Sounds simple enough, the concept of the common good. Do a Google search and make note of the 2,540,000,000 results in .48 seconds. If you scroll through the books, articles, dissertations, blogs, images, and social media posts about the topic you'll note contexts in philosophy, politics, ethics, government, economics, educations, and even safe soaps and detergents. It's a broad subject, especially in times of social distress. Who among us wouldn't be blessed to see the common good more visible on our mean streets today? What a surprising twist it would be to see the common good raised above the special interests of just about every people group in our nation, even those elected to serve. Trouble is, even though it's a noble and worthy ideal, the common good requires more than most Americans are willing to offer in our clashing culture. My rights, those that belong to me and only me, will usually dictate our thoughts and actions. The other guy will have to take care of himself. You know, the American way.
My grasp of philosophical and political thought is elementary at best. In my mind the basic dictionary definition of the common good is best: the advantage or benefit of all people in society or in a group (see dictionary.com ). In political thought the common good refers to "those facilities—whether material, cultural or institutional—that the members of a community provide to all members in order to fulfill a relational obligation they all have to care for certain interests that they have in common" (see the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy). In philosophy it is "... best understood as part of an encompassing model for practical reasoning among the members of a political community" (see also the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy). Historians trace the origin of the common good to Greek philosopher Plato and his students. In the American epoch, our founders and framers used the ideal of the common good as a core principle of our representative republic. It is broadly referenced in our Constitution, and specifically mentioned in The Federalist Papers authored by James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay in 1787-1788. These authors, writing as Publius, warned of the difficulty of maintaining the common good in a representative republic like the one being proposed.
The Christian worldview, which is my basic personal filter for interpreting human attitudes and behavior, affirms the common good as a biblical virtue. Several Old and New Testament passages clarify this distinction---
God's Message: "Guard my common good: Do what's right and do it in the right way,
For salvation is just around the corner, my setting-things-right is about to go into
Isaiah 56: 1, MSG
But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on
its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.
Jeremiah 29: 7, ESV
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except
from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists
the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur
judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no
fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his
approval, for he is God's servant for your good.
Romans 13: 1-4, ESV
In biblical thought, the ideal of the common good is the result of how each of us views other people. The Apostle Paul wrote---
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more
significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also
to the interests of others.
Philippians 2: 3-4, ESV
The common good can only prevail in community when each of us values others more than ourselves. And, that is the bottom line about living the common good. It can only happen when others rank above our own personal whims. Government can't legislate it. Nor can loud, protesting special interest groups force it.
You see, the common good is a biblical virtue that must be lived by the citizenry. And, that is my prayer in these troubled times.
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