Humans have always been storytellers. The stories we tell ourselves have immense power to shape us and the world around us, for better or for worse. Our shared stories and values are the golden threads that bind our families, communities, and nations together, up and down the generations.
But across the UK and in many other developed nations, these stories have been undermined and deconstructed, causing us to lose confidence in ourselves, and the fabric of our society to become frayed and fragmented.
There is much in our heritage in liberal democratic nations to be proud of. The last two hundred years have seen an astonishing rise in living standards. Our institutions from civil liberties and constitutional restraints have laid the groundwork for unprecedented prosperity. On every metric, from infant mortality to the education of women, life is better than it was. Why, then, do so many feel that we are in a permanent state of crisis?
Corrosive cultural criticism has left the coherence of our cultural stories hanging by a thread. Our lack of a common narrative has left us feeling disillusioned and disempowered in a time when humanity is more prosperous and healthy than at any point in history. Our institutions have huge value and a strong track record, but we no longer trust them.
Without common cultural narratives, and the philosophical reservoirs needed to provide individuals and communities with resilience, we are in danger of losing our connection with the historic foundations on which the prosperity of our nations has been built.
Instead of following the example of our history and trusting our people to address the challenges we now face, from the Covid pandemic to climate change, we reach for increasing levels of government action. Top-down solutions are presented as the only way out. But complex problems rarely have single, simple solutions. We saw covid case numbers drive policy making at the expense of the poor in the lockdown period, and now we risk driving policy interventions to address environmental concerns without having an honest conversation about the trade-offs for the poor at home or in developing nations.
We need a better understanding of who we are, and what made our countries great. We need a better story. This is why my colleagues and I are forming the new “Alliance for Responsible Citizenship” (ARC). We cannot fix the West’s problems simply by placing ourselves in opposition to the narrative of permacrisis and decline; we need to offer an alternative. Throughout history there has been a better narrative that has called us higher and not lower, into collaboration and not division, into responsibility and not passivity, into building and not tearing down. Our mission is to create a community that is committed to providing a positive and hope-filled vision for the future.
Our organising committee draws together public intellectuals from Arthur Brooks to Niall Ferguson to Jordan Peterson, along with politicians and business leaders from around the world. This community will gather for the first time in London later this year for a conference of more than a thousand international senior leaders from politics, media, culture, business, and academia.
ARC aims to address the fundamental questions of our time. We will aim to explore a better story for the family, community and nation, while also exploring how each individual can be empowered to live a fulfilled, responsible life as a citizen. We will wrestle with the need to responsibly steward the environment and our natural resources so that all people can benefit from access to affordable energy, while also mitigating against future environmental challenges.
Current trends towards crony capitalism and excessive corporate power will be critiqued, and we will explore ways that genuinely open markets and voluntary exchange can be fostered to create prosperity for all, including the “left behind” of globalisation. But ultimately, the ARC community will re-evaluate humanity’s direction of travel and revitalise our vision of what it means to flourish.
I am joining ARC because I believe that now is the moment for this conversation. I have spent much of my life attempting to help those on the margins of society, working to support those in poverty from the refugee, to the addict, to those who are homeless as each worked to rebuild their lives. They have shown me that the stories we tell ourselves have the power to bring transformation, something that is as true of nations as it is individuals.
This is why I am optimistic about human potential and hopeful for our future. Through ARC, we want to realise this potential for good.
Philippa Stroud is CEO of the Legatum Institute and a co-founder of ARC
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