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Beyond the Nations: The Expansion of the Common Good in Catholic Social Thought

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 August 2009

Extract

In recent years it has become increasingly common to speak of the international or global common good. It remains unclear, however, what political content attaches to this expression, and how it relates to more traditional conceptions of the common good rooted in the context of the polis or the nation-state. This article examines the ramifications of extending this time-honored concept to a transnational framework, focusing in particular on the evolving rhetoric of the political common good in Catholic social thought. The first part traces the emergence of the transnational common good in Catholic thinkers such as Maritain, Murray, and Messner, as well as in the encyclical tradition. The second part addresses, from the standpoint of political theory, problems of scope, structure, and application attending the expansion of the common good. The concluding section proposes a multilayered, heuristic interpretation of the common good organized around the notion of a “plurality of pluralisms.”

When one speaks of the common good, it always makes sense to inquire: The common good of whom? How the common good is demarcated is a matter of no small moment for any claims that are made in its name. name. For these claims stumble as soon as it becomes clear that the good referred to is in fact shared by only some members of the assumed collectivity and not the rest; and they likewise falter if they are revealed to rest on an inappropriate delimitation of the collectivity at the expense of others who, for the purposes at hand, should rightfully be included.

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Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © University of Notre Dame 2001

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References

The research for this article was carried out at the Institute for Political Theory of the Humboldt University of Berlin under a grant from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. I am grateful to the Foundation and to Professor Herfried Münkler for their gracious support.

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21. Maritain, Jacques, The Rights of Man and Natural Law, trans. Anson, Doris C. (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1949), p. 21Google Scholar; cf. Person and the Common Good, p. 55Google Scholar.

22. Maritain, Jacques, Man and the State (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1951), p. 197Google Scholar. Maritain held, more specifically, that individual nations and the world state, both imperfect in themselves, should be viewed as together constituting a perfect political society (p. 210). His discussion of “the problem of world government” concludes with the fascinating proposal of the formation of a “supranational advisory council” of sages granted a world citizenship and charged with issuing non-binding pronouncements on the burning ethico-political issues of the day (pp. 214–16). Maritain was writing in favor of the proposal for a “Federal Republic of the World” drafted by the University of Chicago's Committee to Frame a World Constitution. See Hutchins, Robert M. et al. , Preliminary Draft of a World Constitution (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1948)Google Scholar.

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30. Ibid., p. 695.

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35. Ibid., p. 287.

36. Ibid., p. 75.

37. The extent to which a “global community” may meaningfully be said to exist is, of course, partly a matter of semantics; beyond this it depends upon a complicated dialectic in which factors of cultural, political, economic, and social convergence stand over against continuing forms of division and difference. For purposes of the common good, however, we may define a community as a body constituted through the sharing of a goal or purpose. In this light, an account of developments that have attended the formation of a global community would have to include, inter alia, the confrontation with various problems such as the prospect of world wars, genocide and nuclear holocaust, and the specter of environmental degradation and overpopulation; the response to the tasks of protecting human rights and promoting development and, in the wake of the cold war, responsible political organizations; and the furthering of the projects of establishing global communication, trade, and cultural exchange. The technological ties, trade relations, international organizations, migration, transportation networks, mass media, sports tourneys and so on are, in this respect, manifestations of a burgeoning moral community of global dimensions.

38. Unless otherwise noted, Church documents cited are in Catholic Social Thought: The Documentary Heritage, ed. O'Brien, David J. and Shannon, Thomas A. (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis, 1995)Google Scholar.

39. This goes for the overwhelming number of references in early documents: e.g., Rerum Novarum, 26, 27, 28, 35Google Scholar; Quadragesimo Anno (1931, QA), 49, 58, 84, 85, 86,110Google Scholar. Two references in QA (57,113), however, admit of a more internationalist interpretation. For an argument linking the notion of the international common good to the “Leonine” period of papal teaching stretching between 1878 and 1958, see Schuck, , That They Be One, p. 75Google Scholar.

40. MM, 71, 78, 80, cf. 40,174, 202.

41. PT, 100,133,138,140, cf. 7,132,134,135,146.

42. PT, 139.

43. PT, 98,123.

44. PT, 84, 85,137.

45. GS, 26; cf. 84.

46. GS, 78.

47. PP,77.

48. OA, 46.

49. SRS, 36, 38, 45; cf. 35.

50. SRS, 38.

51. SRS, 38.

52. SRS, 26.

53. SRS, 38Google Scholar.

54. SRS, 40Google Scholar.

55. SRS, 39Google Scholar.

56. CA, 43, 51Google Scholar. The model here, which orders work to the needs of, in turn, family, community, nation, and humanity, differs from the earlier formulation in Laborem exercens (1981), 10Google Scholar, which focuses on person, family, and nation.

