Decalogue of the Good Citizen: Citizenship and the Common Interest in the 21st Century

Lucía Méndez and Víctor Lapuente

The Rafael del Pino Foundation organised, on 2 February 2021, the live dialogue through entitled "Decalogue of the good citizen: Citizenship and common interest in the 21st century" in which Lucía Méndez and Víctor Lapuente participated.

Lucía Méndez, Graduate in Information Sciences from the Complutense University of Madrid. Editor-in-chief and columnist for EL MUNDO, the newspaper where she has worked since its foundation. Previously with El Norte de Castilla, the SER network and Diario 16. Contributor and analyst on Hoy por Hoy on the Ser network, Los Desayunos on TVE and various news programmes on La Sexta. Author of three books, "El poder es cosa de hombres", "Duelo de titanes" and "Morder la bala".

Víctor Lapuente, Professor at the University of Gothenburg (Sweden) and visiting professor at Esade (Spain). PhD in Political Science from Oxford University (UK). He is a columnist for 'El País' and a contributor to Cadena SER. He is the author of 'Organizando el Leviatán. Why the balance between politicians and bureaucrats improves governments' (Deusto, 2018) and 'The return of the shamans' (Península, 2015).


On 2 February 2021, the Rafael del Pino Foundation organised an online dialogue with Víctor Lapuente, Professor at the University of Gothenburg and visiting professor at Esade, on the topic "Decalogue of the good citizen: Citizenship and common interest in the 21st century", on the occasion of the publication of the book of the same title of which he is the author.

According to Víctor Lapuente, the problem we are experiencing today is a drunkenness of narcissism, of individualism, which leads each political camp (right and left) to accuse the other of being responsible for the problems. The responsibility for what has happened in recent decades, however, is joint, both on the right and on the left. The polarisation we are seeing today has a lot to do with the dominant individualism in society, with the changes that have taken place on the left and on the right.

The right has gone from the Christian Democrat politicians who built Europe after the Second World War to today's opportunistic politicians who, instead of taking pride in building the public, take pride in not paying taxes, Lapuente points out. There are many thinkers who gave wings to this right-wing individualism.

Less talked about is the individualism of the left, which we see in all Western democracies from the 1960s onwards. At that time, progressive thinkers defended the idea that the homeland is an unfinished community that demands sacrifices and duties from us. Now the left merely offers rights without accompanying duties. Thus, the right has "killed God", which gave a moral code to right-wing politicians, and the left has "killed the homeland", which has created citizens who feel lonely. This has led to the paradox that, during the pandemic, we are seeing an increase in social unrest, even though we are at the most prosperous time in history.

The moment when the Western left stopped calling for compulsory military service and efforts for the fatherland, because of the Vietnam War, coincided with the transition in Spain, making it very difficult for it to promote the idea of fatherland. Now, some Nordic countries are once again calling for the sacrifice of boys and girls when they come of age, with military service and civilian service, but the Spanish left is not talking about that, but about Piketty's proposals for universal income rights. This idea is profitable and gives votes in the short term.

The basic problem is an annoying and uncomfortable truth for many, which we detect in the great works of art of humanity, and it is the idea that power has a sinister and invisible side. We must be very careful with the human tendency to deify ourselves, especially those in power. At some point in history, someone invented the idea of god as an antidote to this deification of humans, of religious and political leaders. The healthy concept of god is that no individual in society creates a god for himself. It is the basis of American democracy. It is fundamental to that great social equaliser, which allows no one to be above anyone else. Societies have advanced when individuals have shared a widespread belief in a deity or in a civic idea such as the homeland.

Moreover, what differentiates us humans from animals is that we have an innate need to seek meaning in life. If we do not fill it with a transcendent god, we seek to fill that need in politics, with revolutions like the French revolution or the recent storming of the Capitol in Washington. In doing so, we have turned the political struggle into a religious struggle, rather than a pragmatic, desacralised space. We must therefore find, at the individual level, a transcendental ideal, so as not to be orphaned of identity and to avoid being seduced by populists or extremists.

