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What is the common good? What happened to the common good? Can the common good be restored? Based, in part, on Robert Reich’s The Common Good, this course looks unabashedly at these questions and consider what Reich calls “the very essence of any society or nation.”
Tackling one question at a time, we’ll begin with a history of the common good in the United States and the ideals now embedded in law and institution that form the underpinnings of American identity. These consist of shared values—what we owe one another as citizens of the same society—the norms we abide by voluntarily, and the ideals (independence, fairness, empathy, self-control, reason) we seek to achieve.
Next, we’ll examine the decline of the common good in American life over the past half century, with particular emphasis on the present day. What are some examples of this decline? How have vices (greed, aggression, selfishness) become virtues to be admired? What exemplifies these trends?
Finally, we’ll discuss whether the common good can be restored. How might leaders rebuild trust in the institutions they oversee? What structural changes would engender an increased sense of connectivity? Is there any such thing as Truth? Justice?
According to Reich, this last question calls for an assessment of the moral obligations of citizenship; careful consideration of how we relate to honor, shame, patriotism, truth, and the meaning of leadership; and an expansion of America’s moral imagination.
Recommended: Robert Reich, The Common Good (Alfred A. Knopf, 2018).
Larry Litecky, PhD, University of Minnesota, is past president of Century College, a position he held for 12 years. Following that, he served as Senior Academic Vice Chancellor for Academic and Student Affairs in the Minnesota State system. Prior to his presidency, Litecky taught Humanities and American Studies at Minneapolis Community and Technical College. He also was elected to four two-year terms as the president of the state Minnesota Community College Faculty Association. Litecky currently works as a College Leadership Coach through Achieving the Dream, a national non-governmental network dedicated to student success in higher education.