Me and Sartre’s citizens

Despite being past the 65 landmark, I haven’t yet settled to just reminiscing or pottering about in the garden. I leave it to others to say whether I’m self-centred, but health and narrowly focused campaigns around me again seem to leave me having to choose my own projects existentialist style.

As I look around, I see democratic citizenship working differently in the 21st century from what theorists from Aristotle to date have imagined. Even when we are being patriotic, and/or participating in the community and being public-spirited, we’re constantly taking different positions on welfare, migration, capitalism and markets, security, women leaning in or leaning out, green energy, robots (and robot citizens?), gene editing, religious education, military power, ……., all shown by the societies or groups we join, the parties and candidates we vote for, the religions (and movements within religions) we adhere to, and indeed the careers we follow. In all these things we are acting socially, just as the citizenship enthusiasts say we do, and yet we still end up choosing what to believe in and how to find meaning in our lives. In a bizarre way, Sartre was right after all with his notion of ‘practical ensembles’ mixing freedom with social action. Sartre’s metaphysics may be rubbish, but his 1960s and 1970s theorizing works out as what we’re all doing now. Whether we’re protectionists trying to hold onto our (and our workmates) jobs, or charity workers trying to help dispossessed refugees, we’re all in those practical ensembles – having chosen which ones to join.

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