Critiquing assumptions on both the left and the right, noted historian of ideas and political theorist David Selbourne stresses the importance of shared community and civic duty.
How stable are free societies today? This book argues that they are under threat from "market free-choice" and "moral free-choice," two sides of the same coin which between them, the author warns, threaten to tear civil society apart. Market free-choice is the prevailing economic ideology that gives free reign to market forces, even when they ride roughshod over communities and whole nations. Moral free-choice, the other side of the coin, is the notion of individual rights without any sense of civic responsibility. The result of such ultra-individualism in economic and moral practice is the malaise we find ourselves in today: a lost sense of place, community, and belonging, as well as dismissiveness and unawareness of the lessons of the past.
In the wake of these destructive trends, this book reminds us that personal well-being is dependent in large part upon the maintenance of a coherent civic and moral order. A society consisting of isolated individuals focused solely on personal rights with no regard for the foundation of their freedoms will soon see that foundation crumble through neglect. By the same token, a society that routinely sacrifices equality of opportunity and economic fairness to the forces of the global marketplace creates dangerous tensions between the few haves and the many have-nots.
Reminding the reader of the aspirations and largely-forgotten writings of America's founding fathers, the book concludes by pointing to the principles of what the author calls the "true commonwealth" as an alternative to today's political, ethical, and social disorders.