The Common Good: a Result – not a “Principle”
The “common good” is a critical concept and – an aspirational result: “the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfillment more fully and more easily”. (CCC, 1906)
THE COMMON GOOD “CONSISTS OF THREE ESSENTIAL ELEMENTS”: (CCC, 1906)
1. “Respect for the person, as such” (CCC, 1907) (The Church goes on to insist on the obligation for public authorities to respect fundamental and inalienable rights);
2. The “social well-being and development of the group“. (CCC, 1908) (Calling this ‘development’ the epitome of all social duties – the Church asserts public authorities must “arbitrate…between various particular interests” to attain it);
3. “Peace“. (CCC, 1909) (The Church asserts the proper responsibility of public authorities to ensure the security of society – through morally acceptable means.)
THE COMMON GOOD IS FOR EVERYONE
The common good “is concerned with the interests of all” (Pope Leo XIII, 51) “without favoring any individual citizen or category of citizen.” (Pope St. John XXIII, 56) “[E]very single citizen has the right to share in it—although in different ways, depending on his tasks, merits and circumstances.” (Pope St. John XXIII, 56)
This means (presaging the Church’s preferential option for the poor) that “considerations of justice and equity can at times demand that those in power pay more attention to the weaker members of society, since these are at a disadvantage when it comes to defending their own rights and asserting their legitimate interests.” (Pope St. John XXIII, 56)
The common good consists of “respect for the person”, the “social well-being and development of the group”, and “peace”.
WHO IS RESPONSIBLE? ME!
The right to the common good also entails the responsibility of each person, according to his means and position in society, to participate “in promoting the common good…by taking charge of the areas for which one assumes personal responsibility”. (CCC, 1914) (And, it is in the “political community that the most complete realization [of the common good] is found”. (CCC, 1910)
WHO IS RESPONSIBLE? THE STATE!
The common good is not an end in itself; it is never sought “for its own sake, but for the people who belong to the social community and who can only really and effectively pursue their good within it”. (Pope Benedict XVI, 7) Indeed, “civil society exists for the common good” (Pope Leo XIII, 51) and “every civil authority must strive to promote the common good”. (Pope St. John XXIII, 56)
THE COMMON GOOD – IT’S ABOUT THE PERSON
“The common good, since it is intimately bound up with human nature, can never exist fully and completely unless the human person is taken into account at all times.” (Pope St. John XXIII, 55) However, the common good is never “simply the sum total of particular interests; rather it involves an assessment and integration of those interests on the basis of a balanced hierarchy of values; ultimately it demands a correct understanding of the dignity and the rights of the person.” (Pope St. John Paul II, 47)
The common good is not an end in itself.
The Church identifies the common good as the sum total of social conditions which allow people to reach their fulfillment. At times, this may require preferential treatment for individuals and groups. The common good must always be ordered to a correct balance of interests, never abrogating human dignity or the inalienable rights of man. Finally, the common good is most completely realized in and through the political sphere.
Three Key Principles
Catholic social teaching is built on three foundational principles - Human Dignity, Solidarity and Subsidiarity. Human Dignity, embodied in a correct understanding of the human person, is the greatest. The others flow from it. Good governments and good economic systems find ways of fostering the three principles.
This means a correct understanding of the human person and of each person’s unique value. All Catholic social teaching flows from this: the inherent dignity of every person that comes from being made in God’s image.
Solidarity is not “a feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of others. It is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good”. (Pope St. John Paul II, 38) Love of God and love of neighbor are, in fact, linked and form one, single commandment.
Subsidiarity “is a fundamental principle of social philosophy, fixed and unchangeable, that one should not withdraw from individuals and commit to the community what they can accomplish by their own enterprise and industry. So, too, it is an injustice and at the same time a grave evil and a disturbance of right order to transfer to the larger and higher collectivity functions which can be performed and provided for by the lesser and subordinate bodies”. (Pope Pius XI)
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