What is Just?

People First Politics: Something to Get Excited About

“To be human is to engage in relationships with others and with the world.” Paulo Freire[1]

Recently I have been thinking about something I call “People First Politics”. I’m pretty excited about it.

People First Politics is a name I came up with, but the ideas behind it have a long and noble heritage. (You can read more about this here.) It is based in the notion that politics and the economy exist for the sake of people and their flourishing, not the other way around.

I use the term flourishing here to refer to situations that allow human beings to develop their full human potential.

Paulo Freire argues that humans are relational in nature. He writes, “To be human is to engage in relationships with others and with the world. It is to experience that world as an objective reality, independent of oneself, capable of being known. . .man’s separateness from and openness to the world distinguishes him as a being of relationships.”[2]

We are creatures of relationship.

As such, our vocation (our purpose and calling) is to create a world that further strengthens our relationship-building capacity. This entails creating a world that supports, among other things, care, compassion, respect, creativity, reason, and dialogue.

Thus, our political life must support these human capacities, too. This is necessary because politics are for the sake of people, not the other way around. Our politics must help us become more human together. That is the main idea behind People First Politics.

Here our ten key ideas guiding People First Politics.

One: Our purpose is become fully human.

There is a difference between being a human being biologically and being fully human. Becoming fully human is the process of humanization. We become fully human by developing all our positive human capacities like love, respect, compassion, creativity, and wisdom, to name a few. These capacities are especially important, first, because they allow us to continue to develop our potential. In addition, they also allow us to build greater creative and playful unities with everyone and everything around us.

Becoming fully human is our calling. And we must create private and public lives that help us become fully human.

Two: We can only become fully human together, and this necessitates dialogue.

Every person has a unique view of the world. Thus, if we are to pursue humanization, we must be willing to dialogue with everyone else committed to humanization. And no single human being represents all of humanity, and so we need each other to achieve humanization.

Three: There are people all along the political spectrum committed to People First Politics. They are our allies.

People approach politics differently because they see the world differently. There are some people who pursue dehumanization, which is mainly marked by control relationships. These people are not our allies, and we should not tolerate their words and actions.

On the other hand, there are people all along the political spectrum who are committed to humanization. They are our allies. So, the question is not whether people are Democrats or Republicans (or Marxists, socialists, conservatives, or libertarians, as another example). The question is whether they are committed to humanization and whether they are willing to work with other people to gain a clear idea of what humanization is. (Because no one has it all figured out yet.)

Four: Practicing People First Politics well requires the virtues of critical reflection, love, compassion, playfulness, courage, and hope.

Pursuing humanization is hard work because no one knows exactly what being fully human looks like or how to get there. Because of this, we must consistently practice character habits that help us find our allies all along the political spectrum and develop humanizing relationships with them.

We must also develop character habits that allow us to persist when things get hard, as they inevitably do. Some of the best character habits that enable us to do this are virtues like critical reflection, love, compassion, playfulness, courage, and hope.

Five: Our political growth comes from listening to the marginalized.

One of the best ways to pursue humanization is to actively seek out and listen to people who suffer dehumanization and oppression in our current culture. They often have the best insight into how we can make our society a more humanizing place.

Six: The economy exists for the sake of people and their flourishing, not the other way around.

The goal of our economy is not to make as much money as possible, no matter what it takes. The goal of our economy is to help people flourish and become more fully human. Therefore, the most important question is not whether an economy is capitalistic, socialist, Marxist, or whatever. The question is what economy best serves people and their flourishing.

We should be willing to critically reflect on our biases about this issue.

Seven: The question is not whether a practice or policy is Democratic or Republican (or socialist or libertarian). Rather, the question is whether the practice or policy prioritizes people and their flourishing.

The same is true with political policies. The most important question is not whether a practice or policy is Democratic, Republican, or something else. The most important question is what practice or policy supports human flourishing.

We should be willing to critically reflect on our biases about this issue.

Eight: People First Politics also protects nature and the environment.

The Earth is our original parent, and humans can only flourish on a healthy, respected, thriving Earth. In addition, People First Politics recognizes that just as humans bring a unique good into the world, so does everything in nature. Humans and Nature are meant to exist in cooperation, not in relationships of domination and degradation.

Nine: People First Politics joyfully dismisses partisan and dehumanizing politics.

Partisan and dehumanizing politics are a dead-end. And because we are relational beings, they are also destructive to the human spirit. And therefore, we should reject them. Granted, it can sometimes be difficult to determine what exactly counts for partisan and dehumanizing politics. But we should at least care and try to do so.

We must be willing to acknowledge that we, ourselves, may unwittingly engage in such behavior. And we should also be open to the fact that people with whom we disagree may have things to teach us on this subject.

Ten: We are far more powerful and capable of beautiful things than we can ever imagine, and this calls for hope and courage.  

Human history is marked by progress after progress. We have invented amazing things, cured horrible diseases, and made incredible humanitarian progress. We can do many more amazing things together. Hope and courage will get us there.



[1] Freire, Paulo. Education for Critical Consciousness., pg. 4.

[2] Ibid.

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