Discussion of the Papers by Margaret Atkins and Patrick Riordan S.J. (1)
Rome 16-19 March 2005-03-04
Jacques Delcourt, Emeritus Professor
Catholic University of Louvain-la-Neuve,- Belgium
Two very interesting and excellent papers have been presented to us. It was a great pleasure for me to read the dense content of these two contributions. Personally, I want to thank you both for the clarifying effort you made by writing these texts: - the first, on Common good and - the second : on Civil society, political popular culture and the church.
As a discussant, my role is not only to explain the deep interest I found in these two papers but to make some points and to draw some questions to provoke discussion..
From my point of view, I see a fundamental complementarity between the two themes.
So my remarks and notation will be structured by the relations I found between the two reports even if it was not the preoccupation of the two authors.
Discussion of the paper presented by
Margaret Atkins : Clarifying the Common Good
I learned much in the paper of Margaret Atkins especially from her analysis of the significance of the word “common” in the common good. “Common to whom?” is one of the subtitles she used in her paper.
Is it the common good of a family, of a company, or of a workers union…or of a community, like the communitarian writers think, or is it the common good of the nation-state or of the global political community of human beings, like papal encyclicals tend to assume.
I was also much interested by the response she gave to her second question : Common in what sense? There, she gives a fine and helpful categorisation of what we may consider as a common good.
Goods may be described as common because of the way they are secured in common, cooperatively secured or protected (like (clean beaches), or cooperatively provided or produced (like a bridge or a college) or because they are enjoyed in common (like rainwater or a water stream).
For goods enjoyed in common, Margaret Atkins, proposes to distinguish five categories.
1. A good is common when there is no competition for access, namely the spiritual
goods and the goods enjoyed by the mind. The good is common because consumption by one or more does not destroy it. But today, the free access to many intangibles or immaterial goods cannot be enjoyed by everyone because they are frequently protected by immaterial property rights whose extension is reclaimed and for which the duration of the rights is prolonged.
2. A good is common, when it can be used with other, like a transport system,
system of radio or television diffused by air, or when we are connected to a water furnishing system. An individual can only enjoy it when the whole is available).
3. A system of social relation is the third category of common good we can enjoy. I feel fine when in good relation with my friends and the members of my club. This is a “relational common good”.
4. Common goods of the fourth category are “overflowing common goods”: these
goods or benefits which economists call positive externalities : they trickle down to other people from the production or the consumption of someone else.
5. The last category : common goods are “goods of the community”. These derive from my belonging to a community.
Having said what I found the best, let me make some remarks founded on my own thoughts and reflections.
Defining the Common good in singular form and with a capital letter
Common good, written in singular form and with a capital letter is essentially a common goal, a common objective that all of us must pursue even if the implementing of the Common good follow many different ways and remains primarily the task of the State and of public authorities. Generally, it can only become operative through men invested with public authority (Mater et Magistra 65); but the public authority may give mandate to do the job to intermediary bodies and even to privately managed enterprises.
The Common good aims to the full development of human personality, of all persons and of the whole human family. So, the conditions of development must be offered to all individuals, families and groups. Similarly, the personal development of each of us depends on the commitment of all of us in the search of the Common good.
All of us must battle for the achievement of this common good, be it in collaboration with private or public authorities, corporate bodies and intermediary bodies national or international.
This fight for the Common good is never ended and we must continue to battle even if we know we never will reach it totally, namely because it is an evolving goal and because we live in an evolutionary world. In spite of this evolving context, we must seek this common goal and we are on the way “when we take into account the demands of the common good of a particular country and of the whole human family” (John XXIII, Mater et Magistra 78).
Today, “the human interdependence grows more tightly drawn and spread by degrees over the whole world” (Vatican II, GS 26). So “every social group must take account of the needs and legitimate aspirations of other groups, and even the general welfare of the entire human family” (GS 26). “Today we must take care of “the whole human family” and promote the “Universal common good” (John XXIII, Pacem in Terris 132). “Today this universal common good presents us with problems which are worldwide in their dimensions; problems…which cannot be solved except by a public authority with power, organization and means coextensive with these problems, and with a worldwide sphere of activity. Consequently the moral order itself demands the establishment of some general form of public authority” PT 137). The common good must be searched at all levels: from the local to the global.
