The Common Good and Individualistic Wishes

A moral society and a virtuous person make choices on the basis of the common good, the good of the whole, and the best interests of children and the future generations. While every person has personal wishes and special desires, these must be subordinated to the larger considerations of the good of all—the larger good of the family, of society, and of the Church. When a person’s private good and individual interests acquire greater importance than the common good, the entire social order suffers as the idea of a universal good based on happiness or justice or the Ten Commandments no longer provides a moral standard that applies to all people.

The family, for example, is ordered toward the good of all its members, both parents and children. Husbands and wives provide love, companionship, friendship, and mutual helpfulness to each other and dispel loneliness: “It is not good for the man to be alone.” Earning a livelihood through their labor or profession, men provide for the material needs of families with their incomes. Creating the culture of the home with the domestic arts of cooking, beautifying, and ordering a home for all the primary human needs, both practical and aesthetic, women create an atmosphere of an inviting, hospitable household that offers comfort and cheer to all who live or visit. The contributions of husband and wife to home and family naturally add to the common good and welfare of all the children who need both a father and a mother for a sense of security and belonging to instill in them both love and discipline, mercy and justice, strength and gentleness.

people_groupThe common good of the family enhances the greater good of society as a whole. Strong families committed to the care and welfare of each person create an educational atmosphere that transmits to the next generation the timeless customs and moral traditions of civilized cultures. The older generation transmits its accumulated wisdom to a younger one. Fathers and mothers bound by fidelity to marriage vows and the nurture of children committed to their trust hand down to their offspring a way of life, a moral standard, a model of fatherhood and motherhood, and a sense of propriety that instill virtues like kindness, courtesy, patience, humility, forgiveness, charity, and hospitality. All the members soon learn that the harmony of the home and the common good of all depend upon each person pleasing others, helping others, giving to others, and contributing to the happiness of other members of the family. Charity must supersede self-interest, and all persons must serve each other, putting others first and themselves last—a lesson from the family that pertains to every society.

In this arrangement everyone benefits, Fathers and mothers are each other’s helpmates in providing and caring for each other and for their children. Giving and receiving occur naturally as brothers and sisters learn to befriend each other and share their gifts and possessions. Wherever the ideal of the common good prevails, everyone prospers and no one suffers. A person’s private good is never separated from the common good of the family. As the family lives in happiness, the joy is distributed and flows to all members. A father cannot indulge in his favorite hobbies and pastimes at the expense of his wife and children. A mother cannot spend money foolishly at the expense of her children’s primary needs. Children cannot remain insensitive to behavior and manners that offend or embarrass their parents. The family teaches this valuable lesson: the good of the whole always benefits the part. The gladness and harmony of the family enriches everyone’s life who gains more than he gives by putting the wishes of others first and his own desires second. While all members of a family have individual rights and special desires, these do not supersede their duties to one another or negate the common good.

Modern American culture in the twenty-first century, however, has lost the sense of a common good intended to unite and govern all people. Its preoccupation with individual rights (reproductive rights, abortion rights, the right to die, the right to same-sex unions, immigration rights, and gender rights) ignores the reality of a greater common good that suffers from the legalization of these so-called individual rights. The common good carries greater moral obligation than any one person or group’s personal desires, political agenda, or vested interests. Even though the good of the family promotes the greater good of a society, the laws of the land subvert the common good of the family and thus destroy the larger good of society as a whole. The laws of the land and decisions of the Supreme Court that invoke “equality under the law” to justify every version of individual rights regardless of its consequences for the larger good of society sacrifice the whole for the part.

Legalized abortion does not serve the common good. Any nation that destroys 1.5 million babies by abortion has lost sight of the future good of the next generation. No nation can survive without the natural replacement of population that requires families to average at least 2.1 children per family to perpetuate their civilization. Divorce destroys the common good. The institution that best provides for the general welfare of a nation—stable families that provide for their children’s physical, emotional, psychological, moral, and social needs–do not burden the state with welfare costs, high crime rates, drug addiction, and other pathologies. Same-sex unions detract from the common good by corrupting the meaning of marriage and confusing children. They undermine the most secure foundation of civilization, the education of the home that bestows on the young both an understanding of fatherhood and motherhood as a model for their future development and emulation.

Immigration rights in the form of amnesty subvert the common good. The larger good of a society requires a bond of cultural unity, similar historical background, and patriotic sentiment to form a national identity While legalized immigration contributes to the best interests of a nation by allowing time for proper assimilation and enculturation in the adopted country, unrestricted illegal immigration breeds only chaotic multiplicity and false diversity, a type of Balkanization dividing people into smaller, exclusive, insular units removed from any idea of a common or universal good. The good of the part, the benefits of the minority, and the welfare of immigrants fragment an entire culture into atomistic parts with no ideal vision or normative understanding of a just society.

Euthanasia as the right to die with dignity also attacks the idea of the common good. All knowledge, especially the healing arts of medicine, exists for the common good of serving the needs of human beings or improving the standard of human living. When medical science sterilizes fertile men and women, invents contraceptive pills and devices that cause medical complications and endanger women’s health, utilizes aborted fetuses for experimentation and research, traffics in the body parts of babies dismembered in abortions, or administers drugs to terminate the lives of the sick or elderly, then knowledge serves no natural or human purpose that improves the lot of man. The deliberate sterilizing, poisoning, mutilating, or manipulating of human life violates every traditional ethical norm and partakes of perversion—using something for purposes for which it was never intended by reason, nature, or God. Death in all its forms, both subtle and overt, destroys the common good.

Even though groups, minorities, factions, and sects demand their rights in the name of the pursuit of happiness or equality under the law, their mere desires alone do not have legitimacy. All wishes must conform to the test of the common good, not to the individual’s private interests or personal preferences. Universal standards govern these matters, not idiosyncratic executive decisions, political ideologies, or bizarre judicial decisions. The family cannot exist if marriages end in divorces. Families cannot have purpose if men and women choose to abort their babies. There is no future for a society that kills its children. Children have no protection if the law of the land or the medical profession does not defend them. A home or country cannot function or serve any of its members if unwelcomed transients expect to be accommodated without invitation. There is no common good where death, not love, is the solution to all problems.

To be elderly and to know that euthanasia is a right, choice, wish, or expectation utterly destroys every trace of the common good, reducing human existence, in Macbeth’s words, to “a tale told by an idiot full of sound and fury signifying nothing.” This nihilism as a philosophy of life without hope does not serve the common good of living for a purpose. For the elderly to give life and then be categorized as financial burdens on a family, unproductive members of a society, or wasteful expenses for the health care system destroys the very meaning of the common good—the most ancient, venerable teaching of the natural law that prescribes “Children, the old, the poor . . . should be considered the lords of the atmosphere” (Hindu. Janet, I, 8)—a passage cited in C. S. Lewis’ The Abolition of Man. No human society with a sense of the common good kills its parents or its children, the tree and the fruit of life.

Mitchell Kalpakgian, Ph.D. has completed fifty years of teaching beginning as a teaching assistant at the University of Kansas, continuing as a professor of English at Simpson College in Iowa for thirty-one years, and recently teaching part-time at various schools and college in New Hampshire. As well as contributing to a number of publications, he has published seven books: The Marvelous in Fielding’s Novels, The Mysteries of Life in Children’s Literature, The Lost Arts of Modern Civilization, An Armenian Family Reunion (a collection of short stories), Modern Manners: The Poetry of Conduct and The Virtue of Civility, and The Virtues We Need Again. He has designed homeschooling literature courses for Seton Home School, and he also teaches online courses for Queen of Heaven Academy and part-time for Northeast Catholic College.
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