Thursday, October 26, 2006

What "common good"?

Earlier this month, we told you how Democrats plan to use the phrase “the common good” as a way to describe liberal values and reach religious voters who rejected Democrats in the 2004 election. To help you understand the Catholic Church’s use of that term, we refer you to the website of the Office for Social Justice of the Diocese of Minneapolis and St. Paul, which offers Answers to 25 Questions about Catholic Social Teaching here.
10. Can you explain what is meant by the common good?

This term is often invoked in CST [Catholic Social Teaching]. Perhaps the most commonly cited explanation is John XXIII’s succinct description of the common good as “the sum total of conditions of social living, whereby persons are enabled more fully and readily to achieve their own perfection” (Mater et Magistra, #65). For CST the common good is not an aggregate term, the totality of individual goods. Rather, there are goods that are only experienced in common, as shared, or they are not experienced at all.

The common good also suggests that the good of each person, the well-being of the human person, is connected to the good of others. That is, human beings only truly flourish in the context of a community. Our well-being is experienced amidst a setting in which other persons also flourish. From this perspective we can say two things: Each of us has an obligation to contribute to the common good so that human life can flourish and no description of the common good can exclude concern for an individual, writing off some person or group as unworthy of our interest. That is why human rights claims have become an important dimension of the common good in CST, no one should be denied the basic goods needed to join in the life of the community.

The centrality of the common good in CST reflects the communitarian outlook of the tradition and a commitment to serve the common good is a means whereby the dignity of each person is given its due.