Commit to the Common Good
According to Catholic teaching the principle of the common good to which every aspect of social life must be related if it is to attain its fullest meaning, stems from the dignity, unity and equality of all people.
The common good is the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals to reach their fulfillment more fully and more easily.
A society that wishes and intends to remain at the service of the human being at every level is a society that has the common good – the good of all people and of the whole person – as its primary goal. The human person cannot find fulfillment in himself, that is, apart from the fact that he exists with others and for others.
Common Good Depends on Social Conditions
The demands of the common good are dependent on the social conditions of each historical period and are strictly connected to respect for and the integral promotion of the person and his fundamental rights.
The common good, therefore, involves all members of society; no one is exempt from cooperation, according to each one’s possibilities, in attaining it and developing it. Everyone also has the right to enjoy the conditions of social life that are brought about by the quest for the common good.
The responsibility for attaining the common good, besides falling to individual persons, belongs to the state, since the common good is the reason that the political authority exists.
To ensure the common good, the government of each country has the specific duty to harmonise the different sectoral interests with the requirements of justice.
The common good of society is not an end in itself; it has value only in reference to attaining the ultimate ends of the person and the universal common good of the whole of creation.
First Priority: Protect Human Life
This means that in seeking to meet the demands of the common good, the government must set out clearly the measures it can and will take to ensure that its citizens have shelter, security, food, clothing, healthcare; but its first priority is to respect, protect, defend, enhance and promote human life.
This imperative derives directly and immediately from the Creator’s commandment, love your neighbour as yourself, or if you wish to narrow it down to Jesus’ expression of it: Love one another, as I have loved you; and I have given my life for you.
Consider these Questions
- How can any minister of government or civil servant, if he/she is taking seriously the mandate given by the voters, sleep the sleep of a clear conscience, when he/she knows there are people for who he/she is responsible who do not have the basic necessities of life?
- How can a minister of government or civil servant at any level make promises that are unreasonable or unrealisable (half a million new jobs promised at the height of one of the worst recessions in modern history! Collect your ID next Monday when it takes a minimum of several weeks to process!) Such promises should just not be made!
- If government’s main task is to meet basic needs at every level, and to do so it needs to set reasonable and achievable goals or targets, as well as to make radical readjustments in prioritising and allocating resources, then how does changing Beatrice Street to Denis Hurley Street improve the living conditions of the homeless in the area?
- How do racial quotas in the structures of power or industry give jobs to the unemployed, in particular those whose jobs were lost because the department, industry or business was incompetently run?
- How does Zimbabwe-style land reform, which has cost thousands of farm workers their jobs, solve our problem of poverty?
- If human life is the primordial value on our scale of values, how can we continue to allow our hospitals and clinics to degenerate into health hazards instead of fountains of wellbeing?
- If we are really serious about giving our children a better start in life, how can we continue to allow our schools and the education system to become almost totally dysfunctional?
- If respect for human life and the human person is our top value, how can we allow sexual morality to lose all meaning other than the passing moment of pleasure it gives?
- How can we instill love and respect into marriage and family life when our HIV/Aids policy says nothing about self-control or discipline. Or when the women’s rights philosophy is used to destroy human life more than to protect it? How can we expect anything other than the shocking rate of murder, of violence or of abuse?
I guess the list could go on and on.
By taking a religious kicking off point, I hope I have been able to show that the project of government and civil administration is a God-given calling and a mission, which derives directly from our nobler nature which seeks to express the image and likeness of God within us, by acting out of justice and fairness, love and mercy rather than some political ideology imposed from outside our essential nature.
[This article also appeared in the Southern Cross, 25 September 2017]