Beyond the Nations: The Expansion of the Common Good in Catholic Social Thought
Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 August 2009
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.
- Research Article
- Copyright © University of Notre Dame 2001
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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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. 18–19Google 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. 60–75Google 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 : 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. 73–92Google 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) 1001–1075;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): 1–9Google 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. 17–20Google Scholar.
103. See Himes, Kenneth R., O.F.M., “Notes on Moral Theology: The Morality of Humanitarian Intervention,” Theological Studies 55 (1993): 82–105CrossRefGoogle 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.