Social Humanism

Photo of Brian EllisSocial Humanism is both a moral and a political philosophy. As a moral philosophy it is the required foundation for the full spectrum of human rights, including those that are now called entitlements. Politically it is the required foundation for social democracy, and therefore the kind of theory that is needed as a founding narrative by social democrats the world over.

There are two important species of humanism—social and liberal. Liberal humanism is the form of humanistic thought that emerged and gained wide currency in the Enlightenment. Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man was probably the most influential humanist manifesto of the time. But Enlightenment political philosophy was fundamentally liberationist. The American settlers sought liberation from Britain. The French revolutionaries sought liberation from their aristocratic rulers. So freedom and autonomy were among the dominant values of the era, and these values were naturally incorporated into Thomas Paine’s writings, and into the constitutions of these newly emerging societies. These aims are certainly compatible with social humanism. But social humanism is also fundamentally concerned with the promotion of social equality and human and animal wellbeing. It does not see itself as just a liberation philosophy; it is much more constructive than that. The role for government that is envisaged by social humanists is not only to protect the society and its institutions from corruption, but also to ensure that adequate provision is made for the safety, shelter, health, welfare and education of all of its citizens, in so far as this is economically feasible.

Brian Ellis

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