On the global level, I don’t resist to cite the initiative taken by UNO (United Nations Organization) who in the document titled “Millennium Development Goals” defined the goals to be attained by the year 2015 (Two thousand Fifteen). For that time, the Member States promised solemnly to: 1. eradicate extreme poverty; 2. achieve universal primary education; 3. promote gender equality and empower women; 4. reduce child mortality; 5. improve maternal health; 6. combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; 7. ensure universal sustainability; 8. develop a global partnership for development…
Last but not least, the pursuit of the Common good, is not limited to the benefits that may accrue to the present living generations but must be extended to the coming generations. The benefits which make possible a more human way of life must be available not merely to the present generation but to the coming generations as well (MM 79).
The common good , as a fan of many common goods and common goals
The Common good in the singular is the result of the addition of different goods.
All can not be attained at the same time. So when we are looking for common goods in the plural, we are confronted with three types or levels of arbitration.
- First on the local, regional or national level, between the search for more equality and
justice, or for public hygiene and health, or for security against all forms of violence, for example; for clean water or against air pollution: the opposites of a common good, as Margaret Atkins writes… without daring to speak of common bad.
- The second arbitrage to manage is between the common good of present and future
- The third arbitrage is between the common good at national level and the search
for universal common good.
In these three cases, the crux of the problem in the pursuit of Common good is the balancing between different public or common goods and thus the hierarchization we want to establish between different common goods affluent to the different social categories or regions, between the common good of the present generations versus the coming ones, between the national common good and the universal one.
But before suggesting criteria for choosing for one or another common good within one or between the tree levels of intervention, it may be necessary to introduce a concept that does not appear in Christian social teaching : the public or common bads. These are called problems in the papals encyclicals. The expression “common bads” refers to a content which is the opposite of the “common goods”.
Personally, I think this notion of common bad may be helpful in the discussion about how we attain the common good in the singular form.
Many bads are produced by man, but not all. Men don’t create “Tsunamis” or only indirectly through a bad implanting of humans on territory. According to Kenneth Boulding, “we produce bads too, because bads are jointly produced with goods. We want goodies, so we get “baddies”. Bads may thus be the consequences of our diverse activities. But such a definition is not enough because the bads may be something suffered individually.
Here we are interested in public bads which emerge when large number of persons or parties are affected and suffering by action or actions undertaken by others.
Many public bads are denounced at the local level when a factory pollutes the air or the waters at the surface or underground but also at the global level where we finally suffer from acid rains, deforestation and desertification, destruction of the ozone layer, warming of the earth.
So a large part of the Common good must be attained by fighting or compensating common bads. But not all these badies can be fought against at the same time. A public choice is necessary in which the citizens and the different interest groups may intervene.
On what criteria can we make our choice?
What are the criteria which may help us to make our choices and to decide what to do at the collective levels.
The Catholic church offers us some, namely through her “option or love of preference for the poor”. This option must inspire us in the exercise of Christian charity, to which the whole tradition of the Church bears witness.
But the content of this option implies that we arouse to the full consciousness of the poor of his human dignity and that we give him access to work, and to a just share of earthly material and immaterial goods. So we give him a possibility to make his personal contribution to the Common good.
But today the biggest problem of choice is an outflow of the processes of globalisation and of the worldwide interdependence. All this implies that we have our attention drawn to the Common good of the whole human family : what the Popes call the “Universal common good”.
On this point, we must notice an evolution in the social teaching of the church. In the beginning, it was the State who reigned over the Common good of his citizens, families and groups. The Common good had to be attained first at the local, then at the regional and national level. The Common good had to be achieved from the bottom and then go up.
Now “every day human interdependence grows more tightly”…”and spreads by degrees over the over the whole world” (GS 26). We are confronted “to the demands of the Common good on the international level”.
