The Common Good refers to whatever is shared, valued, and beneficial to members of a community. It is a metaphor that could serve as a revised mythos for the Democratic Party, newly envisioned as “The Democratic Party, Serving The Common Good.”
The idea of The Common Good originated over two thousand years ago in writings by Aristotle, Plato, and Cicero. Although the term does not exist in the US Constitution, the Preamble does state that the US government should promote “the general welfare,” which, to the framers, probably meant the same thing.
“We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
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Here are three thought-provoking meanings for The Common Good metaphor.
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Meaning 1. Our shared Physical, Economic, and Practical Commodities Here, The Common Good metaphor emphasis is on physical components of our way of life that sustain or enhance our shared life. It includes the physical things the general public has imagined, organized, built, maintained, repaired, updated, had shared access to, and uses every day to keep the country moving. It includes our public highways, bridges, tunnels, airports, schools, hospitals. It includes our public waterways, beaches, drinking water, and the air we breathe. It also includes areas of publicly owned and maintained lands, such as Central Park, the Boston Commons, Yellowstone National Park, and the Grand Canyon. These physical items belong to all of us, and we all have responsibility to protect them.
The Common Good also consists of our public health care and safety networks, public police and fire departments, and the system of intelligence and military forces that defend the country. It also consists of health care provisions offered to citizens by the government. All of us depend on the complex of public systems and institutions working cooperatively to benefit our people, our communities, and our way of life.
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Meaning 2. A Reflection of How We Can Best Live Together, or A Strong Moral Compass. Another metaphor of The Common Good emphasizes a strong moral compass. This implies a deep sense of caring for each other and for all those things that enhance our shared life.
Sharing our country’s common goods and services has always been the core Democratic value. It would be timely to now state that clearly, and to re-brand it as “The Democratic Party, Serving The Common Good.”
It would benefit the evolving Democratic Party at this historical moment to emphasize this as the key difference between the two parties. Americans are becoming more conscious that the core value of the Democratic Party is community, or caring for one another. And that the core value of the Republican Party is individual responsibility for one’s life and fate. Obviously, these differing values cause vast differences in the policies and platforms of the parties.
The Common Good is often in conflict with separate interests held by individuals or corporations. Sometimes these citizens or businesses are called upon to make sacrifices for the good of the larger group, which isn’t always to their liking.
Robert Reich, a Democratic leader who served as Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration, recently addressed this in a powerful statement,
“If patriotism means anything, it means sacrificing for The Common Good. Childless Americans pay taxes for schools so children are educated. Americans who live close to their work pay taxes for roads and bridges so those who live farther away can get to work. Americans with secure jobs pay into unemployment insurance so those who lose their jobs have some income until they find another.
And under the Affordable Care Act, healthier and wealthier Americans pay a bit more so sicker and poorer Americans don’t die.
Trump and House Republicans aren’t patriots. They don’t believe in sacrificing for the common good. They don’t think we’re citizens with obligations to one another. To them, we’re just individual consumers who deserve the best deal we can get for ourselves. It’s all about the art of the deal.”
Senator Elizabeth Warren also recently expressed her opinion about this very conflict.
“There is nobody in this country who got rich on their own. Nobody. You built a factory out there – good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory . . . Now look. You built a factory and it turned into something terrific or a great idea – God bless! Keep a hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay it forward for the next kid who comes along.” Sen. Elizabeth Warren
These two respected American leaders understand that serving The Common Good is the engine that drives the Democratic Party, and always has.
Three other visionary people who have made The Common Good the moral compass of their life work are social activist Rev. Jim Wallis, Cherokee Chief Wilma Mankiller, and human rights activist, attorney, and author Riane Eisler.
“A commitment to The Common Good could bring us together and solve the deepest problems this country and the world now face: How do we work together? How do we treat each other, especially the poorest and most vulnerable? How do we take care of not just ourselves but also one another?
The Common Good is also the best way to find common ground with other people—even with those who don’t agree with us or share our politics. Both liberals and conservatives could affirm the moral standard of The Common Good.
