The public interest. The public good. The common good. All these terms describe ways of thinking about our collective selves and our shared interests that transcend our memberships of such groups as families, teams, and workplaces that typically inform our understanding of who we are and pattern our expectations and experience of the social world. Whereas groups such as these are ‘concrete’ in the sense that we interact with many of the members of these groups, know the group’s defining features, and can recognise exemplary members, the community of individual citizens to whom concepts like the public good apply is more abstract. Indeed, we know such communities not through direct face-to- face interaction with their members but rather indirectly, through our imaginations. It is not for nothing that Benedict Anderson (1983) described such collective, temporally continuous entities as ‘imagined communities’.
In this article, I explore the idea that certain of our current cultural ideals and practices may be inimical to our ability to imagine and experience ourselves as members of these imagined, enduring communities. In particular, I explore the idea that in our prevailing culture of flux, impermanence, and uncertainty, characterised by Bauman (2012) as ‘liquid’ modernity, we have fallen out of the habit of thinking about our ourselves as members of an imagined community of citizens with common interests who act with collective purpose in the service of these interests. Given that the type of imagined community necessary to overcome the kinds of problems that deform the public good is precisely the type of collective identity that is neither valorised nor cultivated in liquid modernity, we find ourselves less capable of acting in concert with one another to enhance the public good than we ideally should be. Notwithstanding this state of affairs, it affords us an opportunity to re-imagine the common good and to enact, entrench and expand the practice of leadership in its service.