President George Vella, in his address following the signing of the election writ, stated: “This choice is not about personal interests but, rather, about creating the greatest prosperity possible, for the benefit and well-being of the largest possible number of citizens. This choice must prioritise the common good, not sectoral or personal interests.”
As election day draws closer, we will hear the term ‘common good’ being brandished by both well-intentioned and ill-intentioned candidates.
The notion of the common good has been a subject of discussion since the classical era.
Plato and Aristotle contended that the pursuit of happiness requires participation in public life and the cultivation of virtue, rather than the maximisation of wealth.
During the Middle Ages, the common good had various interpretations. Some argued that only the king could guarantee the common good, while those who supported the papacy, maintained that only the pope could bring about the common good.
Following the Renaissance period, discussions about the common good were remanded in hibernation only to resurface again with the encyclical Rerum Novarum of Pope Leo XIII in 1891.
The apostolic constitution of Vatican II, Gaudium et Spes defined the common good as “the sum of those conditions of social life that allow social groups and their members relatively thorough access to their fulfilment”.
The common good aims to foster subsidiarity, which requires devolving power downwards rather than keeping it to hand out personal favours. It also entails devolving authority upwards to international bodies to defend family and individual rights.
Human rights cannot be advanced to support claims to individual demands that are morally inappropriate.
There is no such thing as a ‘right to choose’ to harm another person.
Emphasis is placed on the notion of duties towards others. The liberal notion of turning a necessity into a ‘right’ devalues the term itself. In the encyclical Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, St Pope John Paul II had argued that organising society so that, in effect, it serves the interests of a few rather than the common good, is to collaborate with the structures of sin.
The word ‘common’ signifies ‘all-inclusive’, suggesting that the common good cannot exclude or exempt any segment of the population.
It suggests that everyone, no matter how wealthy or poor, has a responsibility to contribute to the community’s well-being as well as a right to benefit from it.
The Daphne Caruana Galizia inquiry report outlines a system in which elected officials, rather than serving the greater good, served the interests of a small group of influential people.
Seeking the common good entails preventing the gap between the very wealthy and those at the bottom of the income spectrum from widening.
The common good is incompatible with unregulated market capitalism, whereby wealth distribution is totally dictated by market forces.
Pope Francis often insists that the trickle-down effect advocated by liberal economists is just a myth. In a mature society, market forces can be an efficient mechanism for matching resources to needs when appropriately regulated in the name of the general good.
Governments cannot be content with welfare programmes for the poor aimed solely at preventing absolute poverty.
As Pope Leo XIII stated in his epic encyclical Rerum Novarum: “It would be irrational to neglect one portion of the citizens and favour another, and, therefore, the public administration must duly and solicitously provide for the welfare and the comfort of the workers.”
Environmental protection is a critical component of the common good and every government is ‘loaned’ the natural environment and, thus, must return it in the same or better condition as when it was initially borrowed.
Our elected officials must show a genuine commitment to safeguarding what little is left from the ravages of greed and exploitation.
Seeking the common good means that we respect citizens of all creeds, colour, political affiliation, race and gender identity.
Everyone should have equal access to housing, education, employment opportunities, social services and medical care.
Corruption is diametrically opposed to the common good.
It erodes trust, undermines democracy, weakens social inclusion, promotes inequality and has a heavy environmental cost, as we see all too often.
One of the underlying causes of pervasive pessimism is a lack of belief in the concept of the common good, which may lead people to conclude that voting is worthless.
It is our moral responsibility as citizens to distinguish the wheat from the chaff and vote for only those candidates who are committed to the common good.
These ideas were expressed succinctly in Pope Francis’s inaugural address to US President Joe Biden: “I pray that your actions are driven by a desire to construct a society characterised by genuine justice and freedom, as well as unwavering respect for the rights and dignity of all people, particularly the poor, the vulnerable and those who have no voice.”
Claudio Farrugia, member, Catholic Voices Malta