Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

American Ethos vs. the Common Good

Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

American Ethos vs. the Common Good

Article excerpt

Fr. Brian Massingale was making the point in a recent workshop for other purposes, but it is apt in the discussion of health care, specifically what the church argues is the right to health care. Massingale, professor of moral theology at St. Francis Seminary in Milwaukee, was delivering a talk, "Pacem in Tetris at 40" during the recent Pax Christi USA National Assembly at St. John's University in Jamaica, N.Y. (More about that conference in the next issue.)

That remarkable document issued in 1963 by Pope John XXIII advanced the vision of a "universal common good" as the primary concern of government. In what amounted to an endorsement of the United Nations' Declaration of Human Rights, the document, which seldom used the term war and never the term "just war," Massingale pointed out, made an intrinsic connection between human rights and the achievement of peace.

So what's that got to do with health care? There is an inherent tension, Massingale said, between John XXIII's vision of universal human rights and the "American ethos," which is based on a "social contract vision" that "assumes we are not persons in community but individuals, self-made men." Government does not see itself as servant to the common good but as "a necessary evil" to make sure the "contractual obligations" we have with one another are upheld.

Obviously, that vision of America has been shaped in different ways in different times. There were times when government, one might argue, ventured close to that idea of existing to serve the common good. But the most extreme expression of government as grudging overseer of the bare minimum, save for protecting the privileges of the privileged, has certainly been in ascendancy in recent years.

That is why 41 million adult Americans and an additional 8.5 million children can be without health care (see Health Beat, Page 8) and government leaders feel no threat to their jobs or perks. …

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