Individual Freedom and the Common Good – Charlie Woods

Individual Freedom and the Common Good

In a recent fascinating article in the New York Times Colin Woodard summarises his analysis of how politics in America today is shaped by the values of the different groups that settled the country; from the Puritan communitarian legacy of the north east ‘Yankeedom’ to the personal sovereignty of ‘Greater Appalachia’. He identifies eleven different ‘nations’ or regions in the US that cross state boundaries and which, in his view, provide a much better guide to today’s political divisions that ‘north-south’ or ‘urban-rural’. At its heart he sees a tension between advancing and protecting individual liberty and promoting the common good.

In many respects this tension is not unique to the USA. In a world of increasing globalisation there is a real sense of individual loss of agency. This can result in slogans like ‘take back control’ resonating widely and deeply. On the other hand others feel equally strongly that it is only by pooling sovereignty and working more closely together that real influence can be achieved.

The balance between individual and community has been evident throughout human history as individuals have had to cooperate in order to survive and prosper. Maybe it’s the sheer scale and complexity of what is happening today that makes it harder for people to get to grips with.

Our latest call for proposals on the theme of interdependence and cooperation offers the opportunity to explore how the challenges and opportunities of our growing interdependence can be tackled by more effective cooperation, which enhances the common good without individuals feeling left behind or excluded.

The call invites applicants of all disciplinary backgrounds to consider interdependence and cooperation from a variety of perspectives, with a view to generating insights for policy and practice from theory to form a better understanding of cooperative experience at home and abroad. In particular, proposals are sought which will provide insights into:

  • overcoming barriers to cooperation in the provision of public goods and services, and/or meeting the difficulties of scaling up from promising pilots
  • addressing the challenges of cooperation between individuals and organisations from different backgrounds and sectors that have little experience of working together

Author: scotinsight

The Scottish Universities Insight Institute supports programmes of knowledge exchange which address and provide insight on substantial issues that face Scotland and the wider world. Our programmes break down disciplinary and organisational barriers in bringing together academics from different backgrounds, policymakers and practitioners. We mobilise existing knowledge in fresh ways through sustained and collaborative focus on a shared issue and aim to support decision makers in all sectors of society in being better informed. Our partner universities are: Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh, Heriot Watt, St Andrews, Stirling, Strathclyde, and Associate Member Glasgow School of Art.

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