The Common Good: Many Who Work for Social Justice Actually Violate the Common Good

1912 The common good is always oriented towards the progress of persons: “The order of things must be subordinate to the order of persons, and not the other way around.”30 This order is founded on truth, built up in justice, and animated by love.” Catechism of the Catholic Church.

All of us are called to work for True Social Justice.  The sunbeam Times continues its series on understanding Social Justice in preparation for the Social Justice Study to occur on 5/12 and 5/26 in St. Petersburg.   Yesterday the issue of “subsidiarity” was evaluated and attention now turns to “The Common Good”.   The concept of “The Common Good” is essential to an understanding of Social Justice since the Catechetical definition describes Social Justice as follows:

1928 Society ensures social justice when it provides the conditions that allow associations or individuals to obtain what is their due, according to their nature and their vocation. Social justice is linked to the common good and the exercise of authority.”

(It could be argued that this is the original and only true definition of Social Justice since the conept was invented by the Catholic Church. )


The Church and the Market: A Catholic Defense of the Free Economy (Studies in Ethics and Economics)Service of The common Good is an essential ingredient of Social Justice.  Collectivism, government action and bad policies are more likely to harm the common good. Freedom, property rights, subsidiarity and the market place are more likely to promote the Common Good.  This is well described in Thomas Woods Book “The Church and the Market”.
(linked below).

 




The definition of the Common Good (*paragraph 1906 below)  contains a bit of a circular language that is nearly Identical to that contained in Social Justice, namely, “

the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfillment more fully and more easily.” However, what is most useful about this definition is the three essential elements required to label an action as working to fulfill the Common Good, which is intertwined with “Social Justice”.   Thus by understanding what constitutes the Common Good, one can begin to evaluate those proposals that seek to promote Social Justice.

A reading of the three elements indicates ends that nearly everyone can agree on:  1) Respect for the Person; 2) Social Well-Being and Development of the Group; and 3) Peace. The concept of the common good pre-supposes a political community which the state must defend. This is consistent with the foundational view of America that views the state’s primary purpose to guard the individual liberty of its citizens so they may achieve prosperity as a society – achieving a common good. The Catechetical definition of Social Justice echoes this right to Individual Liberty as an “inalienable Right” when it states people have “the right to act according to a sound norm of conscience and to safeguard . . . privacy, and rightful freedom also in matters of religion.”   Respect for the Person,  requires that they be allowed the “exercise of the natural freedoms indispensable for the development of the human vocation”.  When groups work to establish “Social Justice”, they must be sure that their acts don’t actually cause injustice.  Sadly, the group FAST has directly contradicted the “Respect for the Person” provision when it has worked for a law in the City of St. Petersburg to force the government to hire only those that live in the county. This violates the individual dignity, respect and right to vocation of those who are qualified to work in St. Petersburg but happen to live in a neighboring county.

Secondly, the common good requires Social Well-Being and Development of the Group.    It states that public authorities (such as governments) should “make accessible to each what is needed to lead a truly human life: food, clothing, health, work, education and culture, suitable information, the right to establish a family, and so on.”   Note that this Common Good component of Social Justice does not say that governments should GIVE food, clothing, health, work and the like – merely make them “accessible”.  The FAST proposal to limit jobs to those in a geographic area certainly violates this directive on “work”.  The Catholic rejection of socialism, communism and “all forms” of collectivism makes it clear that government should NOT be the source of any of these human needs.  It is thus clear that the best remaining means to ensure access to basic human needs is in a moral market place, characterized by an abundance of charitable people that respect property rights and contracts as described in the 5/7/12 post.    This is well described by Catholic scholar Thomas Woods in his work “The Church and the Market”.

Finally, Social Justice requires the PEACE that the Common Good ensures. The Catechism states that such Peace is to be provided by the legitimate and moral means of security that a government can ensure. That certainly would include a trusted police force and a justice system with due process.  Certainly, the American system of government has such a system of justice and due process.  However some may wonder if it is eroding as many in society reject the constitution and call at times for vigilante justice – thus flouting due process and the security required for “the Common Good”. 

Whenever any group claims to be working for Social Justice, it is incumbent on the average citizen to evaluate and discern if that group is truly working for the Common Good. A determination must be made whether its actions are moral and respect the principle of subsidiarity.  Finally, the person discerning whether the group working for “Social Justice” is legitimate should remember that “The order of things must be subordinate to the order of persons, and not the other way around.”   FAST also violates this in many ways when, for instance, it forbids democratic methods, suppresses dissent by individuals, and refuses to work to stop Abortion when it has decided that such a discussion would threaten its own existence. FAST thus has subordinated the person and life itself to its own system and well-being as a group. Clearly, the group FAST, and similar groups based on the Alinsky Model, have fallen far short of a true standard for Social Justice.

 * II. THE COMMON GOOD

 1905 In keeping with the social nature of man, the good of each individual is necessarily related to the common good, which in turn can be defined only in reference to the human person:

 Do not live entirely isolated, having retreated into yourselves, as if you were already justified, but gather instead to seek the common good together.25

 1906 By common good is to be understood “the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfillment more fully and more easily.”26 The common good concerns the life of all. It calls for prudence from each, and even more from those who exercise the office of authority. It consists of three essential elements:

1907 First, the common good presupposes respect for the person as such. In the name of the common good, public authorities are bound to respect the fundamental and inalienable rights of the human person. Society should permit each of its members to fulfill his vocation. In particular, the common good resides in the conditions for the exercise of the natural freedoms indispensable for the development of the human vocation, such as “the right to act according to a sound norm of conscience and to safeguard . . . privacy, and rightful freedom also in matters of religion.”27

1908 Second, the common good requires the social well-being and development of the group itself. Development is the epitome of all social duties. Certainly, it is the proper function of authority to arbitrate, in the name of the common good, between various particular interests; but it should make accessible to each what is needed to lead a truly human life: food, clothing, health, work, education and culture, suitable information, the right to establish a family, and so on.28

1909 Finally, the common good requires peace, that is, the stability and security of a just order. It presupposes that authority should ensure by morally acceptable means the security of society and its members. It is the basis of the right to legitimate personal and collective defense.

1910 Each human community possesses a common good which permits it to be recognized as such; it is in the political community that its most complete realization is found. It is the role of the state to defend and promote the common good of civil society, its citizens, and intermediate bodies.

1911 Human interdependence is increasing and gradually spreading throughout the world. The unity of the human family, embracing people who enjoy equal natural dignity, implies a universal common good. This good calls for an organization of the community of nations able to “provide for the different needs of men; this will involve the sphere of social life to which belong questions of food, hygiene, education, . . . and certain situations arising here and there, as for example . . . alleviating the miseries of refugees dispersed throughout the world, and assisting migrants and their families.”29

1912 The common good is always oriented towards the progress of persons: “The order of things must be subordinate to the order of persons, and not the other way around.”30 This order is founded on truth, built up in justice, and animated by love.

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