So, today, there is an inversion in the priorities given by the Christian social teaching. The Universal common good has become first. We have the responsibility to create the “conditions of social life which allow social groups and their individual members” to have “access to their own fulfilment”, and so we have to enlarge “the rights and duties to the whole human race”, …”the entire human family” (GS 26). We have to respond to “the needs of the whole man, body and soul” (PT 57).
The need of a new global architecture of world governance
But to fight for the Common good of the whole human family, we “need a greater degree of international ordering at the service of the societies, economies and culture of the whole world” (SRS 43, para.8). We need “a general authority equipped with worldwide power and adequate means for achieving the universal common good” . This cannot be imposed by force. It must be set up with the consent of all nations” (PT 138).
Pope Jean XXIII, a fine and practical man writes : “The forcible imposition by the more powerful nations of a universal authority of this kind would inevitably arouse fears of its being used as an instrument to serve the interest of a few or to take side of a single nation, and thus the influence and effectiveness of its activity would be undermined” (PT 138).
But if the Catholic Church is for a good world governance, they say almost nothing about the manner to create a democratic universal governance.
In our day, an international and global civil society is arising. How can the cooperative initiatives taken by the different States be controlled? By the democratic parliament in each State? By the civil society at each national level? Or by a new global and democratic world assembly? And why not through a fine structuration of the International Non Governmental Organisations (INGOs) who give them a capacity of orientation, advice and control?
Here we find the bridge that can be build between the paper of Margraret Atkins and the one by Father Patrick Riordan S.J. Indeed, at all levels, the common good cannot be achieved without a representative and participative democracy. At all levels, the pursuit of the common good needs choices to be made and thus the support and the partnership of a strong civil society. But to search the common good, we need a definition and an orientation. This is a fundamental role for the Church, the Churches and the Non Confessional Organisations around the world.
Dicussion of the paper presented by
Patrick Riordan : Civil Society, Popular Political Culture, and the Church
I was particularly interested by the paper by Father Patrick Riordan because he centres his attention on the relation between religion and politics and, namely, on the place of religion in a true civil society based on human rights and freedoms of expression, of worship, from want, fear, poverty and oppression
On this point, Father Riordan refutes the idea that the Church engagement in the civil society will produce negative effects because engaged in the protection of the catholic services and institutions active in education, health and social aid.
But through her association with civil society in these fields she may appear as only representative of particular and special interests. It will easily be so if, in the frame of civil society, the Christian people associates only or at least with those who share their religion.
Such an argumentation neglects the fact that most of the Church direct or indirect investments in these social and cultural fields aim mostly to provide support to the poor. The Church and Church organizations are often engaged in advocacy of groups which have been neglected by the market and by government.
But Father Riordan goes further. According to him, the Church has constructed a comprehensive social teaching and so must have a politically recognized entitlement to contribute to the public debate.
The triad of the state, the economy and civil society
Personally, I was also much attracted by the triangular reasoning of Father Riordan on civil society facing, on one side, the market and property relations and, on another side, the State, the public powers and political representatives.
But a question aroused about this triangle of relations. Today, we live in knowledge, information and communication societies. In such societies creative and cultural economies flourish. Taking account of the ever growing importance of cultural industries and sectors, would it not be better to choose a quadrangular form of reasoning in which civil society develops in relation with the market and with the State but also with the media who influence public opinion. So we can explain why the cultural and communication field is one which civil society try to invade. It is also one from which the churches are often absent or excluded.
One of the Church current missions has usually been the instillation of values, beliefs and a Christian culture. It has been and is even today a key battleground. The Church has devoted enormous efforts to establish catholic schools, universities and political parties, but also newspapers, radio stations, television channels… These are surely means by which the Church pursues the evangelization and proclaim her preferential option to the poor.
The global interdependence and the necessity of a global governance
Globalization on the economic, cultural, military and diplomatic level is one of the explanations that Father Riordan advances for the development of civil society. A global market and a global system of production and finance are coming out and, in parallel, a world communication system is at work, but the all without a real and empowered political countervailing organization.
