The Common Good

 

Is For All

Respects the Human Person

Peace

The Sole Reason for Government

Promotes Development

A Result, Not A Principle

The “common good” is a critical concept. It as 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”. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1906)

The common good “consists of three essential elements

  • “Respect for the person, as such”. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1907) The Church goes on to cite the obligation for public authorities to respect fundamental and inalienable rights.
  • The “social well-being and development of the group”. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1908) The Church goes on to call ‘development’ the epitome of all social duties and insists public authorities “arbitrate…between various particular interests” to attain it.
  • Peace (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1909) The Church notes the proper responsibility of public authorities to ensure the security of society, through morally acceptable means.

It is the Sole Reason for the Existence of Governments

“The political community exists…for the sake of the common good, in which it finds its full justification and significance, and the source of its inherent legitimacy”

Gaudium et Spes, 74

Applies to Future Generations

“The notion of the common good also extends to future generations…Once we start to think about the kind of world we are leaving to future generations, we look at things differently; we realize that the world is a gift which we have freely received and must share with others…Intergenerational solidarity is not optional, but rather a basic question of justice, since the world we have received also belongs to those who will follow us.” (Pope Francis, 159)

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“An integral ecology is inseparable from the notion of the common good, a central and unifying principle of social ethics. The common good is ‘the sum of those conditions of social life which allow social groups and their individual members relatively thorough and ready access to their own fulfilment.” (Pope Francis, 156)

“The global economic crises have made painfully obvious the detrimental effects of disregarding our common destiny, which cannot exclude those who come after us. We can no longer speak of sustainable development apart from intergenerational solidarity …Since the world has been given to us, we can no longer view reality in a purely utilitarian way, in which efficiency and productivity are entirely geared to our individual benefit.” (Pope Francis, 159)

Not An End In Itself

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 is Also Spiritual

“Social and psychological alienation and the many neuroses that afflict affluent societies are attributable in part to spiritual factors…​
There cannot be holistic development and universal common good unless people’s spiritual and moral welfare is taken into account”.

(Pope Benedict XVI, 76)

In Summary

The common good is not “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)

Indeed, “[t]he 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)

“The notion of the common good also extends to future generations…” (Pope Francis, 159)

FAQs

Q: To whom does the common good apply?

A: The common good “is concerned with the interests of all” (Pope Leo XIII, 51) “without favoring any individual citizen or category of citizen.” “[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)

Pope Francis has also made it clear that the common good applies to future generations. (Laudato Si, 159)

Q: Does the common good entail a responsibility of each individual?

A: Yes! 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​”. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1914) And, it is in the “​political community​ that the most complete realization [of the common good] is found”. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1910)

Q: Is the common good simply the sum total of individual interests?

A: No. The common good “involves an assessment and integration of these 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)

Indeed, “[t]he 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)

Human Dignity

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. This is “the basis not only of the unity of the human family but also of our inviolable human dignity” (Pope Benedict XVI) and it is in this beginning that human rights are grounded.

Solidarity

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. “We cannot believe in God the Father without seeing a brother or sister in every person, and we cannot follow Jesus without giving our lives for those for whom he died on the cross.” (Pope Francis)

Subsidiarity

Subsidiarity identifies how decisions in society need to be taken at the lowest competent level. “It 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, 79)

Three Key Principles

Catholic social teaching is built on three foundational principles - Human DignitySolidarity 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: “The State must contribute to the achievement of these goals both directly and indirectly. Indirectly and according to the principle of subsidiarityby creating favorable conditions for the free exercise of economic activity, which will lead to abundant opportunities for employment and sources of wealth. Directly and according to the principle of solidarityby defending the weakest” (Pope St. John Paul II, 15)

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