The Common Good

Whatever Happened to the “Common Good”?

Date: April 4, 2013

There is an ancient idea that we have lost, but can and should find again. It’s called simply the common good. It goes back many centuries, but the need for a new dialogue about what it means and what its practice would require of us has never seemed more critical. Our politics have become so polarized and increasingly volatile; and our political institutions have lost the public trust. Few Americans today would suggest their political leaders are serving the common good.

The common good has origins in the beginings of Chrisitanity. An early church father, John Chrysostom (c. 347–407), once wrote: This is the rule of most perfect Christianity, its most exact definition, its highest point, namely, the seeking of the common good . . . for nothing can so make a person an imitator of Christ as caring for his neighbors.” Of course, all our religious traditions say that we are indeed our neighbor’s keeper, but today people of every faith don’t often actually say and do the things that their faith says and stands for.

The notion of the common good has both religious and secular roots going back to Catholic social teaching, the Protestant social gospel, Judaism, Islam, and in the American Constitution itself, which says that government should promote “the general welfare.” It is our fundamental political inclination: don’t go right, don’t go left; go deeper. But we’ve lost touch with that moral compass in Washington D.C., where it has been replaced by both ideology and money.