What is the ‘Common Good’?
What is meant by the common good? Does it mean the good of a particular political party or pressure group and not the good of all citizens? I can see little evidence of our politicians wanting the good of all their fellow citizens. How can their selfishness square with Church teaching and with their consciences? P Evans
The common good is understood to be the good life of all in society in accordance with the essential dignity of the human person. This will include material benefits and, because it involves human persons, it possesses a moral value.
We must bear in mind that, from the Church’s point of view, this good life on earth is not the absolute and ultimate good for humanity. The human person is created for a purpose far superior to a life amid the changeable nature of temporal affairs. This implies that for us the common good of society has to embrace the ultimate good of humanity, which is eternal life.
Politicians have aims and objectives which, of course, have nothing to do with repercussions in the afterlife. Their ideological values generally diverge from the Church’s when it comes to statecraft. The pages of history show glaring examples of ambitious politicians and potentates being in bad faith, cruel and criminal, just to satisfy their greed for power over the state.
There is, therefore, an uncomfortable split between politics and morality. Lots of those who chase the worldly goods and pleasures available to the powerful are pretty cynical about the moral fundamentals adhered to by the Church and its social teachings. For them politics is the kingdom of this world for which they may sell their soul.
But here is the nub: good conscience belongs to a person and not to a political party. The soul of each one of us is immortal. It lives on in God. The soul of a political party is not immortal but belongs to the temporal order of things.
The political order is a moral order which ought to be at the same time a just order. It must aim to achieve the common good of all, a source of material and human prosperity that is constantly and fairly redistributed to each member of society.
When society is structured justly, its members’ welfare is on safe ground. When political leaders corruptly pervert justice for the sake of their own party or personal ambition, the common good degenerates into lawlessness.
That is why the Church keeps reminding those in politics that absolute corruption must be opposed with every moral force that is possible. It confronts us all with the reality of the judgment of conscience which has a moral value with effects that outlive the life of politics.