CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 16 December 2017

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The common good

An old ditty runs, “Who takes care of the caretaker’s daughter while the caretaker’s busy taking care?” But if we can raise our minds above the smut it suggests and parse the caretaker as the government and his daughter as the community, we have what is a vital question for any pluralist society of any era.
 
We live today in a pluralist society. It is not the first in history, but to date it is the only one that has not destroyed itself.
 
The American sociologist, Peter Drucker, suggests, “All earlier pluralist societies destroyed themselves because no one took care of the common good. They abounded in communities, but could not sustain community, let alone create it.”
 
Drucker suggests that if the modern pluralist society is to escape the same fate, leaders in all organisations will have to learn that it is not enough to lead their own enterprise, but they will have to become leaders of community who truly work for the common good.
 
Leaders work to procure what is good for their own organisation. That is their job. Individuals work for their own good. They must do that to survive. But the common good is something more than just the sum total of the good accumulated by individuals.
 
A family is not just the total of the efforts each individual makes in their own interest, as what defines a particular family is what can only be created, enjoyed and sustained because it is done together.
 
Individual goods are enjoyed individually, but what is unique about a common good is that it too can only be enjoyed together.
 
The great philosopher of the 13th century, St. Thomas Aquinas, spent much of the energies of his life grappling with this question, but his life came too late for the Europe of his era, as society was already in the death throes of disintegration.
 
But the modern pluralist society has grown on a different model, with a more centralised government control of services, business activity and even social life. Although individuals and enterprises may have a lot of freedom, they enjoy little autonomy, as all have to operate within the framework laid down by the central authority.
 
So while the government may spend much time and energy taking care of communications, medical needs, transport, education and other necessities, the question of who is taking care of the caretaker’s daughter comes into play.
 
In speaking to leaders of the European Union, Pope Francis noted that a state that fails to recover a sense of community will miss out not only on one of the greatest challenges of its history, but also on one of the greatest opportunities for itself.
 
But gradually, acknowledgement of diverse and competing centres of power is being chipped away to the extent that a service, whether offered by government or a community group looks much the same, yet it is the true community endeavour that is created, sustained and nurtured by the people because they want it, see the need for it and do it together that has the power to protect the common good and the community from fragmentation.
 
There is a tension here though, as modern society needs the caretaker, but must also care of his daughter. JiM