Appraisal Special Issue, Spring 2020 The Common Good: An Introduction to Personalism
Introduction and Summary
Welcome to the first of two Special Book Review Issues of Appraisal. This one, you will, no doubt, already have realised, is dedicated to The Common Good: An Introduction to Personalism (Delaware/Malaga: Vernon Press, 2017) by Jonas Norgaard Mortensen. The second, which we hope to bring you later this year, will focus on Juan Manuel Burgos’ Introduction to Personalism (Washington: CUA Press, 2018). In the current issue, we bring you reviews by readers both academic and non-academic, and from around the globe. The academics include Grzegorz Holub, in Krakow, John Hofbauer in New York, and our very own David Treanor all the way down in Tasmania, where he remains unaffected by popular scepticism regarding the existence of Australia. As noted, we are also fortunate to have contributions from a few non-academic-but-interested parties, some of whom have studied philosophy and some of whom have simply come seeking enlightenment (and the best of British luck to them); they are, after all, Mortensen’s intended readership. First among those we are pleased to call ‘normal people’ are Teresita Pumará in Dusseldorf and David Jewson here in the UK. And last among our motley crew,1 we have those of us who are somewhere in between, neither one thing nor the other, doing what we can to stir up a little scholarly trouble on the sides. No need to mention names, we know who we are.
If all that were not enough, which it surely must be, our reviewers have been carefully chosen for their ability to offer a range of different perspectives. Some – and they, too, know who they are – are steeped like a two-cup teabag in the personalist tradition; others are relatively new to it, but evidently excited by their discovery; others still are new and, at best, cautious, perhaps even just a little hostile. While all the reviews will, we hope, be of considerable interest, this last class ought to be especially so. In the first place, those who seek to promote personalism, academically and otherwise, may regard these reviewers as indications of a failure to get the message out. Certainly, no one philosophical school or approach can hope to convince everyone; but there are, it seems, many who ought to be sympathetic to personalist ideas and yet are either sceptical or unaware of it. This, at the very least, seems a shame. That being said, we have a second reason for taking a special interest in the cautious, the sceptical, and the hostile. In these divided times, those reviewers also represent an important challenge to continue thinking and rethinking personalist philosophy. Those working within the tradition must consider serious criticism and then clarify, even, where necessary, revise their ideas, thereby strengthening them. In many ways, that is, thinkers such as Lucy Weir and Teresita Pumará, who are willing to vigorously and honestly critique personalism may well be the personalist’s greatest allies.
Finally, alongside the thoughtful and probing discussions that you will find herein, we had intended to bring you a similarly thoughtful, probing response from the author, Jonas Norgaard Mortensen. Sadly, the fates have intervened to put the cheese on the breakfast table good and proper. Readers with a curiosity about causality may be interested to know that, instead of providing the hoped-for response, Mortensen has taken the extraordinary step of moving to Rwanda. What’s more, in explaining his decision, he talked of great challenges and next phases of life etc., just as though we of the BPF and you, our readers, were not the sole object of all his thoughts and the motivation for all his actions. And, as one would expect, there was also a sincere apology to our readers. As far as I know, this is the first time a contributor to our journal has moved to a former war zone, traumatized by a genocide that was largely ignored by the West, and continues somewhat unstable to this day, in order to avoid an assignment. Naturally, however, while we wonder at the state of his reason, we at the British Personalist Forum wish our friend the very best of luck for the future. For present, I have taken the liberty of attempting to fill the gap left by his departure by with a discussion of some key issues as raised by those contributors who chose not to move to Africa.
Notes 1. Not to be confused with the 80s spandex-and-soft-perm cock-rockers, Mötley Crüe.
Summary of The Common Good: An Introduction to Personalism by Jonas Norgaard Mortensen
Our traditional ways of thinking about politics and society are becoming obsolete. We need some new points of reference in order to re-imagine the possible character, growth, and functioning of our private and common life. Such re-imagination would imply doing away with every-man-for-himself individualism as well as consumption-makes-me-happy materialism and the-state-will-take-care-of-it passivity.
There is an alternative: Personalism is a forgotten, yet golden perspective on humanity that seeks to describe what a human being is and to then draw the social consequences. Personalism builds upon the thinking of Martin Buber and Emmanuel Levinas, among others, and has been a source of inspiration for Martin Luther King, Desmond Tutu, and other important personalities in recent history. According to personalism, humans are relational and engaged and possess dignity. The person and the relationship amongst persons are the universal point of departure: Human beings have inherent dignity, and good relationships amongst humans are crucial for the good, engaged life and for a good society. Personalism has been greatly neglected in Western political thought. In this book, Jonas Norgaard Mortensen attempts to introduce personalism while simultaneously demonstrating its historical origins, acquainting the reader with its thinkers and those who have practiced it, and showing that personalism has a highly relevant contribution to make in the debate about today’s social and political developments.