21st-Century Virtues

How They Are Failing Our Democracy

Monash University Publishing
Lucinda Holdforth
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Authenticity. Vulnerability. Humility. Transparency. These are some of the 21st-century virtues proselytised by mindset gurus, paraded (if not practised) by big corporations, and lauded by professionals on LinkedIn. The quest for authenticity, for example, is central to progressive campaigns for greater diversity and inclusion, while our political and business leaders are highest praised if they appear to be humble. But are Australia’s newest virtues fit for purpose?

In this provocative book, Lucinda Holdforth questions the new orthodoxy. She suggests that these virtues are not only unhelpfully subjective and self-referential but also, in the absence of broader civic values, fail to serve our democracy. This matters when experience around the world, especially in the United States, shows us that no democracy is guaranteed.

Holdforth reminds us that arguments for transparency and authenticity are routinely used by totalitarian regimes to justify ultra-nationalism, artistic censorship and population surveillance. Vulnerability may be a facet of the human condition but that is surely no reason to make it an aspiration. Well-meaning people may talk about the power of ‘my’ truth, but if pushed too far this risks a dissolution of agreed facts and shared reality, breaking down the decision-making processes essential to effective democracy.

If we agree that Australia needs confident, rational, optimistic and outward-looking citizens to shape our future, then Holdforth challenges us to reconsider the contemporary virtues shaping our society.

Contributor Bio

Lucinda Holdforth is a speechwriter and author. After time spent in the Foreign Affairs Department and the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, she worked for the Hawke–Keating Labor government up to 1996, including as speechwriter to deputy prime minister Kim Beazley. She has since worked with chairs and CEOs of top-twenty Australian companies, entrepreneurs and innovators, and not-for-profit organisations. She is the author of True Pleasures: A Memoir of Women in Paris (2004), Why Manners Matter (2008) and Leading Lines (2019). Holdforth regards the free play of speech and ideas as essential for democracy and shared progress.

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