On February 10th 2022 we were delighted to officially launch Publica in Sydney with special guest panellists Rev. Stu Cameron, CEO Wesley Mission, and Dr Kate Harrison Brennan, head of policy at the Paul Ramsay Foundation.
It was a fantastic event filled with positive discussion surrounding key issues and audience questions. If you missed the event, why not catch up via the video below.
REFLECTIONS ON THE LAUNCH OF PUBLICA
In attendance at the launch were also David Furse-Roberts and Margaret Chambers who kindly share their reflections below.
Members of One Another: Publica’s Vision for the Good Society
It is one of the great ironies of our age that we have never been more connected, yet in so many ways, never more disconnected. With the miracle of social media, we are able to touch base with countless friends and contacts at the tap of an iPhone, yet to catch up for even a voice call can seem like a quaint past-time.
For many of us, our social networks have become a mile-wide but only an inch-deep, leaving us parched of the living waters that should be the essence of our human existence. With its manifold benefits, social media is of course here to stay but it is no substitute for the person-to-person relationships and communities essential for thriving individuals and flourishing societies.
It is into this human need for relationship and community that Publica will be a welcome voice and advocate. On 17 February 2021, this new policy think tank was launched with the mission to build strong families and communities where people care for one another.
Christian in inspiration yet secular in orientation, Publica draws on the Christian model of human relationships to commend this to people of all faiths or none in our society. Publica believes that the Apostle Paul’s conception of people ‘as members of one another’ has something to offer to our society in its hunger for human connection and purpose beyond the ‘self’.
Focussing on nourishing what the eighteenth-century statesman, Edmund Burke, described as society’s ‘little platoons’ of families, voluntary associations, clubs and local communities, Publica has a vision to strengthen families and enrich the social fabric. Taking the family as the basic unit of society, Publica is about making it possible for more of our children to grow up in the safe, stable and nurturing families they deserve. As children grow into responsible adults, Publica is about ensuring that such adults, whether single or married, can engage and integrate into communities of all kinds to counter the scourge of loneliness and isolation.
While acknowledging that governments have a strategic part to play in providing a universal, social safety net, Publica believes that local churches and community organisations are better placed to devise creative, personalised solutions to family disintegration, loneliness and poverty. To this end, churches and other voluntary associations can be mobilised to care for those in need and to build friendships and community. Publica’s aim is to help such bodies come up with innovative and relational ways forward.
Observing the rising tide of selfish individualism in his twilight years, Sir Robert Menzies recalled that: ‘it was the Apostle Paul who said that “we are all member of one another”…It means that no man lives to himself, that every man who lives in a community is a member of that community’. Almost half a century after Australia’s longest-serving Prime Minister uttered those words in 1974, Publica is dedicated to realising this timeless ideal of the good society for 2022 and beyond.
Individual Loneliness: The Timeliness of Publica
As I returned to the university campus for the first time in almost two years, I boarded a nearly silent express train, packed full of people, heading into a city which only just feels like it’s beginning to breathe.
I belong to the loneliest age group.
Research conducted throughout 2020 on behalf of the Uniting Communities in South Australia found that the 18-24 age group was the loneliest of all. As I wander around my city, I notice signs that read, “Welcome back, Melbourne!” Yet, even as the city reopens, it is obvious that the problem seeps deeper: endemic loneliness outlives the pandemic.
At the Publica Launch last month in Sydney, Dr Kate Harrison Brennan spoke of the incredible romanticisation of place within Australian society. We celebrate it, take photos of it, sit in it, boast about it.
But space doesn’t make relationships; people do.
As people, we are all relational beings. We all possess an intrinsic yearning for human connection and relationship – it is fundamental to who we are.
The Ancient Greeks understood man to have a telos, a fixed and unalterable end inherent in nature towards which all things progress. Our telos is evident in our nature; we are truly social creatures that seek relationship wherever we go. We are born into families, we delight in our friendships, we build relationships and communities in which we love and live. It is only within relationship with other people that we achieve our telos and truly flourish as people.
Despite our inherently social nature, a 2021 survey commissioned by Telstra found that nearly one in four Australians feel as though they don’t have people they can regularly talk with or turn to, while nearly a third say they never, or rarely, feel close to people. Such an alarmingly high statistic points to a profound intimacy problem facing Australians, young and old. So, how did we get here?
Well, part of living in Australia means living in a society that defends and enshrines the unfettered and autonomous choice of the individual as sacred above all. Under political liberalism, not merely politics, but our lives too, are to be based on the unconstrained and autonomous choice of the individual.
Under such a system, our relationships and social interactions are reinterpreted as matters of consent, and the individual, not the family or the community, is championed as the key actor in society. As Patrick Deneen writes in Why Liberalism Failed, our marriages are increasingly reduced to a set of arrangements designed not to protect the marriage, but rather, the autonomy of the individual. Birth-rates decline as children are increasingly seen as an impediment to individual choice. As people under liberalism are increasingly taught to privilege ourselves, we reject our very nature as social, relational beings. Consequently, our societies suffer from a multitude of social problems.
On campus, I walk past young people, eating lunch, earphones in. They sit, alone on tables meant for four, staring down at their phones. To borrow other ancient words, it is not good, nor has it even been good, for man to be alone.
The work of Publica, to remember and to celebrate relationships in a lonely society, has come at a perfect time.