1. What is the Common Good?
“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”(CCC, n. 1906)
The “common good” as understood in the Catholic Social Teaching (CST), a set of papal and conciliar documents that deal with the Church’s social doctrines, is “the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfillment more fully and more easily” (Gaudium et Spes, #26). It is not an end in itself. It has value only if it has reference to the ultimate ends of the person and the universal good of the whole of creation (CSDC # 170). One of its essential elements requires that the social well-being and development of the public itself must be prioritized over personal well being: “The common good concerns the life of all” (CCC, #1906). The common good, therefore, is concerned with the social welfare of all citizens, rich or poor. However, in societies where social inequality is high, the common good dictates that more attention must be given to the less fortunate members of society. The Church provides preferential treatment for those who are poor and marginalized (PCP II #312).
The Catholic Social Teaching teaches that Catholic Christians must prioritize the common good of the public over one’s personal and private concerns. Says Vatican II:
It is imperative that no one … would indulge in a merely individualistic morality. The best way to fulfill one’s obligations of justice and love is to contribute to the common good according to one’s means and the needs of others, and also to promote and help public and private organizations devoted to bettering the conditions of life (The Church and the Modern World, #30).
1.2 What are the Three Essential Elements of the Common Good?
The Universal Catechism of the Catholic Church identifies three essential elements of the common good as follows (emphasis added):
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 allow each of its members to fulfill his [her] 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 norms of conscience and to safeguard… privacy, and rightful freedom also in matters of religion” (GS, n.26).
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 raise a family, and so on.
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 (CCC, nn.1906-1909).
1.3 Who are Called to Achieve the Common Good?
Everyone who enjoys the conditions of social life is brought about by the quest for the common good. All members of society must be involved in attaining and developing the common good. No one is exempt from cooperating, according to each one’s possibilities (CSDC # 167). “The common good corresponds to the highest of human instincts, but it is a good that is very difficult to attain because it requires the constant ability and effort to seek the good of others as though it were one’s own good” (Ibid).
Besides the individual, the State also has the responsibility in the attainment of the common good, since it is its reason why its political authority exists. The individual, the family, and intermediate groups cannot also achieve their full development for living a truly human life without the strong support of the State. The State through its political authority or government must arbitrate with various interest groups in society in order that goods and resources are distributed equitably in society. As an instrument of the State, public administration at any level—national, regional, community—is oriented towards the service of citizens. It must act as steward of people’s resources, which it must administer with a view to the common good (CSDC #412). It must also protect the rights of the minority in society as well as must guarantee the coherency, unity and organization of the intermediate groups called civil society to promote the common good (CSDC #168, 169). It should provide adequate legal framework for these groups to engage freely in their activities.
Furthermore, as a check and balance system to the State as well as to the market, the intermediate groups in society called civil society also has an obligation in the attainment of the common good. This “third sector” can prevent abuses of those who hold political authority of the State. It can act as a “fiscalizer” to monitor and review laws and policies of the State whether they are detrimental to the common good or not. It also acts as guardians of democracy. Intermediate groups in society can nurture freedom and participation of people in society.
1.4 What are Some Levels of the Common Good?
To understand what constitutes the common good of a particular community, it is essential to identify what community one is referring to. The word “community” and “common good” are loose but related terms. The common good is only achieved in the context of a community. However, in order to understand what community and its common good one is analyzing, s/he has to specify what unit of analysis s/he is analyzing. Is s/he talking about the common good of the community oriented towards the family? The primary or secondary group? The barangay? Town? City? Province? Country? Or the world? This does not, however, imply that these communities are distinct from one another. Using a functionalist theory, the social world of people around the globe forms one system of interrelated communities. What happens in one community affects the other whether in macro or micro level. This is much felt in today’s age of globalization in which electronics and communications media and the Internet have made people closer to one another. Thus, the CST teaches the principle of solidarity to show the interdependence of people and communities around the world.
Solidarity is one of the fundamental principles of the Christian principles of social and political organization (Centesimus Annus, n.10). Solidarity is not a feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of many people but a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good; that is to say, to the good of all and of each individual, because we are all really responsible for all (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, n. 38). According to Pope John Paul II, solidarity helps us to see the ‘other’—whether a person, people or nation—not just as some kind of instrument, with a work capacity and physical strength to be exploited at low cost and then discarded when no longer useful, but as our ‘neighbor,’ a helper (G. 2: 18-20) to be made a sharer, on a par with ourselves, in the banquet of life to which all are equally invited by God.
This duty of solidarity does not only rest on individuals but on all intermediate groups. such as nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), people’s organizations (POs) and other civic, business and religious groups must. Groups must not “selfishly” insist on their particular interests, but respect the interests of others (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, n. 39). For instance, it is known that some groups in civil society, especially the NGOs, often receive funds and resources abroad. At times, it happens that the programs they create and implement serve the interests of their foreign and local donors and benefactors rather than the local beneficiaries or the host countries. Some are also accused of being bogus and corrupt such in the famous plunder case of Janette Napoles in the Philippines who allegedly used fake NGOs to channel government funds to corrupt legislators.
