The Common Good
The Common Good is the key to the Social Doctrine of the Church; It is the hinge on which the conception of the social life of the man revolves

key to the Social Doctrine of the Church

Author: Dr. Jorge A. Palma | Source:

The Common Good 
The Common Good is the key to the Social Doctrine of the Church; It is the hinge on which the conception of the social life of the man revolves 
The principles of reflection of the Social Doctrine of the Church, as laws regulating social life, are not independent of the recognition of the fundamental property inherent in the dignity of the human person. These goods or values (the word well as an objective and universal sense, while the term value has a more subjective character) are mainly: truth, freedom, justice, solidarity, peace, and charity. Living these values is the safe path not only for personal perfection but also for achieving authentic humanism and a new social coexistence. To them, therefore, it is necessary to refer to the substantial reforms of the economic, political, cultural and technological structures and the necessary changes in the institutions. These principles constitute the true foundations of a new society more worthy of man. Even recognizing the autonomy of the temporal realities (cf. GS, N. 36), the laws discovered and applied by man in the social life do not guarantee by themselves, mechanically, the good of all. They must be applied under the direction of the values that derive from the concept of the dignity of the human person (cf. PT: AAS 55 (1963) 259). All these values manifest the priority of the ethics on the technique, the primacy of the person on the things and the superiority of the spirit on the matter (cf. RH, N. 16). Values, however, often enter into conflict with situations where they are directly or indirectly denied. In such cases, the man is in the difficulty of complying with them coherently and simultaneously. For this reason, discernment in the decisions to be taken in the various circumstances is even more necessary in the light of the fundamental values. This is the way of practicing the authentic "wisdom" that the Church asks of Christians and all men of goodwill in social commitment (cf. PT: AAS 55 (1963) 265 SS; John Paul II, Enc. Dives in mercy (30-XI-1980) 12: AAS 72 (1980) 1215; LC, N. 3, 4, 26, 57: AAS 79 (1987) 556 SS. 564 SS. 578).
For many authors the principle of the Common Good is the key to the Social Doctrine of the Church; subordinated to two realities: a transcendent and mediate, God; another imminent and immediate, the human person. If the dignity of the human person is the center of the teachings, this principle is the hinge on which the conception of the social life of man revolves.
"It is for the Common Good to understand the whole of those conditions of social life that allow groups and each of its members to achieve more fully and easily their perfection. [...] It affects everyone's life. It requires prudence on the part of each one, and even more so for those who exercise authority "(CIC, N. 1906; cfr. GS, N. 26.1; 74, 1; cfr. MM, N. 65; cf. PIO XII, Radiomessage Christmas 1942 with Sempre Nuova (24-XII-1942): AAS 35 (1943) 13). 
-Set of conditions of social life: structures, freedom, order, security, education, employment, health (physical and spiritual perfection), justice, family, housing, religion (man has a supernatural dimension that needs to be developed); 
-Associations and each one of its members: members of the company grouped or individually; 
-Achievement of its own perfection: the fullness of the powers. 
It involves three essential elements: 
1. Respect for the person as such. In the name of the Common Good, the authorities are obliged to respect the fundamental and inalienable rights of the human person. Society must allow each of its members to carry out their vocation. In particular, the Common Good resides in the conditions of exercise of the natural liberties that are indispensable for the development of the human vocation: "Right to act in accordance with the straight norm of its conscience, to the protection of the private life and to the just freedom, also in religious matters "(GS 26, 2)" (CIC, N. 1907); 
2. Social welfare and development of the group itself. Development is a summary of all social duties. It is certainly up to the authority to decide, in the name of the Common Good, between the various particular interests; but it must provide each one with what it needs to lead a truly human life: food, clothing, health, work, education and culture, adequate information, right to found a family, etc. (cf. GS 26, 1) "(CIC, N. 1908); 
3. It implies "peace", that is to say, stability and security of a fair order. It assumes, therefore, that the authority guarantees by honest means the security of the society and that of its members. The Common Good bases the right to individual and collective self-defense (CIC, N. 1909). 
In short, there are four elements that constitute the Common Good: 1.-The social conditions of peace, justice and freedom; 2.-A set of material, educational and religious goods; 3.-Equity in the distribution of these assets; and 4.-An adequate social organization.
Characteristics of the Common Good 
1. It is objective 
It is one of the principles governing the social life that needs to be always present. It is also one of the most worn and ambiguous concepts because it confuses it with well-being or quality of life-expanded vision of well-being. But these concepts focus on the end of society on the autonomous individual and have nothing to do with the concept of Common Good. 
