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The Common Good

 
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Joseph Milne



Joined: 17 Apr 2008
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Location: Herne Bay, Kent, UK

PostPosted: Sun May 19, 2013 10:21 am    Post subject: The Common Good Reply with quote

Here is a short essay by Josef Pieper on the medieval understandig of the bonum commune

The “Common Good” and What It Means
Josef Pieper

“Distributive justice regards the allotment of certain things to the individual, insofar as the property of the community also belongs to each member.” This means: the “allotment” consists of the individual’s share in the bonum commune (the common good).

At this point we ought to attempt a clearer description of the bonum commune. A preliminary approach may suggest the following definition: the bonum commune is the sum total of society’s production, the whole of its output. The correct nature of this statement is based on the fact that all social groups and professions, and in rather unstructured, unsystematic ways the individuals as well, function together, thus making available for the people, for the society as a whole, food, clothing, shelter, transportation, communication, health care, training and schools, also the manifold means of pleasure and entertainment. The strict interpretation of iustitia distributiva (distributive justice) would require that all these goods and services be distributed and “allotted” evenly among all the members of society. This conception, however, is inadequate.

Such a definition springs from the mentality of a technical mind set that believes that everything can be “made”. Because of these roots, such a definition incurs the risk of neglecting the truth that the bonum commune extends beyond the realm of the merely material and usable goods of production. There exist contributions to the common good that are neither “usable” nor “makable” but that nevertheless are quite real and indispensable to boot. This is the meaning of the statement, for example, that it is necessary for the perfection of a commonwealth that there be persons dedicated to contemplation. This states, really, that the life even of society as such is nourished by the public presence of truth and that the life of nations becomes all the richer the more they attain a sense and awareness of the depths of reality.

We should notice here, incidentally, a primary characteristic of the absolute labor State: there the principle prevails of identifying the common good with the “common usefulness”, and the plans by which the bonum commune allegedly is pursued are all utilitarian in nature.

The second objection to the definition of the bonum commune as society’s output focuses on a more essential, deeper-rooted deficiency.

The original literal and inherent meaning of bonum commune concerns “the good”, the essence of all the different goods that together form a community’s reason for existing and that a commonwealth would have to achieve and obtain before it could be deemed to have realized its full potential. It appears to me, though, to be definitely not possible to define the bonum commune, in this sense, with any comprehensiveness and finality. For this would presuppose that it is possible to describe, accurately and definitively, the full potential of a community and therefore its “essence”. It is as impossible to formulate this as it is to define the “essence” of the human person—and so nobody is able to state ultimately what constitutes the good of the human person, either—that good, namely, which provides the reason for human existence and which would have to be achieved in life before any human person could be deemed to have realized his full potential. No other meaning than this attaches to Socrates’ stubbornly propounded contention that he did not know what “human virtue” was and that he had not yet met anybody who could teach him.

If the bonum commune is to be conceived in this way, what, then, does it mean to “render each and all their due”? What does it mean, then, to exercise “distributive justice”? It means: to make sure that the individual members of the population are given the opportunity to add their contribution to the realization of the bonum commune that is neither specifically nor comprehensively defined. This participation according to each person’s dignitas or capacity and ability—this is precisely each person’s rightful “due”. And this participation may not be prevented by the administrator of the bonum commune if the iustitia distributiva, the justice of power, is not to be violated. This points to a further aspect: the “good of a commonwealth” includes the inborn human talents, qualities and potentials, and part of the iustitia distributiva is the obligation to protect, preserve and foster these capacities.

After all this we are able to identify once again an essential element of totalitarian regimes. There the political powers claim the right to define in complete detail the specifics of the bonum commune. The fateful and destructive nature of those five-year plans does not come from their attempt to increase industrial output or to gear production and demand toward each other. What is so ruinous here is the fact that the “plan” becomes the exclusive standard that dictates not only the production of material goods but equally the pursuits of universities, the creations of artists, even the leisure activities of the individual—so that anything not totally conforming to this standard is suppressed as “socially unimportant” and “undesirable”. (Josef Pieper, An Anthology, Ignatius Press, 1989)
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Brian Chance



Joined: 09 Nov 2008
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Location: Croydon Surrey U.K.

PostPosted: Sun May 26, 2013 9:17 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

This is a complete reversal of the idea that “due” means something to be received. The suggestion is that it is simply the right to work in accordance with one’s natural talents and qualities in the service of the common good in the widest sense.

If it is the duty of the administrator of the common good, which I take to be the government, to protect, preserve and foster these capacities, how can it allow some to demand a ransom for access to the Earth without which work is impossible?
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Brian Chance



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PostPosted: Sat Aug 03, 2013 1:12 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

“(W)hat, then, does it mean to “render each and all their due”? What does it mean, then, to exercise “distributive justice”? It means: to make sure that the individual members of the population are given the opportunity to add their contribution to the realization of the bonum commune that is neither specifically nor comprehensively defined. This participation according to each person’s dignitas or capacity and ability—this is precisely each person’s rightful “due”. And this participation may not be prevented by the administrator of the bonum commune if the iustitia distributiva, the justice of power, is not to be violated”.

