Good citizenship, common good and state actualisation in a shifting global and regional order

Globalisation — as laymen understood it — proposed the idea that physical borders between states became redundant as the world converged to achieve and maximise mechanisms of global outreach utilising speedy communication — and financial — tools and a flurry of global movement as groups of people travelled across states in pursuit of prosperity and upward mobility.

The political common wisdom that accompanied the era of “globalisation” called for embracing diversity, multi-ethnicity and religiosity through flexible immigration policies and de-escalation of nation-states’ priorities to give eminence to the negotiated and common economic, financial and security interests of emerging global networks of states.

This global order is changing. Nationalism is on the rise again and governments are being elected globally with clear mandates from their voters to put state interests ahead of the interests of those global networks. And in many countries in the world that are heading in that direction, the recalibration and rebalance — although obviously not complete reversal — may actually succeed in achieving socioeconomic and political advantage for those states.

Why so?  

The precursor to the success of countries actively working to regain national control over their policies, a la UK’s Brexit from the EU, is that their action plans are based on “good citisenship”. In other words, citizens are participating actively and voluntarily in political activity with the objective of informing, articulating, consolidating and institutionalising state-level political and economic systems. 

With their own informed and selfless participation, the “good citizens” are lending and bestowing legitimacy and credibility to the state systems they are helping to inform. With this convergence of common interests and effort — focused now within state boundaries — the “common good” takes priority over individual will. 

In contemporary politics — and these concepts to follow are borrowed from definitions available publicly on the idea of “common good” — the importance of the idea is based in moving away from the narrow pursuit of individual self-interest and pointing instead towards the way in which freedom, autonomy and self-government can be realised through the collective participation of individuals as active citizens in the public domain of politics. 

State actualisation — as I have come to refer to the process of the state realising and framing its national objective, identity and priorities into coherent long-term systems and national charters — is dependent primarily on cultivating a “good citizen” and the government partnering with that citizen — in good will and with integrity — in order to achieve the common good. 

And here comes the real question: How can we in Jordan achieve self-reliance, as requested by the government and more importantly as dictated by the turn of global and regional political alliances recently — when these two key ingredients — good citizenship and the opportunity for partnership with the government in our commitment to common good — are at best lacking at the government, political parties, civil society and individual citizens’ levels?

Without being politically naïve and ignoring the fact that political alliances and Machiavellianism are an integral part of how the world conducts political business, we cannot also ignore that Jordan needs to learn to function internally as a state in its own right. It must work towards the common good of the state through its good citizens utilising recognisable institutions for political action.

And not to mince words and at the risk of upsetting many, I believe that Jordan is not moving in that direction at all. 

What the government has demonstrated so far is that its vision for self-reliance depends on extracting funds from citizens’ pockets while systematically denying them all routes to active political participation.  Even more worryingly the government is actively denying citizens access to the knowledge — whether through transparently communicating its plans, extending its support to credible media and elevating the standards of education — required for developing the good citizen we need.

Otherwise how can the government explain its systematic undermining of political parties (most recently denying an emerging party permission to hold its launch meeting), its weak and ineffective media (look at Jordan Television and the print media straining under the requirement to toe the government line regardless of business common sense) as well as the severe slide in our education system — at the school and higher education levels — over the last two decades, and that is now requiring Herculean effort only in order to initiate a process of recovery. 

Political parties, historically dependent more on personality cults and less on ideological frameworks, research, knowledge and gaining popular confidence and support, have lurked in the background providing fake legitimacy to a stunted democratisation process and a mostly self-serving group of “selected” parliamentarians. As a result, even credible efforts at creating political platforms are immediately denigrated and undermined by a Jordanian public that is finding it hard to have confidence in organised political activity.

Civil society, fast becoming the second largest employment sector after the public sector, has also failed to take up its role in working towards the “common good”. Focused more on creating salaried development experts and highly paid consultants, civil society organisations have mostly become victim to the pursuit of donor and corporate funding and therefore are disconnected from what it takes to contribute to the making of a good citizen. The government — especially after its decision to instate provisions that now require civil society organisations to work under government “guidance” — has basically undermined the whole concept of civil society action, and emptied it of its important and critical value as a key partner — which is also independent and impartial — in creating the self-reliant state we claim we want. 

Where does this leave our so-called good citizen? We cannot fault our citizens for not understanding why they need to work for the so-called common good. We cannot fault our citizens for working to advance only their small self-serving networks based on families, tribes, ethnic origins, religious affiliations and economic interests at the expense of the country as a whole. That is the only model they know and can emulate.

The government really needs to wake up from its stupor and recognise how necessary it is for its multiple institutions to collaboratively work to inform, support, build and empower the citizens we need. The government really needs to stop undermining all political activity and action that at first instance appear to be in contradiction to its own narrow and short-term self-interest. 

In this shifting global and regional order around us, we cannot afford to stay on the old course and continue meddling on every level in order to stunt political maturity and participation. We need to shift gear and move towards full state actualisation based on partnership between both a good government and a good citizen.

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