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  • Editor’s Introduction
  • Trygve Throntveit

One of the main purposes of The Good Society’s founders was to examine political institutions and their functioning, not only in light of the values and purposes they were designed to promote, but also in light of those currently prevailing. In that sense, this issue marks a return to the journal’s roots. The symposium on Lawrence Hamilton’s Freedom Is Power: Liberty through Political Representation examines the author’s effort to diagnose and treat the ills of democracy in South Africa from a consequentialist perspective: Do the formal protections and privileges granted to South Africa’s citizens, or their ostensible representation in deliberative institutions, actually make them free?

Hamilton argues not—and not simply because of public corruption or institutional flaws. Rather, he insists (with nods to John Dewey and Amartya Sen) that freedom can only mean the ability to determine and pursue specific actions or goods, and in a context of interdependence, each citizen’s degree of freedom depends on the power she wields over and through her representatives. It makes no difference, then, if South Africa’s institutions promote one version of the common good—say, sustained economic growth—versus another—say, predictable social order. There is no common good, aside from the equal opportunity for all citizens to pursue their material, social, and ideal interests as far as the demands of equal representation permit. The essence of politics, as Machiavelli taught, is not achieving consensus but managing conflict. To avoid revolution the system must manage conflict fairly, and to manage fairly it must preclude the [End Page 1] economic, social, and intellectual domination of one group or groups by another or others.

Thus, for Hamilton, freedom is power and power is representation without domination. He suggests several institutional innovations intended to enhance the national voice of local communities and the country’s large poor population, as well as to ensure regular constitutional review and encourage necessary constitutional reforms. As the symposium’s diverse contributors make clear, Hamilton’s theory, analysis, and prescriptions are all provocative. But whether persuaded by Hamilton or his critics, readers committed to the Civic Studies enterprise should note his ultimate goal, which is neither to tie representatives more directly to their constituents’ demands nor to help them identify an objective or aggregate national interest. Rather, it is to create and preserve spaces in which ideas can compete and interests evolve to challenge both individual and institutional prejudices—not once and for all, but continuously and indefinitely.

If the Hamilton symposium recalls the concerns that originated the Civic Studies field, the First Annual Civic Game Design contest reported in this issue gestures toward the diversity and innovation that characterizes the field currently and seems likely to do so in future. Of course, as contest organizers Joshua A. Miller, Sarah Shugars, and Daniel Levine write, the impulse behind it can be traced back to John Dewey’s insistence that democracy is as much a system of habits—a way of life—as a form of government, and thus rewards practical reinforcement in daily life. Above all, this kind of democracy—democracy as a constant process of civic inquiry and renewal—regularly requires citizens to ask and answer the question, “What should we do?”

That question demands reflection on the goals and capacities of oneself, of one’s fellow citizens, and of both together, under whatever particular circumstances obtain at the moment. In short, it is analogous to a game, not in the sense of a trifling distraction but in the sense of a structured social activity combining competition and cooperation. After all, even the most competitive games require a collective assent to and interpretation of rules and procedures. Why not design games to hone other, more explicitly interpersonal, problem-solving skills?

Both the contest organizers and the winning designers took that challenge seriously. More important, they identified others that reflect Dewey’s appreciation for the way our spheres of activity interpenetrate. Along with teaching a civic skill, write the organizers, a game can raise awareness of a [End Page 2] civic issue; produce a civic experience; promote a civic cause; and encourage engagement in another civic activity. Indeed...


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