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The Listening Society

Contribution to the Symposium ‘The Art of Listening. De-accelerating Our Way of Life’ At the University of Humanistic Studies, Utrecht January 30th, 2019.

Introduction 
In this paper, I want to explore and to defend two claims: A) That political democracy can only thrive and prosper if it centers around a conception, or competing conceptions, of the common good, and B) that in the age of ethical pluralism such a conception cannot be substantially fixed. Instead, the most promising conception of the common good lies in the idea of a society that is capable and willing to make the art of listening and answering the dominant mode of its political operation, or of its relating to the world. Hence, the common good is realized when a society’s dominant mode of social, spatial and temporal existence can be described as a mode of listening and answering a) to its citizens, b) to its history, c) to its surrounding nature and d) to those groups or formations that are experienced as ‘others’. Thereby, the mode of listening and answering is not supposed to delineate a state of harmony or unity, but includes forms of contestation and dissonance by conceptual necessity.

The common good as a way of relating to the world
In my view, the reason why the democratic ideal has been able to develop such mass, almost universal, power is that democracy delivers the promise of a very specific way of being in the world. This promise is based on the concept that everyone should be given a voice that enables them to be heard and to contribute. Yet it is not enough for this voice just to be heard; democracy only becomes attractive when people believe their voices can actually be effective.

Hartmut Rosa

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