"When interdependence becomes recognized …, the correlative response as a moral and social attitude, as a 'virtue,' is solidarity. This then is not a feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of so many people, both near and far. On the contrary, it is 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, para. 38)
The common good as a foundational principle is closely intertwined with Human dignity and leads to solidarity as described by John Paul II above. Because we are created as social beings, individual rights need to be experienced within the context of promotion of the common good. "Contrary to the cultural bias of our time, there is a long-standing, Christian conviction, rooted in biblical, patristic and medieval thought that what one deserves can only be properly determined within a framework that takes the common good and the needs of the poor into account. Pope John Paul II has updated the traditional conviction in a way that addresses the realities of today's high-tech, knowledge based economy." The common good is the "good that comes into existence in a community of solidarity among active, equal agents."
The virtue of solidarity that John Paul II speaks of in the quotation above is a solidarity that "is not only a virtue to be enacted by individual persons one at a time. It must also be expressed in the economic, cultural, political, and religious institutions that shape society." The participation of all in society is the grounds for the common good. As human interdependence grows throughout the world, the common good "today takes on an increasingly universal complexion and consequently involves rights and duties with respect to the whole human race." Individual rights need to be experienced within the context of promotion of the common good.
The duty of all is to make the sacrifices necessary so that those who are marginalized can also become active participants. "It is not enough to draw on the surplus goods which in fact our world abundantly produces; it requires above all a change of lifestyles, of modes of production and consumption, and of established structures of power which today govern societies."
In terms of international relationships, "interdependence must be transformed into solidarity, based upon the principle that the goods of creation are meant for all. That which human industry produces through the processing of raw materials, with the contribution of work, must serve equally for the good of all." Accordingly, we must strive to craft an international order that reflects true biblical justice—a society marked by the fullness of love, compassion and peace.
Essential to the common good is participation by all in all spheres of society. The social nature of the person requires that structures of both the civil society and the state allow full human growth and development. All of society is responsible for the common good, but only the state is responsible for public order (that part of the common good which involves public peace, minimum standards of justice and public morality).
All people have a right and a duty to participate in society, seeking together the common good and well-being of all, especially the poor and vulnerable. Without participation in the full range of social spheres the benefits available to an individual through any social institution cannot be realized, such as in a dictatorship when the state squeezes out all voluntary associations. The human person has a right not to be shut out from participating in those institutions that are necessary for human fulfillment.
The family is a central social institution that must be supported and strengthened, not undermined. While our society often exalts individualism, the Catholic tradition teaches that in association with others—in families and in other social institutions that foster growth, protect dignity and promote the common good—human beings grow and come to their fulfillment. The most "appropriate and fundamental solutions to poverty will be those that enable persons to take control of their own lives."
Notre Dame students are transitory visitors of four years in the city of South Bend. This creates the tendency for isolation and gives students little incentive to invest time and energy in building relationships with those outside of the Notre Dame community. This tendency is compounded by the very nature of Notre Dame: an elite and internationally renowned educational institution with prestige, power, influence and wealth. It is nestled in the economically and racially diverse community of South Bend, and, more specifically the Northeast Neighborhood. This fact makes the temptation of believing one is "worthy of special attention" particularly prevalent for the predominately white, upper- and middle-class Notre Dame students.
The principle of the common good challenges us to rise above the socioeconomic barriers between Notre Dame and the many parts of the Northeast Neighborhood in order to strengthen our "human family" and work together. The administration and student leaders of a Catholic university such as Notre Dame have an obligation to help its students meet these challenges….Students are the next-door neighbors of many of the Northeast Neighborhood residents; they present an immediate and prominent face of the university to the Northeast Neighborhood residents on a daily basis. If the university is committed to the promotion of the common good, it needs also to be committed to solidarity between the students and the surrounding neighborhoods.--Julie Davis, Jesse Flores and Brian Moscona; Christian Leadership, THEO 273, April 2002
Questions for discussion/reflection:
- What tensions do you see between individual rights and the promotion of the common good in our society?
- What observations did you make during service/social action experiences regarding policies that do not serve the common good? What can be done to address these issues?
- The U.S. Catholic Bishops, in Faithful Citizenship: Civic Responsibility for a New Millennium, call us to deeper participation and active citizenship. What concrete actions might we take to respond to this challenge?