2. Derives from human nature 
The concept of Common Good "is intimately linked to human nature. Therefore it is not possible to maintain its total integrity more than in the assumption that, in response to the intimate nature and effectiveness of the same, the concept of the human person is always considered "(PT, N. 55). 
It is not the sum of individual goods, nor is society the mere sum of individuals. The society is necessary for the person to be carried out as such, and must present a series of conditions that make possible the simultaneous development of the person and of itself, towards the perfection that will be given historically and culturally. We are not talking here about minimum development conditions, or something necessarily material (although the material is part of the "integrity" of human development). We're talking about conditions of possibility. 
3. It is in the best interests of all 
"The Common Good is always oriented towards the progress of the people: 'the social order and its progress must be subordinated to the good of the people and not the opposite ' [...]. This order is based on truth, is built on justice, is quickened by love "(CIC, N. 1906-9 and 1912). 
As for the subordination to the demands of the Common Good, people "must proceed without any breach of the moral order and the established right, seeking to harmonize their rights and interests with the rights and interests of others professional economic categories, and subordinate each other to the demands of the Common Good "(MM, N. 147)," although in varying degrees, according to the categories, merits and conditions of each citizen. For this reason, the rulers must orient their efforts to that the Common Good overflow to the benefit of all, without preference by a person or social group determined [...]. In no way can the civil authority be allowed to serve the interest of a few, because it is constituted for the Common Good of all. However, reasons of fairness and equity can sometimes require that men of government take special care of the weaker citizens, who may be in conditions of inferiority, to defend their own rights and to ensure their legitimate interests "(PT, N. 56). "Every social group must take into account the needs and legitimate aspirations of other groups" (GS, N. 26). 
"The person [...]is ordained to the Common Good, because society, in turn, is ordained to the person and to it's good, being both subordinate to the supreme good, which is God "(IBÁÑEZ LANGLOIS, JOSÉ MIGUEL, O.C., p. 86). 
The society is ordered to the person, "consequently, the good of the person is above (it is the reason for being) of the Common Good. But man, as an individual, is ordained to the Common Good: the Common Good is above the individual good. The good of the person is not reached but in its transcendence in the search for the Common Good "(ibid.).
Simply cannot oppose the Common Good and the person's well-being: the person who closes in his individuality frustrates his own good, at the same time the possibility of achieving the good of others. 
"The Common Good of a social group is thus the common purpose by which the members of a society have been constituted and related in it. This Common Good has as a distinctive characteristic the fact that by its very nature is essentially participatory and communicative to the members of the social group "(ZANOTTI GABRIEL, market economy and Social Doctrine of the Church, Edit El Belgrano, p. 22). 
4. Encompasses all man 
"Covers all man, that is to say, both to the demands of the body and to those of the spirit. From which it follows that the rulers must seek to say well by the appropriate and staggered routes, in such a way that, respecting the righteous order of values, offer to the citizen the material prosperity and at the same time the goods of the Spirit "(PT, N. 57). "It covers a whole set of social conditions that allow citizens the expeditious and full development of their own perfection" (MM, N. 19). 
Man, for having a body and an immortal soul, cannot satisfy his needs in an absolute way nor achieve in this mortal life his perfect happiness. This is why the Common Good must be sought by such ways and with such means, that not only do not put obstacles to the eternal salvation of man but instead help him to achieve it (cf. PT, N. 59).
Man, for having a body and an immortal soul, cannot satisfy his needs in an absolute way nor achieve in this mortal life his perfect happiness. This is why the Common Good must be sought by such ways and with such means, that not only do not put obstacles to the eternal salvation of man but instead help him to achieve it (cf. PT, N. 59). 
5. Obliges the State 
"The reason for to be of all those who govern lies entirely in the Common Good. From where it is clear that every ruler must seek it, respecting the nature of the Common Good itself and while adjusting its legal norms to the actual situation of the circumstances "(PT, N. 54). 
Being superior to the private interest, is inseparable from the good of the human person, committing to the public authorities to recognize, respect, to accommodate, to protect and to promote the human rights and to make easier the fulfillment of the respective obligations. Therefore, the realization of the Common Good can be considered the very reason of being of the public authorities, those who are obliged to carry it out to the benefit of all the citizens and of every man-considered in its terrestrial temporal-dimension and transcendent- respecting a just hierarchy of values, and the postulates of historical circumstances (cf. PT: AAS 55 (1963) 272). 