In the global level, solidarity rests on nations: “Advanced nations have a very heavy obligation to help developing peoples” (GS, n. 86)” They must devote a part of their production to meet the needs of under-developed countries and to train teachers, engineers, technicians and scholars for the benefit of less fortunate peoples (Populorum Progressio, n. 48)…Every nation must produce more and better quality goods to give to all its inhabitants a truly human standard of living, and also to contribute to the common development of the human race (Ibid).
1.5 What are the Types of Solidarity in Society?
Society, being the result of human co-operation, cannot be a war of each against all because people need each other in order to survive. It must have a certain amount of unity, shared understanding, or integration. According to the French sociologist Emile Durkheim, there is social integration in society. In mechanical solidarity, various groups in society are joined into a single unit by common “beliefs and sentiments. Common cultural and religious beliefs are what hold society together and the basis of social solidarity .
The kind of solidarity existing in a particular society would depend on its the level of development, whether it is primitive or highly advanced. Before a Christian can understand the type of solidarity or social relations prevailing a given social system, s/he has to understand first the kind of society s/he is analyzing. The German sociologist Ferdinand Tonnies, classifying societies according to size, purpose emotional intensity, identifies two major societal types: the personalistic type of society called gemeinschaft and the contractual and impersonal type of society called gesellschaft. The German word gemeinschaft has no exact English translation but it basically refers to a society which has a small population size in which people are aware of their similarities and bounded together by emotional ties, kinship ties and by tradition (Ibid.: 84). This is found in many primitive or folk societies in which social solidarity is based on common beliefs and values. Religious solidarity thrives in this type of society. In the Philippines, social relations in the barrio or rural barangay are basically gemeinscahft in which people know one another and related by similar values, beliefs, and social or kinship ties.
The gesellschaft type of society is often found in cities in which people are united together not by common beliefs and sentiments but by the interdependence of social functions they perform in society. As shown above, the dominant social relationship is exchange based on formal and informal contracts rather than fellowship, kinship and personal ties. Thus, there is a higher level of social alienation or impersonal social interaction among people in this type of society. What binds people together in gessellscahft is what Durkheim calls as organic solidarity: people are glued together not so much on common beliefs but because of laws and rules that organize them into interdependent functionaries. In this kind of society, the Christian cannot expect fellowship and religious solidarity to flourish and, thus, the Church teachings do not seem to influence much in uniting people through common Christian beliefs such in the case of a gemeinshaft society.
Because of uneven development, the Christian must understand that gemeinshaft and gesselshaft can co-exist in a given society. Thus, mechanical and organic solidarities can also co-exist and overlap to unify groups of people in a particular society.
1.6 What Type of Society is Conducive to Christian Solidarity?
If one compares these two types of societies, we can say that the gemeinschaft is the ideal society which is more attuned to the Christian concept of community. The early Christian community established in the Acts of the Apostles is gemeinschaft: members of the community sold all their possessions and the proceeds were shared to all. Since these communities are low in population, members know and interact each other in fellowship, a higher level of solidarity is expected. Why the Basic Ecclesial Communities (BECs) thrive in rural communities in developing countries like the BECs in Mindanao in the Philippines only indicate that gemeinshaft based on mechanical solidarity is a fertile ground in establishing a vibrant local Church, the ideal societal type for Christian community to flourish.
The major problem encountered by the Church today in establishing gemeinshaft Christian communities is urbanization. Rural communities are fast disappearing as more and more cities are created in developing countries. Communities which were used to be united by common religious beliefs and values are now gradually disintegrated and transformed into functional and impersonal societies or gessellshaft. Fellowships and social and kinship ties are now replaced by contractual or business-like relationships. A rural gemeinshaft parish becomes an urban gesellshaft parish. Research studies show that more and more people would be living in cities in the years to come. And the concentration would be in Asia. There would be more and more people migrating to the cities in search for greener pastures. An urban parish would then be crowded by migrant Catholics who are generally poor and uprooted from their cultural heritage and rural gemeinshaft.
Since urbanization is irreversible process owing to the ongoing process of homogenization in globalization, the Church must find alternatives to reestablish the religious and mechanical solidarity of gemeinshaft in urban societies and parishes. The growth of the so-called “communities of love” like Couples for Christ, Singles for Christ, Gawad Kalinga, BECs and other lay institutes is said to be a reaction to the social alienation and “loss of communities” in cities due to urbanization. To reestablish the fellowship of the early Christian communities in the Acts of Apostles, the urban-based Church has to organize small Christian groups. The concept of solidarity cannot be felt in the personal level if the Church would only depend on the alienating and impersonal organic solidarity of urban society.
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 Don Martindale cited in Denisoff & Wahman (1979), An Introduction to Sociology, Second Edition.New York: Mcmillan Publishing, Co., Inc., p.84.