I was musing about what criteria you’d need to fulfill to call a society truly civilised. Here’s my starter list.
Equality under the rule of law
This means guaranteeing rights for all, regardless of sex, race, sexual orientation, religion etc. But it’s not just about protecting the traditionally disadvantaged; it also means that those traditionally above the law are no longer unaccountable, so no more special privileges for the rich, the titled, the freemasons, friends of MPs etc.
Total separation of religion and state
Religion is a private matter and, of course, everyone should be absolutely free to privately follow whatever religion they want. No religion should be favoured or protected by the State. The State should not fund any religious schools. No-one should have any part in any legislative or judicial process simply because they have a role in a religious organisation (so, for example, Church of England bishops should no longer have an automatic right to a seat in the House of Lords). Religion should not be taught as fact in schools (understanding comparative religions is an important part of citizenship.)
Education and medical care should be free at the point of delivery
Because that’s obvious. Education empowers people, and that is the ultimate aim of a civilised society. It’s also a prudent economic investment for the future. I feel strongly about this; the only way I was able to go to University is because my tuition fees were paid by the taxpayers, and I had a full grant (of about £2000 annually, if I recall correctly) that helped me pay my living expenses. Because of my university education, I have a higher earning potential so I now pay more tax.
Denying someone medical care because they don’t have money is antithetical to civilised society.
Abolition of all hereditary titles and privileges
This includes all aristocratic titles, and monarchy.
1% of GDP reserved for foreign aid and overseas development
I’ve plucked the figure of 1% out of the air. This applies only to wealthy, developed countries, of course. For the less well-off countries like Pakistan and India, they should abolish stupid nuclear weapons programmes in order to feed all their citizens (and receive no outside aid until they do).
Abolition of the death penalty
Because “killing someone is so bad, if you do it, we’ll kill you” is a logical absurdity. It’s also immoral.
Penalties for corruption by public officials should be double that for public
A member of the police, a judge, or an MP who commits a crime connected with their office should receive double the punishment that a member of the public would receive. (Linda rightly points out that this seems incompatible with the earlier “Equality under the rule of law”, but it’s because the crime is greater when committed by someone in a heightened position of trust.)
Legal programs for assisted dying
With proper safeguards, of course. (I have no idea what those safeguards would be.)
Freedom of expression
Anyone should be allowed to say anything as long as it doesn’t incite violence. The law shouldn’t be able to censor someone just because they hurt someone else’s feelings (see my post Should My Tram Experience woman be arrested?). Freedom of the press is vital, with necessary safeguards for protecting privacy: if Dwayne Footballer is shagging Jordan Boobmodel, there is no justification for invading their privacy and running such a story. Just because some prurient anecdote might interest some of the public, it doesn’t mean it’s in the public interest to run the story.
The aim of government isn’t to “rule”; it is to competently and transparently administer a nation to ensure all citizens have equal opportunities by ensuring laws and regulation protect all citizens, and to redistribute wealth to ensure everyone has adequate food, medical care, shelter and education so they can participate in society.
What have I missed or got wrong? And does any society exist?