"If every human community possesses a Common Good that configures it as such, the most complete realization of this Common Good is verified in the political community. It is for the State to defend and promote the Common Good of civil society, citizens and Intermediate institutions "(CIC, N. 1910). 
It must be considered as a value of service and organization of social life, of the new order of human coexistence. But not only the State must provide the conditions, but it is also everyone's job. 
Fit two ends: 
-the "Providence" State that takes care of everything, sins by excess. It seeks the perfection of man, but this one has to put on its side. If the State imposes the conditions it restricts individual freedom. 
-the liberal State in which each one takes care of himself, sin by default. 
6. Obliges the Citizen 
"All individuals and intermediate groups have a duty to provide their personal collaboration to the Common Good. of where the fundamental conclusion is followed that all of them have to accommodate their interests to the needs of others, and they must straighten their benefits in goods or services at the end that the rulers have established, according to norms of justice and respecting the procedures and limits set by the government "(PT, N. 53). 
Currently , when social problems are not frequently addressed "according to criteria of justice and morality", but according to economic and ideological criteria, "the ability to decide according to the Common Good is being lost in society; and this is causing, in the individual, a growing inability to frame the particular interests in a coherent vision of the Common Good "(CA, N. 47).
Moral principles of the common good 
1. Particular good and Common Good do not overlap 
There can be no contrast between the particular good and the Common Good. This is a basic principle of anthropology that explains the being of man in the singularity of the individual and in the social dimension of the person. 
The conflict comes in practical life when it comes to harmonizing the private sphere and the public sphere or in cases where personal rights collide with the demands of society. When these two conflicts arise, the solution does not come from the simplification of nullifying a dimension of man, but by the effort to save both. To impose a particular good-public good is to opt for insufficient anthropology and to lay the foundations of a social disorder. This statement does not go against the dispute over the primacy of the Common Good since it is a discussion on the theoretical field. Even in such cases, there should be no counterposition since even the Common Good must respect the natural law governing the individual's singular conduct. 
While it is important that individual rights are recognized, we should not do so at the expense of the balance that must be attained between individual rights and the rights of all to live together in the community. If we think of balance as a balance, we must equally weigh the individual rights and rights of the whole community. 
We have traffic laws not because an individual has the right to drive as quickly as possible but because if the rights of individuals are not regulated, the roads would be chaos, not to say a catastrophe. By common consensus, we have agreed to stop when the traffic light is red and allow traffic to move when it is green. 
In a sense, we renounce the exercise of an individual right so that everyone's rights can be exercised in harmony and peace. 
2. Equality of individuals in the Common Good 
Citizens placed on the same plane cannot be privileged in the face of others, in the Common Good and on the same scale of values. This principle condemns the trafficking of influences and maintains the equality of all citizens before the law. "Political parties must promote everything they believe is necessary for the Common Good; but it is never lawful to put his own interest before the Common Good "(GS, N. 75). 
3. Limitations of citizens ' rights to the demands of the Common Good 
Not to confuse the Common Good with a collective good, since the first look equally to the individual than to the collectivity, but sometimes the Common Good demands that the particular good, yields to the exigencies of the collectivity. "Being always safe the primary and fundamental rights, like that of the property, sometimes the Common Good imposes restrictions to these rights" (Pius XI, Firmissimam Constantiam, N. 22). In the latter case, the landlord must be rewarded conveniently. 
The route of a road can require the expropriation of particular lands. 
4. Graduality in the application of the Common Good 
It must be in the interests of the citizens as a whole, but not in the same way or in the same degree. The weakest and the neediest must be benefited. An equal deal can be a serious injustice. A certain social egalitarianism may behave as a generalized social injustice. 
5. The Common Good encompasses all man 
It is not only concrete in the economic goods, but in the wealth of the person, the needs of the family and in the good of the intermediate societies.
The Common Good distinguishes: 
-More urgent needs: physical subsistence goods (housing) 
-Most important needs: education, ethical or religious values, protection of the family. Although urgent needs need to be addressed soon, they must not make them forget the truly important. You must do this without omitting that. 