57. CA, 52, 58Google Scholar. This theme was rehearsed in Paul, John II's address to the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences on 24 04 2001Google Scholar: “Now that commerce and communications are no longer bound by borders, it is the universal common good which demands that control mechanisms should accompany the inherent logic of the market.”

58. CA, 51, 58; cf. 60Google Scholar.

59. The Challenge of Peace (1983, hereafter CP), pp. 243,74Google Scholar. The German bishops have followed suit in Gerechter Friede (Bonn: Secretariat of the German Conference of Bishops, 2000), par. 6162Google Scholar.

60. CP, 240; 237; 326Google Scholar.

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63. EJA, 116,322Google Scholar (on solidarity); 238 (on stewardship); 258, 324 (invoking all economic actors); 256 (regarding TNCs); 322 (on citizens); 231 (on foodproducers); 363 (regarding the church); 261, 323, 325 (concerning existing international institutions).

64. Für eine Zukunft in Solidarität und Gerechtigkeit: Wort des Rates der Evangelischen Kirche in Deutschland und der Deutschen Bischofskonferenz zur wirtschaftlichen und sozialen Lage in Deutschland (Bonn: Secretariat of the German Conference of Bishops, 1997), par. 117–19, 237–42Google Scholar.

65. This presumption characterizes Hegel and Rousseau as much as it does Aristotle.

66. See Walzer, Michael, “The Moral Standing of States,” in A Philosophy and Public Affairs Reader (Princeton: Princeton University, 1979Google Scholar).

67. An important element of the perspective is its claim that the bonds and fellowship in smaller communities is a precondition for the development of civic virtue. For contemporary defenses of republicanism see Pettit, Philip, Republicanism: A Theory of Freedom and Government (Oxford: Clarendon, 1997Google Scholar); Sandel, Michael J., Liberalismus oder Republikanismus: Von der Notwendigkeit der Bürgertugend (Vienna: Passagen, 1995Google Scholar). See also Münkler, Herfried, ed., Bürgerreligion und Bürgertugend: Debatten über die vorpolitischen Grundlagen politischer Ordnung (Baden-Baden: Nomos, 1996Google Scholar).

68. Jürgen Habermas, a contemporary republican in the tradition of Kant's Perpetual Peace, has written interestingly on how to promote a “domestic politics” encompassing all of Europe and, potentially, the entire international society. Habermas, , Die postnationale Constellation: Politische Essays (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1998Google Scholar). For a more critical view of globalization see Sloterdijk, Peter, Sphären II: Globen (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1999Google Scholar).

69. An argument regarding the incompleteness of states and the consequent openness of the logic of the common good is advanced by Finnis, John, Natural Law and Natural Rights (Oxford: Clarendon, 1980), pp. 149–56Google Scholar. Finnis goes on, however, to argue, in my view inconclusively, that the common good of the political community is not basic, but rather instrumental, in the sense of being in the service of the only three human goods that count as basic: namely, friendship, marriage, and religion. Finnis, John, “Is Natural Law Theory Compatible with Limited Government?” in Natural Law, Liberalism, and Morality: Contemporary Essays, ed. George, Robert P. (Oxford: Clarendon, 1996), pp. 1–26, esp. 49Google Scholar.

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74. This perspective bears some similarities to Dewey's account of “the consequences which call a public into being” (Dewey, John, The Public and Its Problems [Athens, Ohio: Ohio University, 1991; orig. ed. 1927], pp. 2627)Google Scholar. Unlike the Aristotelian tradition, however, which roots the common good in friendship, Dewey contrasts these two forms of relation.

75. A classic point of reference here is Aquinas's distinction between earthly and heavenly goods: ST 1–2, q. 91, a. 5. For a cogent exposition of the analogical character of the common good which does not, however, directly address questions of scope, see Hollenbach, David, “The Common Good Revisited,” Theological Studies 50 (1989): 7094, esp. 85CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

76. On this point within the context of states see Curran, Charles E., “The Common Good and Official Catholic Social Teaching,” in The Common Good and U.S. Capitalism, ed. Williams, Oliver F. and Houck, John W. (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1987), p. 121Google Scholar.

