Democrats Appealing to the “Common Good”: A Tactic to Deceive Catholics? By George J. Marlin
Democratic presidential hopefuls frequently refer to the “common good” when describing their approach to governing.
The November 22 edition of The Wall Street Journal pointed out that John Edwards defines “common good” as a “leveling the economic playing field.” For Barack Obama it means “shared duties and responsibilities not only among classes but between the two parties.” As for Hillary Clinton, she “uses it both ways.”
The Journal also reports that many liberals employ the “common good” when promoting “universal health care, more public-works jobs, stronger union protections, fairer global-trade rules and tax rules that favor workers over investors.”
To become a majority party, Democrats know that they must persuade practicing Catholics to return to the party of their forefathers – hence the sudden appeal to the “common good,” an old time Roman Catholic concept.
The “common good” was promulgated by Aristotle and later adopted by the Catholic “Angelic Doctor,” St. Thomas Aquinas, in his writings on civil society. Pope Leo XIII’s 1891 encyclical “Rerum Novarum,” declared the “common good” the foundation of Catholic social thinking.
According to this doctrine, man, made in the image and likeness of God, is something special; he has intrinsic value. By his nature, he is a social being who possesses inalienable rights. The state, having received its power from God through the natural law, has the duty to protect man’s God-given right to life and to uphold his dignity by maintaining and enhancing the common good.
The phrase, “the common good,” is much maligned, in part because it is frequently used by people to rationalize and promote their special interests. Few would argue that the purpose of society and government is to achieve good, but the question remains, What kind of good? Individual, collective, or common?
The individual good benefits only one person. When I spend my money to purchase a meal in a restaurant, I am the only beneficiary. Starving people standing on the street outside do not benefit. If a government existed for the sole benefit of an autocrat, it could not possibly provide for the common good, although it might benefit the leader very nicely.
If one group benefits to the exclusion of other groups, it is called a collective good. In Nazi Germany, for instance, the state benefited so-called Aryans and other members of the Nazi party while Jews, Gypsies, Catholics, and many others were excluded and even executed. Political systems based upon some version of collective good are little better for a whole society than those based upon individual good, and in some cases – Nazi Germany again – they can be worse.
Under a government dedicated to the common good, however, all members benefit. Possession or privilege by one person or group does not diminish or exclude possession or privilege by others. This inclusive character, called distributive good, is explicitly expressed in the words of the Pledge of Allegiance: “with liberty and justice for all.”
When we say the state exists for the “common good,” two conclusions follow: a) the state does not exist for itself, which is to say for its ruling faction, but the welfare of the people – no matter who they are; b) the common good is not to be considered in such a general way as to ignore the welfare of individuals – no matter who they are.
In his classic work The Person and the Common Good, Jacques Maritain sums up the elements of the common good in society:
[T]hat which constitutes the common good of political society is not only: the collection of public commodities and services – the roads, ports, schools, etc., which the organization of common life presupposes; a sound fiscal condition of the state and its military power; the body of just laws, good customs and wise institutions, which provide the nation with its structure; the heritage of its great historical remembrances, its symbols and its glories, its living traditions and cultural treasures. The common good includes all of these and something much more besides – something more profound, more concrete and more human. For it includes also, and above all, the whole sum itself of these; a sum which is quite different from a simple collection of juxtaposed units. (Even in the mathematical order, as Aristotle points out, 6 is not the same as 3 + 3.) It includes the sum or sociological integration of all the civic conscience, political virtues and sense of right and liberty, of all the activity, material prosperity and spiritual riches, of unconsciously operative hereditary wisdom, of moral rectitude, justice, friendship, happiness, virtue and heroism in the individual lives of its members. For these things all are, in a certain measure, communicable and so revert to each member, helping him to perfect his life and liberty of person. They all constitute the good human life of the multitude.
The “common good” espoused by the Democratic Party is not consistent with Roman Catholic teachings. Their calls for “stronger union protections” and “tax rules that favor workers over investors” are examples of the “collective good,” whereas one special interest group benefits over another.
Since the McGovernites took over the Democratic Party in 1972, they have been under the thumb of leftists who promote special interests. These “social engineers” pursue a program that the late Theodore H. White described as “not equality of opportunity, but equality of results stipulated in goals, quotas, and entitlements, based not on excellence or merit, but on bloodlines.” To promote their agenda, they adopted the caucus system which spawned the Lesbian-Gay Caucus, Asian-Pacific Caucus, Black Caucus, Women’s Caucus, and the Liberal-Progressive Caucus – all examples of the “collective good” not the “common good.”
To recapture the loyalties of an integral part of Franklin Roosevelt’s electoral coalition, urban and blue collar Catholics, the Democrats are using the “common good” to lull them into believing the party is in sync with their social beliefs. Catholics should not fall for this ruse.