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The Commonwealth and the Commons

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CommonwealthAn earlier comment questioned my use of the word commonwealth as describing all those things Americans hold together—our public lands and resources, our defenses, our air and water, our government, and the list is long.  A commonwealth is described as “a community in which all have an interest.”

Though we are a capitalist economy which respects and protects private property, we also are a commonwealth of all those things in which we all have an interest.  A variation on this ancient notion is the commons.  That word describes not only the British parliamentary house of the people but it also, in early American terms, was the New England green, a common grazing area for everyone’s cattle and eventually a park and meeting place.

As some of my submissions suggest, I’ve always been puzzled by our efforts to leave a private legacy for our children while neglecting our public legacy, the character and quality of our commonwealth and its resources that we also leave to our children.

If a few of us are smart and fortunate, mostly fortunate, we leave large amounts of money, houses and land, maybe yachts and cars to our heirs.  But that private wealth is not worth much if our public resources have deteriorated or been plundered, our climate is warming, our rivers are polluted, or our education and health systems are in decline.  The transfer of massive private wealth does not ensure that our progeny will live in a better nation or world.

So, it seems to me we must all think about our public legacy, our commons and our commonwealth.  That is true of the United States, but in a shrinking world of globalization, information, and necessarily closer inter-national relations, a global commons is also emerging.  Climate and environment are universal.  Security and peaceful trade are of interest to all but the radical few.  International investments, student exchanges, and shared knowledge and research are among the many things the global community has a common interest.

Our leaders and policy makers would do well to focus on the American commonwealth, our public legacy, the global commons, and the “more perfect union … and blessings of liberty” we seek for ourselves “and our posterity.”

Posted from Senator Hart's new blog at Matters of Principle.