The Common Good should impact all the decisions we make in our personal, family, vocational, financial, congregational, communal, and yes, public lives. It is those individual and communal choices—from how we raise our own children, to how we engage with our local communities, to what we are willing to bring to our elected officials—that will ultimately create the cultural shifts and social movements that really do change politics in the long run. Only by inspiring a spiritual and practical commitment to The Common Good can we help make our common life better.” Rev. Jim Wallis
“When given the resources and opportunities tradition-oriented Cherokee people will help each other and take on projects for the larger community good. Gadugi, or working collectively for The Common Good, is an abiding attribute of the Cherokee culture.” Wilma Mankiller, Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation
“We need an economic system that make it possible to have healthy food, good housing, enriching schools, natural and recreational space, and a sense of community. Study after study shows that what people truly find most valuable are relationships, meaning, service, and a sense of purpose. But the current economic system does not support or give value to caring for people, starting in early childhood, and caring for our Mother Earth. We can, and must, change this! We can have an economic system that meets everyone’s material needs and makes it possible for us to have time and energy for The Common Good of our children, our communities, and ourselves.” Riane Eisler, JD
One more point. Thankfully, due to the genetic inheritance of normal people, empathy, cooperation, and respect for The Common Good bond most people together during times of crisis and catastrophe. Witness the kindness of strangers after extreme weather tragedies like hurricanes, earthquakes, and floods. This genetic gift will be of great consequence in coming years when, as signs and signals now scream at us, economic and environmental forces will combine in a perfect storm, and civilization will crumble. Human beings will need each other, in small tribes and communities, to share food, water, homes, and specialized skills in order to survive. More on this in future pages.
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Meaning 3. The Best That Can Be Built, or The Rewards of our Common Work Through our first 240 years, US citizens have embraced the ideals in the Declaration of Independence – Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness – and worked in community to manifest them in astonishing ways. We used The Common Good resources, were driven by The Common Good moral compass, and with the blood, sweat, and tears of residents and immigrants, achieved things certainly never even imagined in 1776.
Perhaps the most incredible gifts that The US Common Good gave to civilization are the political documents and freedoms written into law and protected for hundreds of years. These are The Declaration of Independence, the US Constitution, The Bill of Rights and other Amendments (which include the Freedoms of Speech, Expression, and the Press), the system of three-part government (with Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches) and the Checks-and-Balances principle that guarantees equality of power among them, Birthright Citizenship (which is still rare in the world), openness to Immigration or The Melting Pot custom, and hundreds of thousands of federal and state laws and protections. Of equal importance to these are rights, gained through years of courageous marches and demonstrations, and even violence and death – such as the movements that gave the right to freedom to slaves, the right to vote to all adults, and the right to safety and protections under the law to disabled people and LGBTQ people. Together these achievements embody the pinnacle of political wisdom.
Other peak achievements from The US Common Good are through Science and Technology: NASA, the Moon Landing, the Hubble Telescope, public health care programs, immunizations against disease, the Internet, and the personal computer. The US inspired innovations in the natural sciences Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Psychology, and Sociology, the social sciences History and Political Science, and the health care sciences Medicine, Surgery, and Pharmacology. US citizens created Universal Public Education for K-12, and innovations in architecture, agriculture, aviation, business, manufacturing, engineering, and economics, and also developed powerful Military, Defense, and Intelligence systems.
Through the The Common Good of US citizens also emerged an American culture in art, film, television, radio, and literature. And of course, American music: blues, jazz , country, popular, folk, gospel, rock-and-roll, pop, hip-hop, and rap.
If US citizens continue to band together for The Common Good, we will make our country better, make the lives of our citizens better, and further contribute to the development of human civilization.
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Ending this essay with a few quotes from Aristotle, who began the discussion thousands of years ago, seems appropriate.
“Politics appears to be the master art for it includes so many others and its purpose is the good of man.While it is worthy to perfect one man, it is finer and more godlike to perfect a nation, which has the purpose The Common Good of all men.” Aristotle, circa 320 BCE
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Repeat, often and loud, the words “The Common Good” and stress that it reflects The Golden Rule alive in politics, whenever an opportunity arises. Stress that it is the driving force of The Democratic Party.
(Note: This is only part of America’s story. The inspiring, happy, good part. Now please read Get Woke! We Face Extinction-Level Events.)
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∼ “The function of man is to live a certain kind of life, and this is to be an activity of the soul implying a rational principle. If the function of a good man is the noble performance of these principles, and if any action is well performed in accordance with the appropriate principle, then for a man, The Common Good is activity of the soul in accordance with virtue.” ∼ Aristotle, circa 320 BCE