We need to fundamentally revitalize the concept of the Good in politics to counterbalance our obsession with risks. Otherwise, a stoic ethic, imposed by grim world outlooks, will further complicate structural change. In the Netherlands, we have a famous saying that goes: “met mij gaat het goed, met ons slecht” (I am well, but we are not). This perfectly fits our long history of prosperity and grumbling national character. But this paradoxical state of a happy private life combined with a hopeless outlook on the world is well on its way to becoming the human condition of the West, perhaps even more deeply entrenched than the cynicism and nihilism of the postmodern 80s.
On a political-institutional level, we seem to be stumbling from crisis into crisis while academics, politicians, and intellectuals warn us against the real crisis looming ahead. The saying “in the midst of every crisis lies great opportunity” is only a pathetic way of apologizing for this terrible worldview that is so extremely preoccupied with risk management and resilience politics. Yet, at the same time, even though many people worry about the world, most of us (no, not everyone) seem to be dealing with it pretty well. This is because the good life has already been detached from public life. In the past two centuries, living standards have increased enormously and, step by step, the ideology of liberalism and individualism have privatized the Good Life, replacing communal and political values with private ones that sacralize everyday life (e.g. family, friends, fun). On the one hand, this now actually works as a shield – “let the world burn, I’m doing fine” – but, on the other hand, if we do not revitalize the ethics of the Good Life in our national political institutions, citizens in (rich) Western countries will further disengage from national and global issues.