ABSTRACT

This book has attempted to engage with the sense of ethical unease that has begun to permeate many modern democratic societies during the course of the last decade. My argument has proceeded on the basis of a disquieting question: what if moral and religious confl icts and the insecurity, uncertainty and fear they breed are enduring features of public life that will not pass away? In response to that question, I have attempted to identify, elaborate and defend an interpretation of the practice of civic virtue that makes sense even in conditions of perpetual confl icts of ethical aspiration and chronic uncertainty. Indeed, the practice of civic virtue I have described is actually one that thrives in such conditions, for it is fundamentally preventive in its orientation. Instead of seeking virtue in those habits, dispositions and qualities of character that express commitment to the pursuit of goodness, I have suggested that we should look instead to those habits, dispositions and qualities that express commitment to the prevention of sovereign evil. I argued that it is possible to see this sort of preventive civic ethic at work in the case of postwar austerity Britain, and I sought to elaborate the idea by articulating and defending the core preventive virtue of justice, and closely associated habits of civic friendship and social hope.