77. Nell-Breuning points out this ambiguity, for example, in connection with PT, 84–85 (Nell-Breuning, , Soziallehre der Kirche, p. 109Google Scholar).

78. Aristotle, Politics 1252a 15, 1253a 18–20Google Scholar; Aquinas, ST 1–2, q. 90, a. 2.

79. Schuck, Michael J. has counseled a healthy skepticism regarding the viability of any notion of the common good in light of the ever-increasing diversity of today's societies (“Response to David Hollenbach's ′The Common Good in a Postmodern Epoch: What Role for Theology?′” in Religion, Ethics, and the Common Good, ed. Donahue, James and R.S.C.J, M. Theresa Moser. [Mystic, Conn.Twenty-Third Publications, 1996], pp. 2326)Google Scholar. Interestingly, what social groups exist is itself a question of the common good, for groups—even those conventionally thought of as “natural” such as ethnic groups or the family—are themselves to some extent the products of purposive political action and to this degree must answer to common good criteria. On the family, see Okin, Susan Moller, Justice, Gender, and the Family (New York: Basic, 1989)Google Scholar.

80. Of course, virtually all social groups are to some extent political, in the sense that they are implicated in the uses of power that shape the lives of humans and impact on their chances to flourish. The designation of the state as a “perfect community” relies, however, on the distinctive character of government as the agent par excellence of the structuring of communal life.

81. ST 1–2, q. 90, a. 2 c; a. 3, ad 3.

82. Finnis, , Aquinas, pp. 114–15Google Scholar; Maritain, , Person and the Common Good, p. 54Google Scholar.

83. On this point, Michael Novak is correct to urge a more complex conception of the common good. Novak, Michael, The Catholic Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (New York: Free Press, 1993), pp. 8384Google Scholar.

84. The classic formulation of this principle in papal teaching is QA, 79. For a useful exposition in terms of political and legal theory see Höffe, Otfried, Vernunft und Recht: Bausteine zu einem interkulturellen Rechtsdiskurs (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1996), pp. 220–39Google Scholar.

85. Cf. PT, 140; GS, 86. For an argument from an ecumenical perspective, see John Cobb's case for a conception of the global common good that attempts to tame the dynamisms of globalization by insisting on the maintenance of “communities of communities (of communities)” integrated by a principle of subsidiarity. Cobb, John B. Jr, Sustaining the Common Good: A Christian Perspective on the Global Economy (Cleveland, OH: Pilgrim Press, 1994)Google Scholar.

86. See Hollenbach, David, Claims in Conflict: Retrieving and Renewing the Catholic Human Rights Tradition (New York: Paulist Press, 1979), p. 142Google Scholar, on the tendency of Catholic thought to minimize conflict in its conception of society.

87. Zsifkovits, Valentin, “Gemeinwohl” in Katholisches Soziallexikon, ed. Klose, Alfred et al. (Wien: Tyrolia, 1980), p. 855Google Scholar; cf. Nell-Breuning, , “Gemeinwohl,” p. 48Google Scholar.

88. By the same token, considerations of the spiritual common good may in some cases be subordinated to particularly intense requirements of the global common good. On limitations of quality and quantity applying to the priority of the common good, see Weiler, Rudolf, “Gemeinwohl,” in Neues Lexikon der christlichen Moral (Innsbruck: Tyrolia, 1990), pp. 237–42Google Scholar. On Aquinas's view in regard to sacrificing personal goods for the sake of the common good,see Verpaalen, , “Begriff des Gemeinwohls” p. 70Google Scholar.

89. See, e.g., Curran, , “Common Good,” p. 117Google Scholar; Nemetz, A., “Common Good,” New Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. 4 (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1967): 1519Google Scholar. Michael Novak echoes this characterization, but sees it as applying only to the material, as opposed to the formal common good—a view based, to my mind, on a misinterpretation of Maritain's account. Novak, , Catholic Ethic, p. 84Google Scholar; cf. Rourke, Thomas R., A Conscience as Large as the World: Yves R. Simon versus the Catholic Neoconservatives (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 1997), pp. 7881Google Scholar.

