Free Persons and the Common Good

Free Persons and the Common Good

Free Persons and the Common Good

Free Persons and the Common Good

Excerpt

For the last two decades the concept of the common good, a notion of ancient Greek, Roman, and Catholic lineage, has been in shadow even among Catholics. As of 1986, it had not had even one entry in The Catholic Periodical and Literature Index in nearly twenty years. Now, quite suddenly, many world events are pushing it forward into fight. Pope John Paul II, for example, has used it frequently. The U.S. Catholic Bishops returned to it prominently in their pastoral letter on the U.S. economy in 1986. Oliver F. Williams andJohn W. Houck edited a collection, The Common Good and U.S. Capitalism, in 1987. Meanwhile, the liberal tradition, after a long winter of neglect, is now enjoying a second spring on several continents at once. Thus, to try to show that the liberal tradition carries within it a profound and original notion of the common good is not at all untimely.

The early liberals spoke often of "the commonweal," the "general welfare," and a universal "system of natural liberty." They promised a "new order of the ages." Their gaze was fixed, not on individuals solely, but on new republics, nations, systems. They knew that the dignity of the individual has no protection in history except in social orders of certain kinds, under law, within specific institutions, and that to neglect liberty's social necessities was to imperil it.

For three reasons, it is useful to work out the liberal conception of the common good in a predominantly Catholic context. First . . .

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