Plato developed the idea in his The Republic; Aristotle argued for it in his political writings; James Madison, along with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay, underscored its importance in The Constitution of the United States and The Federalist Papers. The idea I am talking about is the common good. Madison underscored that “…political institutions should seek out wise, discerning leaders in search of the common good.” Contemporary philosopher John Rawls has written, “[The common good] bears certain general conditions that are equally to everyone’s advantage.” He added, “Three essential elements of the common good are respect for the person, social well-being and development of the group, and peace and security.”
As I write this, we do not know who will be our next president. Like many of you, I have read, literally, hundreds of magazine, newspaper, and academic articles, along with several authorized books. I have listened to commentators, respected in their fields, not the talking heads of major TV or radio programs. I have observed many personal interviews all in the last four years so I could be fair in choosing a presidential candidate. Someone who would satisfy the metrics required to lead our nation fairly and ethically for the next four years, to lead it for the common good. I think I have done my homework!
Respect for the Person We need a leader and a country committed to the unselfish view that the increase in stock market dividends or in my financial portfolio or my personal budget are not alone the metric of justice for the poor. These are good achievements for individuals but they reflect only a minor percentage of the common good. Government must provide equal access to fair employment with a just wage, voting rights, acceptance of gender and sexual orientation, to name a few ways of respecting the person.
Social Well-being and Development of the Group The common good emphasizes the need for access to affordable health care, education, healthy food, affordable living, and a respect for places to worship our Creator. The common good embraces the challenge to address climate change and indulge the research needed to revive our dying planet for generations to come.
Peace and Security The common good insures a fair enforcement of the law, protection of the nation globally and locally, and the ability to reach across the globe to societies facing the same threatening realities of this century. Leaders who embrace this call are called peacemakers.
We have been encouraged to take some actions for the common good during this pandemic. Wearing a mask is the least thing we can do. Staying six feet apart is a little more difficult, but doable. Not celebrating in groups is manageable though not appealing as the holidays advance. But accommodating to this is nothing short of the common good and we have done it before! As a child, I stood in lines with my mother as “the huckster” came with his bus to the neighborhood. It was a deli on wheels and it was where my mother bought, with red and blue ration coins, the necessary food items a growing family needed. We could not get what we wanted. Fresh fruit was nearly impossible to buy. Milk and eggs were available only on certain days and then limited in quantity. Our neighbor fished in Lake Erie and shared his catch with us so we did not have to buy fish, a major staple for Catholic families prior to Vatican II. Whenever we children got whiny and asked for candy or chocolate milk, my mother would say, “We are doing without for the country.” A country at war. And when the sirens went off and we huddled on the living room couch, terrified that bombs could hit us, all lights were turned off and not even a cigarette was burning we were reminded we were a country at war.
Why can’t we do the same now? Why can’t we accept the challenge that the common good presents to us? Is it because bombs are not falling?
Chapter 6 in Luke’s Gospel is an exhortation of the common good. It begins with the call of the disciples almost to emphasize that being a follower of Christ, a promoter of the common good, one needs to give attention to what follows in the narrative: the eight beatitudes and the discourse on loving one’s enemies. Take some time to reflect on this as we draw closer to what might be unrest and violence as the result of our elections.
Does any line in this beautiful section appeal to you in reference to the common good? Perhaps these questions might help.
Am I as compassionate with others as God is with me?
Do I understand my role for the common good?
What is the good measure by which I give to others?