90. On the evolving role of natural law in Catholic teaching see, e.g., Fraling, Bernhard, Natur im ethischen Argument (Freiburg: Herder, 1990)Google Scholar; Nothelle-Wildfeuer, Ursula, “Vom Naturrecht zum Evangelium? Ein Beitrag zur neueren Diskussion um die Erkenntnistheorie der katholischen Soziallehre im Ausgang von Johannes Paul II,” in Perspektiven christlicher Sozialethik: Hundert Jahre nach Rerum novarum, ed. Furger, Franz and Heimbach-Steins, Marianne (Munster: Regensberg, 1991), pp. 5576Google Scholar; Demmer, Klaus, “Naturrecht und Offenbarung,” in Brennpunkt Sozialethik: Theorien, Aufgaben, Methoden: Für Franz Furger, ed. LienkampMarianne Heimbach-Steins, Andreas Marianne Heimbach-Steins, Andreas, and Wiemeyer, Joachim (Freiburg: Herder, 1995), pp. 2944Google Scholar.

91. So, for example, while peace may be established as a general imperative with great certitude, for progressively more specific issues—e.g., the broad legitimacy of the use of violence in pursuit of peace, criteria for humanitarian intervention on behalf of the common good, whether a specific situation warrants armed resistance—ethical judgments become increasingly contingent and uncertain. The tendency in recent pastoral teachings to affirm both just war and pacifist approaches is another sign of the emerging acknowledgement of moral pluralism in Catholic social thought.

92. Dennis McCann makes a similar suggestion, but argues that the common good should be conceived purely in proceduralist terms, along the lines proposed in Jürgen Habermas' social theory. This seems to me to render the term unduly thin. See McCann, Dennis P., “The Good to be Pursued in Common,” in The Common Good and U.S. Capitalism, pp. 158–78Google Scholar. Two powerful attempts by German scholars to synthesize Christian social theory and the discourse ethics of Apel and Habermas are Kissling, Christian, Gemeinwohl und Gerechtigkeit: Ein Vergleich von traditioneller Naturrechtsethik und kritischer Gesellschaftstheorie (Freiburg: Herder, 1993)Google Scholar; and Höhn, Hans-Joachim, Vernunft—Glaube—Politik: Reflexionsstufen einer christlichen Sozialethik (Paderborn: Schoningh, 1990)Google Scholar. A noteworthy effort at articulating a conception of solidarity (“Gemeinwohlorientierung”) rooted in discourse ethics is Wingert, Lutz, Gemeinsinn und Moral: Grundzüge einer intersubjektivistischen Moralkonzeption (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1993).Google Scholar On the pluralistic implications of a discursive practice of the common good see Dorrien, Gary J., Reconstructing the Common Good: Theology and the Social Order (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1990)Google Scholar; Mooney, Christopher F., S.J., , Boundaries Dimly Perceived: Law, Religion, Education, and the Common Good (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame, 1990)Google Scholar.

93. An intriguing transcendental phenomenological account of sociality and the common good is Hart, James G., The Person and the Common Life: Studies in a Husserlian Social Ethics (Dordrecht: Kluwer, 1992)CrossRefGoogle Scholar. For arguments as to why liberal individualist anthropologies cannot ground an authentic discourse of the common good, see Matz, Ulrich, “Aporien individualistischer Gemeinwohlkonzepte,” in Selbstinteresse und Gemeinwohl: Beiträge zur Ordnung der Wirtschaftsgesellschaft, ed. Rauscher, Anton (Berlin: Duncker und Humblot, 1985), pp. 321-57Google Scholar; Maclntyre, Alasdair, Whose Justice? Which Rationality? (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame, 1988), pp. 326–48Google Scholar. An excellent discussion of American debates is Stiltner, Brian, Religion and the Common Good: Catholic Contributions to Building Community in a Liberal Society (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 1999)Google Scholar; cf. Hollenbach, David, “A Communitarian Reconstruction of Human Rights: Contributions from Catholic Tradition,” in Catholicism and Liberalism: Contributions to American Public Philosophy, ed. Douglass, R. Bruce and Hollenbach, David (Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1994), pp. 127–50CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

94. In his illuminating study of the contemporary theory of the common good, Patrick Riordan shows how the language of the common good embodies a distinctive model of rationality. Riordan, Patrick, S.J., , A Politics of the Common Good (Dublin: Institute of Public Administration, 1996), pp. 2842Google Scholar.

95. On the difference between individual and social models of action see Honneth, Axel and Joas, Hans, Social Action and Human Nature (Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1988)Google Scholar; Gilbert, Margaret, On Social Facts (Princeton: Princeton University, 1992)Google Scholar; Crossley, Nick, Intersubjectivity: The Fabric of Social Becoming (London: Sage, 1996)Google Scholar; Douglas, Mary, How Institutions Think (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1987)Google Scholar.