6. Concrete values that integrate the Common Good 
Each author catalogs these goods according to the ideology itself, in addition, each epoch demands new concretions according to the necessities that arise. The following are cited: 
Defence and protection of the territory itself, use of the language, fair regulation, the independence of the judiciary of the legislature, education, public services (transport, housing, health care, trade, drinking water, electrical energy, etc.); guaranteed care in sickness, widowhood, old age, unemployment; fair regulation in the labor field (duties and rights of employers and workers), defense of the citizens ' rights, legal requirement with respect to the fulfilment of the respective duties, defense of the personal freedom and of the social freedoms, protection of public morality, protection of the environment, provision of consumer goods and regulation of commercial exchange, legal guarantees of protection for the freedom of consciences, religion and worship, harmony and conjunction between various social and professional classes, vigilance on the right functioning of the powers of the State, etc. 
Finally, a generic function that is not less, is civic education at all levels: culture, labor technical preparation of workers, attention to art, offer for leisure and rest, etc. 
7. The Common Good must abide by the natural law 
You can never pass the frontier that sets the natural law. If the Common Good is intimately linked to human nature it is logical that in its attainment the opinions of the law governing that nature are followed. 
Tolerance in a people's government has its limits. The ruler sometimes cannot legislate better, but he cannot do so by allowing natural law to be broken. "The common good is not kept in its true nature if it does not respect that which is superior to him if it is not subordinate [...] The order of eternal goods and the supratemporal values on which human life depends. [...]. I refer to the natural law and the rules of justice and the demands of fraternal love... to the life of the spirit... to the immaterial dignity of truth... and to the immaterial dignity of beauty... If the human society tries to not know this subordination and, consequently, to erect itself in supreme good, it automatically perverts its nature and the nature of the Common Good, and destroys that same good "(J. Maritain, the person and the Common Good, Club of readers ( Buenos Aires 1968), p. 69-70). 
8. The Common Good and the possible good 
Saved the principles of natural law, the documents of the Magisterium remember that "prudence is the virtue of the prince." The legislator may also be obliged to seek the possible good when legislating. "A Christian politician cannot-today less than ever-increase the internal social tensions, dramatizing, neglecting the positive and letting the straight vision of what is rationally possible be lost" (Pius XII, Il Popolo, 21). 
The ethical relativism that characterizes many aspects of contemporary culture often puts politicians in the face of difficult problems of conscience. "A particular problem of conscience could occur in cases where a parliamentary vote is decisive in favor of a more restrictive law, that is, aimed at restricting the number of authorized abortions, as an alternative to another more permissive law already in force or voting phase. [...]. In the case where it is not possible to avoid or completely abrogate an abortion law, a parliamentarian, whose absolute opposition to abortion is clear and notorious to all, can lawfully offer his support for proposals aimed at limiting the damage of that law and to reduce the negative effects in the field of culture and public morality "(John Paul II, Enc. Evangelium vitae, N. 73).
The International Common Good 
For a long time, in speaking of Common Good, it was mainly thought of a concrete society, bounded by the limits of a nationality, a territory, a particular political community or a community of any other kind. Little by little, due to the increase in international interdependence, it is considered, not only in the economic, but also cultural, educational, communications, etc. The Social Doctrine of the Church speaks with the insistence of the "Common Good of humanity", thus giving rise to international social morality. But this is not an absolute novelty, but the application of the same principles as always. 
"Peace and prosperity are goods that belong to the whole human race so that it is not possible to enjoy them correctly and durably if they are obtained and maintained to the detriment of other peoples and nations, violating their rights or excluding of the sources of welfare "(CA, N. 27). 
"Just as the Common Good of a nation cannot be judged without regard for the human person, the same should be said of the general Common Good; for what the world public authority must tend mainly to that the rights of the human person are recognized, to have in the due honor, to be preserved unbowed and to be increased in reality. This protection of human rights can be carried out by the world authority itself if the reality permits it, or by creating in the whole world an environment within which the rulers of the different countries can fulfill their functions with greater facility "(PT, N. 139). 
"They are the demands of the international Common Good: avoiding any form of unfair competition among the various countries in terms of economic expansion; to foster harmony and friendly and effective collaboration between the various national economies and, finally, to cooperate effectively with the economic development of the poorest political communities "(MM, N. 79-80). 
The dignity of the person and participation in the Common Good of humanity 
"Above the logic of exchanges [...] there is something that is due to man because he is a man, by virtue of his eminent dignity. This somewhat due inseparably implies the possibility of surviving and actively participating in the Common Good of humanity "(CA, N. 34). 
