One of the three basic principles of Catholic social teaching (along with Natural Law and subsidiarity) is the Common Good (solidarity), often contrasted in political discourse with “American individualism” or “Protestant individualism.” In practice, these three general principles tend to come in conflict, and even the Popes suggest they are difficult to reconcile, when, really, they’re not.
I once argued with a Franciscan University of Steubenville ethicist, for example, who argued that common good trumps individual conscience, and that’s why in his view vaccinations from aborted fetal tissue should be mandatory.
However, ever since that discussion, and the more refined my understanding of Catholic Social Teaching has become, I’m left with one big problem with “Common Good” as a standard of its own.
Natural Law is pretty straightforward.
Subsidiarity is pretty straightforward *except* that progressive Catholics (TM) tend to argue that they are supporting subsidiarity by their totalitarian positions because they think it is impossible to do most things at the local level, and federal or global control is the only way to effectively do them.
However, Common Good is very open ended. For progressive Catholics (TM), common good is a purely material function and might as well be Common Greed. Again, in the view of my aforementioned neoconservative interlocutor, a collaborator of Greg Popcak, physical health is more important than spiritual health.
Yet, as Francis Cardinal George, OMI, said, “Abortion destroys the common good.” There is no common good without basic morality. If basic morality and the family, which the principles of Natural Law and subsidiarity safeguard, are damaged, then so is common good. Of course, there is a great deal of truth to how economic evils lead to moral evils, and I’m not disputing that here.
What I am disputing is how any Catholic can really talk about Common Good and not acknowledge that the Common Good is meaningless without mass conversion. The primary good for any soul is salvation. Isn’t there an inherent conflict, then, between the Church’s emphasis on “Common Good” and the post-Vatican II emphasis on Freedom of Religion over the old model of the Catholic state?
Can we honestly talk about Common Good without talking about the necessity of converting people to Catholicism?
Can we honestly talk about Common Good without acknowleding that the state should play a role in at least preventing moral evil if not encouraging virtue and the practice of religion?
(That is *not* to say that the state should legally force people to be Catholic or punish people for adopting other religions, but a model like Malta or the Philippines, where Catholicism is legally favored, and Natural Law is upheld by civil law).