Here is Mahatma Gandhi on work:-
“The truth is that man needs work even more than he needs a wage. Those who seek the welfare of the workers should be less anxious to obtain good pay, good holidays and good pensions for them than good work, which is the first of their goods.
For the object of work is not so much to make objects as to make men. A man makes himself by making something, Work creates a direct contact with matter and ensures his precise knowledge of it as well as direct contact and daily collaboration with other men; it imprints the form of man on matter and offers itself to him as a means of expression; it concentrates his attention and his abilities on one point or at least on a continuous line; it bridles the passions by strengthening the will. Work, bodily work, is for nine-tenths of humanity their only chance to show their worth in the world.
But in order that work itself, and not just payment for it, shall profit a man, it must be human work, work in which the whole man is engaged: his body, his heart, his brain, his taste. The craftsman who fashions an object, polishes it, decorates it, sells it, and fits it for the requirements of the person he intends it for, is carrying out human work, The countryman who gives life to his fields and makes his flocks prosper by work attuned to the seasons is successfully accomplishing the task of a free man.
But the worker enslaved in a serial production, who from one second to another repeats the same movement at the speed dictated by the machine, fritters himself away in work which has no purpose for him, no end, no taste, no sense. The time he spends there is time lost, time sold: he is not selling his creation, but his very lifetime. He is selling what a free man does not sell: his life. He is a slave.
The problem is not how to sweeten the lot of the proletarian so as to make it acceptable to him, but how to get rid of the proletariat, just as we got rid of slavery, since the proletariat is indeed slavery.
As for the whole peoples who are doomed to idleness, what is to be done with them, what will they do with themselves?
In reply to which people will tell you that the State which will have solved the problem of work by complete industrialisation, will then only have to solve the problem of leisure and education. It will plan games and entertainment and will distribute learning to all.
But the pleasures of men without work have always been drunkenness, and mischief. The games will then have to become compulsory and for many will cease to be games and turn into disciplines and duties, falsifications of work from which no good can come. It would have been better to plan work.
But there is a pleasure dearer to man than work, dearer than drunkenness and mischief, that of shouting ‘Down with………!’ and setting fire to everything. That is a game which will quickly replace all others in the mechanised paradise”

The rightful due of every man is human work for the realisation of the bonum commune. For that there must be freedom of access to land, subject to recompensing his fellow men for the benefit that private occupation of land confers on him and for that reason removes from others
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Joseph Milne



Joined: 17 Apr 2008
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Location: Herne Bay, Kent, UK

PostPosted: Mon Aug 05, 2013 9:14 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Brian,

Thank you for this fine quotation from Mahatma Gandhi. It shows, as the quotation from Pieper does too, that a just society is one that acknowledges that human nature flourishes only through contributing to the community. Only through contribution is one a participant in society. In a sense, the slave or the unemployed are not ‘members’ of society, which makes than less than human – or such a society less than human.

In speaking of the common good, Aquinas says “Man cannot possibly be good unless he stands in the right relation to the common good”. It is interesting how the more traditional view always takes account of the ‘whole’ and of the relation of the parts to the whole.

Yet everyone knows that the joy of work lies in the love of working and of contributing. Aristotle was right in seeing that the key to ‘economics’ was to be found in the family, where all contribute for the good of the family as a whole, and each protect the family as a whole. The individual is looked after because all care for the whole. There is no reason in principle why this should not be extended to a whole village, or town, or city, or country.

One of the things that makes this difficult to grasp in our times is the modern conception of human rights. These spring from well-intentioned ignorance of the nature of society, in which each individual is regarded as a ‘claimant’ rather than an equal and responsible member. It is worth noting that the ideology of human rights arose with the land enclosures and the rise of mechanistic economics, which turned society into an industry rather than the realm in which the human spirit could flourish in harmony with nature.

At best, human rights are claimed in fear of poverty, and so it is understandable from the individual point of view. But for philosophers and politicians there is no excuse not to see how human rights distort our understanding of human nature and the nature of society. It would seem the only true human right is the right to work according to ones’ nature or talents. But then, as Mahatma Gandhi says, work is totally different to the slave work for wages which most must undertake in our times.

Is it not curious that, if modern society does not see human work as a ‘gift’ that can be offered to the common good, then neither does it see that the land is the gift of nature given to all creatures for the common good?

Joseph


Last edited by Joseph Milne on Sun Aug 11, 2013 10:14 am; edited 1 time in total
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Brian Chance



Joined: 09 Nov 2008
Posts: 115
Location: Croydon Surrey U.K.

PostPosted: Sat Aug 10, 2013 10:02 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Joseph

The rise of mechanistic economics came with the mechanisation of work. Human muscle has been replaced by ‘labour saving’ machinery. Human muscle uses replaceable natural resources in an efficient way. Machines use fossil fuel in an unsustainable way.
The use of fossil fuel makes possible the use of other natural resources in an unsustainable way. The aim of leaving the Earth better than we find it has been replaced by the assumed human right to claim whatever we want of its resources without consideration of the effect.

At the same time the human population has been growing rapidly, increasing still further the call on natural resources.

If the human spirit is again to flourish in harmony with nature, there must be a way of bringing together and moderating these influences so that all may use their natural talents in work for the common good.

Surely the starting point must be the realisation that the very Earth itself which supplies every need for every one of its creatures must be the common property of all. From that point of view the private ownership of land is not only curious, it is also the most fundamental economic injustice imaginable.

Brian
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