96. Hollenbach, , Claims in Conflict, pp. 152–55Google Scholar. For a defense of the centrality of social justice in questions of the global common good, see Caldera, Rafael, “The Universal Common Good and International Social Justice,” Review of Politics 38 (1976): 2739CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

97. Cf. Kerber, Walter, S.J., , “Ordnungspolitik, Gemeinwohl und katholische Gesellschaftslehre: Der sozialen Marktwirtschaft zum Gedächtnis,” Jahrbuch für christliche Sozialwissenschaften 31 (1990): 1133Google Scholar.

98. What I term “other-centeredness” here may be interpreted in a variety of ways. A biocentric account is that of Rasmussen, , Earth Community Earth EthicsGoogle Scholar. An influential theocentric proposal is Gustafson, James M., Ethics from a Theocentric Perspective (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1981, 1984), esp. vol. 2, pp. 1819Google Scholar. More broadly, JohnHick elaborates on a notion of “Reality”-centeredness spanning the world's religions; see Hick, John, God Has Many Names (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1986Google Scholar). Vaclav Havel, meanwhile, places “Being” at the center of ethical responsibility; see Havel, Vaclav, Gewissen und Politik: Reden und Ansprachen 1984–1990, ed. Pustejovsky, Otfrid and Olbert, Franz (Munich: Institutum Bohemicum, 1990Google Scholar); cf. Hollenbach, David, S.J., , “Tradition, History and Truth in TheologicalEthics,” in Christian Ethics: Problems and Prospects, ed. Cahill, Lisa Sowle and Childress, James F. (Cleveland: Pilgrim, 1996), pp. 6075Google Scholar.

99. Cf. Diggs, B. J., “The Common Good as Reason for Political Action,” Ethics 83 (1973): 292CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

100. I follow here William O'Neill's suggestion, in his rich essay “Babel's Children: Reconstructing the Common Good,” that human rights “are best viewed rhetorically, that is, as limning the possibility of rationally persuasive argument across our varied narrative traditions” (The Annual of the Society for Christian Ethics 18 [1998]: 164Google Scholar).

101. On the notion that certain human rights are basic see Hollenbach, , Claims in Conflict; Christiansen, “Common Good,” p. 75Google Scholar; Shue, Henry, Basic Rights: Subsistence, Affluence, and U.S. Foreign Policy (Princeton: Princeton University, 1980Google Scholar); Little, David, “The Nature and Basis of Human Rights,” in Prospects for a Common Morality, ed. Outka, Gene and Reeder, John P. Jr (Princeton: Princeton University, 1993), pp. 7392Google Scholar. On the need to grant greater recognition to groups in rights discourse see Garet, Ronald, “Communality and Existence: The Rights of Groups,” Southern California Law Review 54 (1983) 10011075;Google ScholarFelice, William F., Taking Suffering Seriously: The Importance of Collective Human Rights (Albany: State University of New York, 1996Google Scholar).

102. See, for example, the contributions in The Quality of Life, ed. Nussbaum, Martha C. and Sen, Amartya (Oxford: Clarendon, 1993)CrossRefGoogle Scholar. On the philosophical side, virtue theory is a particularly valuable resource in this endeavor insofar as it is concerned with the social foundations of virtue; for an overview see Yearley, Lee, “Recent Work on Virtue,” Religious Studies Review 16 (1990): 19Google Scholar. Also, to the extent that egalitarianism plays a role in this research program, Michael Walzer's conception of complex equality remains a still largely untapped source of insight. See Walzer, , Spheres of Justice, esp. pp. 1720Google Scholar.

103. See Himes, Kenneth R., O.F.M., “Notes on Moral Theology: The Morality of Humanitarian Intervention,” Theological Studies 55 (1993): 82105CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Kane, Brian M., Just War and the Common Good: Jus ad Bellum Principles in Twentieth Century Papal Thought (San Francisco: Catholic Scholars Press, 1997), pp. 133–64Google Scholar. The recent conference on world peace in The Hague marks another milestone in the growth of a global discourse on the common good.

104. This is the presumption of Michael Walzer and his collaborators in Toward a Global Civil Society. See also Apel, Karl-Otto, “Discourse Ethics as a Response to the Novel Challenges of Today's Reality to Coresponsibility,” Journal of Religion 74 (1993): 496513CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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