Reflections on Citizenship and a Just Society

December 10, 2014

To the Georgetown University Community

Ladies and Gentlemen:

Recent events in our country have brought frustration and sadness, anger and despair, as grand juries in two different American cities have shined a bright light on the enduring fault line of our Republic—the persistent legacy of segregation, discrimination, inequality: of injustice. The fabric that we think of as America seems to be fraying.

As Fr. Pedro Arrupe, S.J., the 28th Superior General of the Society of Jesus, reminds us, “to be just, it is not enough to refrain from injustice.” A just society requires that its members accept responsibilities for one another; that we are prepared to take care of one another; that we are prepared to sacrifice for one another. To accept the responsibilities that come with membership—with citizenship—requires trust: trust in the ideas and institutions that enable us to make our faith come alive; trust in one another and ourselves to balance individual interests within this larger civic context.

Citizenship—participation in a just society—then, is predicated on more than the rule of law, on more than the privileges and rights bestowed through membership in a particular political order. It assumes a commitment to a common shared project—a civic project that entails a sense of belonging to something bigger than any one of us: the idea that together it is possible to build a commonweal. This possibility is predicated on the conviction that we are connected to one another by something deeper than transactions, economic or otherwise. Responsible participation in a just society presumes a deep belief that we can only realize our own promise and potential as individuals through our shared commitment to such a common project.

On other occasions, I have written to you encouraging civility in discourse and in our interactions with one another. The events of these past months reveal that much more is required. We need to engage in the work of rebuilding our commonweal; we need to reexamine our commitments to one another; we need to identify concrete projects through which, together, we can build for the common good—projects that will enable us to rebuild trust in one another and to justify belief in the principles on which our American democracy was founded.

Georgetown provides a shared space for this work for the common good. We are a community of diversity, of extraordinary talents, with a history of emphasizing social justice. Here, while safely confronting our doubts and fears, our frustrations and anger, we can, together, embrace the work of restoring the fraying fabric of this country.

We will be bringing our semester to a close in the coming days. In less than a month we will be back to begin our Spring term. Let us use the time during this coming holy season to reflect on the experiences of these past months and to consider again the responsibilities of citizenship—the bonds we share with one another. And when we return, let us commit ourselves to continuing these conversations and dialogue and engage in the work of restoring the faith and trust necessary for realizing our promise as a people.


John J. DeGioia