"Human interdependences intensify. They extend slowly to the whole Earth. The unity of the human family that brings together beings with the same natural dignity implies a universal Common Good. This requires an organization of the community of nations capable of "providing the different needs of men, both in the fields of social life to which they belong, food, health, education, as in not a few particular situations that they may arise in some parts, such as to help refugees scattered around the world in their sufferings or to assist migrants and their families "(GS 84, 2)" (CIC, N. 1911). 
Interpretation of the Common Good according to modern ideologies 
According to ideologies, the Common Good has different interpretations. As each person is a unique and unrepeatable reality but naturally open and in communication with others, the models of social organization that exalt the isolated individual or the collectivity are contrary to the Christian conception of social life. Individualism considers society as a set of subjects associated with pure pragmatic expediency or by mere necessity: each one tries to get his own interest without worrying about the good of others. In collectivism, the person is absorbed by society; the important thing is the social body often identified with the State, while the singular individuals are reduced to the category of means to achieve that end: they are a "piece" in the gear of the State machine (CA, N. 15). Both collectivist and individualistic conceptions manage the concept of Common Good, but for some, it will only be a mere sum of the individual goods, while for others it will be the good of an apostasy society, personalized, understood as an autonomous substance. 
Collectivist political and economic systems consider the Common Good as the sum of social values for the service of the community. The individual is subject to the end of society, identifies the Common Good with the social good. The mistake of historical socialisms is to understand the Common Good as the sum of the private goods. It is not a question of doing the Common Good by eliminating individual goods to reach a cumulative sum that is then distributed among all citizens. The collectivist conception of the Common Good is unfair, given that such egalitarianism is contrary to the justice that demands that each one is given what belongs to him. 
Liberal ideology professes the individual's priority over society and the State, but it neglects to pay attention to social conditions. In a society where the interest of the individual prevails, the selfish interests of the fittest are imposed and the social good is neglected. Against liberalism it is necessary to affirm that the Common Good has a supra-individual character, it is a social good in itself. The Common Good is not what remains in the general distribution. It is the good of the whole society: the social group is oriented towards a general good, which must be shared by each and every one of the individuals. Human society is a society of people. The Common Good is thus the good of the whole, to which each one of the individuals contributes and in consequence of it all participate. Participation in the Common Good is required to be fair. The dynamism of a people's Common Good is governed by common cooperation and proportional apportionment. 
The Magisterium of the Church has shown that the root of these two errors is anthropological in nature since both are born from an erroneous conception of the nature of man. 
The so-called "real socialism" considers every man as a simple element and a molecule of the social organism, so that the good of the individual is subordinated to the functioning of the social-economic mechanism. On the other hand, it considers that this same well can be achieved in the margin of its autonomous option, of its assumed, unique and exclusive responsibility, in the face of good and evil. Man is thus reduced to a series of social relations, disappearing the concept of the person as the autonomous subject of moral decision, who is the one who builds the social order, by means of such a decision (CA, N. 13). 
This conception of man and society derives from the atheism underlying this doctrine, for the denial of God deprives the person of his foundation and, consequently, induces her to organize the social order regardless of the dignity and responsibility of the person. 
Also at the root of selfish individualism, there is a denial of God no less radical, which although often not supported by theoretical arguments, is always stated in practice. Some out of concern for reality or pure inertia, are conformed to a purely individualistic ethic [...]. The acceptance of social relations and their observance must be considered by all as one of the main duties of the contemporary man. Because the more the world unifies, the more the duties of man surpass the boundaries of particular groups and gradually extend to the entire universe. This is impossible if individuals and social groups do not cultivate in themselves and disseminate in society the moral and social virtues so that they truly become new men and creators of new humanity with the necessary help of the Divine Grace (GS, N. 30).
The concern of a Christian "begins with what is available to him, by the ordinary work of each day, and gradually extends in concentric circles his eagerness of harvest: within the family, in the workplace; in civil society, in the chair of culture, in the political assembly, among all its fellow citizens of any social status; it reaches the relations between the peoples, encompasses in its love races, continents, diverse civilizations "(Saint Josemaria Escrivá, letter, 16 VII 1933, N. 15). 
The Social Doctrine of the Church maintains that in the demands of the Common Good the State finds its foundation and, at the same time, its limits (cf. GS, N. 74; CA, N. 44). In short, any State must create the social, economic, cultural, political and religious conditions that allow each and every one of the citizens to achieve their proper perfection in their capacity as individuals and in the case of believers let them live as true Christians.

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