Foreword by Thomas O. Buford
In The Common Good Jonas Norgaard Mortensen shows that personalism is contemporary, up-to-date, a living philosophy for people. It is not an esoteric, narrow activity practiced by a few intellectuals protected by the walls of academia. To make his point, Mortensen calls our attention to a current crisis that penetrates to the core of Western societies and shows that personalism offers a penetrating analysis, and a compelling vision for our societies, a direction we should walk to find meaning in our lives.
Consider the meaning of ”crisis.” It is a situation in which we cannot go back to what we have been doing; yet we do not know in what direction we should proceed. For example, the American Congress is stymied by unbending ideologies that lead economically to a situation in which the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. To what can we appeal to lead us beyond this malaise? Examine the crisis from the viewpoint of personalism.
Jonas lays bare personalism, its anthropology, and three core principles: humans are relational, they engage, and they have inherent dignity. Persons live best in close interpersonal relations with dignified humans. When examined through the lenses of personalism, we find the crisis has a structure, learn how those structures permeate our lives and the societies in which we live, and discover a way of overcoming the crisis.
In the Western World we live in a period of economic and political crisis, a crisis that affects every dimension of our society. How deep and pervasive is it?
Since the economies of most of the Western World are capitalistic or influenced by capitalism, it is plausible that capitalism influences (possibly overlaying and controlling) all other institutions, from education, religion, politics, family, and communication, to law. This pervasive influence, however, raises questions not only about our institutions and their relationships but also about economic well-being itself.
While it is important to have a job that provides money to care for our families and ourselves, we wonder if economic power, jobs, and money provide the meaning we deeply seek. Our politicians work to create jobs and tell us to work hard. In doing so they point in one of two directions: individualism and individual responsibility or the group, collectivism, socialism, caring for the poor, the helpless, the sick.
Both alternatives are economic solutions to our problems; they are also deeply ideological. Politicians claim that moving in the direction they propose will give us the way of life we all want. But does it? Is the good life found there or somewhere else?
In light of personalism’s core principles, individualism and socialism are recognized as abstractions uprooted from their life giving soil. Instead of “us” and “we” together, inter-related, we treat ourselves as individuals or members of a group. Overemphasizing the importance of the individual, we objectify other people and find ourselves alienated from them and ourselves. Focusing on groups, we attempt to understand them through structures such as ideologies, systems, and institutions. Ignoring our interpersonal lives and looking to individualism or socialism, we find only depersonalization, narcissism, loneliness, alienation, systemic objectification, and mistrust.
In The Common Good, Mortensen focuses on the lives of persons-in-relation that enhance rather than depersonalize, that in the twenty-first century points the way beyond the present crisis brought on by individualism and socialism to relations of mutual trust and understanding and to lives good to live.
Personalism has a long, honored history with roots in Athens, Rome, Jerusalem, and India. In placing before you the core principles of personalism, Jonas honors that history and cites important modern and contemporary personalists, from Martin Luther King, Jr., Mounier, Berdyaev, to Karol Wojtyla. They call us to a philosophy that focuses on our relationships with each other, where meaningful life is found.
The Common Good opens the windows of personalism to help us see a way of thinking that expands our imaginations to set us on the way to the good common to us all. In these pages, personalism comes alive.
THOMAS O. BUFORD
Louis G. Forgione Professor of Philosophy, Emeritus
Greenville, South Carolina