The Common Good

Center of Concern | Thu, Jan 20, 1994

By Philip S. Land, S.J.
This summary of Catholic social thought's notion of the common good is taken from the book Catholic Social Teaching As I Have Lived, Loathed, and Loved It that Phil Land completed shortly before his death in January 1994.
The 'Common Good' is commonly described as the sum total of all those conditions of social living--economic, political and cultural--which make it possible for women and men readily and fully to achieve the perfection of their humanity. But there is something much more fundamental about the common good that creation of these conditions. It is the consideration that social being (which translates into social good) is another naming of the common good. It is first and foremost being together. It is life-giving community which creates space for individuals.

The common good is injured if classes are excluded from participating in it. Hence, promotion of entitlements, provided it be within the common good, is not favoring one group or allowing them to elbow their way in. This may, given resistance of the more privileged at seeing their special status undermined, require that government step in to enforce the right of the underprivileged to fairer sharing. The common good may indeed require on the part of the privileged some letting-go in the name of the common good in which they share and without which they would have no guarantee of the promotion of their individual rights.

The Christian perspective on the common good was introduced by the Second Vatican Council in its decree on ""The Church in the Modern World."" For the Council Fathers, the perfection of the human calls for communion with God and mutual bonding with all on this globe. Reflect for a moment on my insistence that the common good, beyond signifying the availability of conditions necessary for social life, focuses more fully on that social life itself. It is common being. The ultimate of our being is to be found in God. God becomes our common good. In the final analysis this says that social justice seeking to achieve our common good, reaches beyond to establish the Reign of God in the here and now.