalism, protectionism, and authoritarianism, many thoughtful people are wondering how the old ideals and technologies will survive, or what new form they could and should [End Page 131] take. Fortunately, The Good Society has for twenty-five years been a forum in which answers to such questions have been advanced, criticized, and refined.

The result has not been consensus on any single formula for securing and advancing self-government. Rather, it has been to create a vibrant community of inquiry committed to sustained critique and imaginative yet thoughtful reconception of existing institutions.

Several members of that community have translated these commitments into practice, cooperating with other citizens determined to put themselves at the center of political life by acting as intentional co-creators of their worlds. Whether through grassroots programs like Public Achievement, which fosters the public confidence and civic agency of schoolchildren, or large institutions like the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life at Tufts, an entire university unit organized around egalitarian civic engagement, the cultural movement to which The Good Society belongs has enriched and improved many lives.1

Much work remains. In several nations aspiring to self-government, political imaginations and agendas have narrowed rather than expanded over the past quarter century. The consequence has been to marginalize citizens generally—relegating them to consumers rather than shapers of policy and politics—and to impede the social, emotional, and physical flourishing of many specific groups of citizens disproportionately.

For that reason, The Good Society is reaffirming its ties to the still emerging but rapidly growing field of Civic Studies—the most promising intellectual effort to combat such trends of which I know. The most immediately visible sign of that strengthened relationship is our new subtitle: "A Journal of Civic Studies." No insult to PEGS—the Committee on the Political Economy of the Good Society, the journal's previous subtitular eponym—the change is meant to celebrate and capitalize on PEGS's origination of an entirely new and socially crucial field of research and practice.

Indeed, Civic Studies will be familiar to regular readers of The Good Society. As explained in the journal's own pages by Peter Levine, editorial board member and Associate Dean for Research at Tisch, and fellow board member Karol Soltan, Associate Professor of Government and Politics at the University of Maryland, the purpose of Civic Studies is "to develop ideas and ways of thinking helpful to citizens, understood as co-creators of their worlds.… It is thus inevitably about ethics (what is right and good?), about facts (what is actually going on?), about strategies (what would work?), and about the cultures and institutions that we co-create."2 Civic Studies engages political theorists...


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pp. 131-135
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