Psychologists say that we have increased our level of narcissism by 30%. This is instilled in us from school with the idea of empowerment. This has a sinister flip side, which is that when we don't get what we want, it must be someone else's fault, which encourages victimhood. But if our plans go well, then we will want more and more, thinking about controlling things that are out of our reach, that only partially depend on us. We pay inordinate attention to these goals and do not focus on the things we can control, such as attitudes, abilities or feelings. There are things we cannot control, such as health, money or love. Narcissism leads us to devote more and more effort to these things and leads to frustration.

In the international financial crisis, a good diagnosis was made, questioning the slogan that greed is good. However, when it came to solving this moral problem, nobody put on the table the need to transform ourselves as individuals. There was talk of reforming institutions, but this leads nowhere if we do not reinvent capitalism. We can all do a lot, workers and executives, with measures such as transparency of salaries, so that the top executive does not earn more than twelve times the salary of a worker, as in Switzerland. To tackle a problem as complex as inequality we need policies, but we will achieve nothing without moral change.

Right-wing postulates criticise the "do-gooderism" and from the left are labelled as "faças" when someone mentions certain moral values that are fundamental. In other countries, however, they are beginning to rescue these things. Development and progress depend on having good institutions, but more and more dissenting voices indicate that it also depends on values. The importance of a collective ethic in driving societies forward is very important. There are two sets of core values: courage and temperance, prudence and justice, these four values that compensate for each other, but they are not enough. We also need the concurrence of a set of values that we associate with Christian values, which are love, faith and hope. In order to try to improve as people we need to know these virtues and balance them, but we need this reflection because nowadays social networks reward the opposite. The algorithms of social networks trap us continuously, so social networks are catalysts of a deeper problem of values, which has to do with individualism. They are selling us what we want, feeding our egos, our addiction to fame. Silicon Valley companies are feeding it, but the problem comes from deep down.

Decadence does not necessarily imply the collapse of a civilisation, but can be a slow process. But moral corruption, greed and lust are always present in the processes of decadence, especially among the ruling elites, with their lack of exemplarity, because they act as a mirror in which society looks at itself. This is what is worrying, because we are in a process from which it is difficult to escape. We see how politicians are looking for votes, attacking their rivals in the most opportunistic and amoral way possible.

If we look at Western countries, we see a dual reaction from citizens. Some have understood well the constraints of governments and feel that they are part of the community, thus increasing levels of trust in governments. This is the case in Sweden and the Netherlands. In other countries, such as Spain, the opposite has happened. The underlying problem is individualism and narcissism, which has left us orphaned of identity. In this situation, people are easy prey for political opportunists, because they feed their narcissism. This has contributed to the tribalisation of societies. The pandemic has taken place in more polarised societies, making it much more difficult to find a solution. An equivalent to the Moncloa Pacts is increasingly implausible in today's Spain.

Embrace uncertainty is a fundamental lesson, from the Stoics to Adam Smith and beyond. It seems that not being in complete control of your life weakens you, but in reality it frees you from the enormous burden of having to constantly plan your life. Understanding that plans are not fulfilled frustrates, and, if they are fulfilled, it also frustrates because we want more. So embrace uncertainty.

Many people embrace new technologies thinking that they will make us better, but they don't realise that we lose the virtue of human interaction. A lot of great ideas have to do with that interaction. Human beings are social beings, which allows us to be creative if we work in teams. That is a recognition of the strength of human beings as a whole, but also that we must be humble.

The Rafael del Pino Foundation is not responsible for the comments, opinions or statements made by the people who participate in its activities and which are expressed as a result of their inalienable right to freedom of expression and under their sole responsibility. The contents included in the summary of this conference, written for the Rafael del Pino Foundation by Professor Emilio González, are the result of the debates held at the meeting held for this purpose at the Foundation and are the responsibility of the authors.

The Rafael del Pino Foundation is not responsible for any comments, opinions or statements made by third parties. In this respect, the FRP is not obliged to monitor the views expressed by such third parties who participate in its activities and which are expressed as a result of their inalienable right to freedom of expression and under their own responsibility. The contents included in the summary of this conference, written for the Rafael del Pino Foundation by Professor Emilio J. González, are the result of the discussions that took place during the conference organised for this purpose at the Foundation and are the sole responsibility of its authors.