What is the common good?

by Lorenzo Piccoli

Modern-day communitarianism began in the upper reaches of Anglo-American academia in the form of a critical reaction to John Rawls’ landmark 1971 book A Theory of Justice (Rawls 1971). Drawing primarily upon the insights of Aristotle and Hegel, political philosophers such as Alasdair MacIntyre, Michael Sandel, Charles Taylor and Michael Walzer disputed Rawls’ assumption that the principal task of government is to secure and distribute fairly the liberties and economic resources individuals need to lead freely chosen lives. They argue that civil society should serve to produce citizens who care, at least occasionally, about the common good. By doing so, they switched the focus of the philosophical thought from the individual (and critics may say “from the individual freedom”) to the community and its sense as a whole. Of course, this is a tricky perspective, perhaps even dangerous; and the debate between communitarian and liberal thinkers is now old fashion. But I still think it is a fascinating one.