Do we claim our dignity by a raw and competitive assertion of power, or do we find possibilities of reciprocally acknowledging each other? Does the energy of our democracy only serve to disguise its significant deficits? Is representative government the same as responsive government? How do we begin to conceptualise the idea of the rule of law when we think of so many criminals wielding the reins of power? Does diversity mean a proliferation of many collective narcissisms or the freedom of each individual to make what they can and will of themselves? Our economic dynamism will have some impact on poverty, but how will we negotiate the immense challenge of economic transformation that lies before us? If we are a force for world peace, do we want to buy into a doctrine of great power exceptionalism, concerned principally with its own power?
The basic questions that confront any society are always difficult and confusing. Yet instead of energising the debate, generating new governing ideas or lines of contention, the challenges posed by these questions are generating an almost anaemic response. To be sure, we daily experience a chaos of names, labels, programmes, assertions. Many parties and movements seem to like the banner of conflicting ideals, and some even have worthy causes attached to them. But more often than not, the public thinks all that is going on under the flag of ideals is a venal battle of conflicting interests; the truth of this perception is less consequential than the fact that this sentiment has wide currency. Some cause may energise this or that group for sporadic action, but none is able to mobilise or sustain our moral energies.