As John XXIII noted a long time ago, in the wake of these crescent interrelations and interdependencies, a planetary consciousness is emerging (PT 130). This consciousness arouse through the discovery of the numerous global social, cultural and ecological problems accompanying the industrialisation all around the world.
This global consciousness is reinforced by the fan of world organisations who take part in the world civil society : the INGOs (International Non-Governmental Organizations) who are fighting the world problems and reacting to the actions and projects of the MNCs (Multi-national corporations) and of the multiple States based bodies, like IMF (International monetary Fund), the WB (World Bank) and the UNO (United nations organization).
Father Riordan surely approves this role of the world civil society in the search of an universal common good. But the primordial point he makes about the role of the Church in the world take another way. For him, the Church must not be restricted to a role in the civil society. Thanks to her “comprehensive doctrine” she has much more to do. That is the point Father Riordan defends in the wake of John Rawls writings. From the local to the global, the Church has many stakes in the development of a civil society but, above all, she has an universal religious, moral, ethical mission.
The universal and moral mission of the Catholic Church in the world
In accordance with her global mission : “the Catholic Church”, as Pope John Paul II wrote (J.-P. II, Religious freedom and the Helsinki Final Act, Vatican City 1982), “is not confined to a particular territory and she has no geographical borders…”. So, the Church may not be prevented from exercising its appropriate mission which includes addressing the political and socio-economic system as a whole.
Even on the highest levels, on the continental and the global one, the Church must have the possibility to express her political values and political conceptions of the common good and solidarity. She must have the opportunity to state her views on the dignity of the human person, on the human rights and duties, on the respect due to minorities, and finally, following Cardinal Louis Tauran, to defend pluralism and democracy. On these different levels and in these different domains, the role of the Church and Church organisations is to promote social values but also to advance democracy as the way to the common good.
I am in accord with Father Riordan on that broader mission of the Church and Church organisations, but how may they be in a position to address the political and socio-economic system as a whole? Is there no need of a structure where dialogue can be fostered and advices be given?
New opportunities of dialog with the political instances of governance
In spite of the separation between the Church and the State, and between the Churches and the International States Bodies, new forms of dialog are developing and imagined.
So at the European level, the Constitution recently adopted by the European Parliament creates such a structure of dialog with the churches and the non-confessional organisations. A platform will be created where these Churches and organisations may express their views and give their advices to the European instances of governance.
This is the aim of article 51 defining the “Status of churches and non-confessional organisations.
In this Article, it is convened that :
“The union respects and does not prejudice the status under national law of churches and religious associations or communities in Member States”.
“The Union equally respects the status of philosophical and non-confessional organisations”.
“Recognising their identity and their specific contribution, the Union shall maintain an open, transparent and regular dialogue with theses churches and organisations”.
This Article is the first recognition of the fact that the Churches and non-confessional organisations are something other than the associations of the civil society who are also entering in dialogue with the European Union but under article 46 of the same Constitution..
The opponents to this Article affirm that this don’t guarantee the separation of Church and State; that this Article don’t respect the neutrality of the Union with regard to spiritual beliefs and commitments : a neutrality that is the only real guarantee of the religious freedom and freedom of thought.
This article 51 is contested by many NGOs and INGOs who don’t accept this privileged dialogue with the Churches and other religious organisations hierarchies. They refuse that the Churches may obtain a special place of dialog : a formula which places the churches above the associations of civil society (2).
In fact the opposition of a large group of civil associations to Article 51 result from the position of many religions on abortion, voluntary euthanasia, divorce, family, contraception, biomedical research (on embryos)...
But the Churches and religions have a much wider role namely through the Christian Social Teaching : a treasure they must defend from the world level to the local.
A good international and world governance must surely be respectful of the global organisations and associations of international and world civil society, be they Church inbounds or out-bounds, be they with or without ties to the Church but they need also to give a special attention to the broader advices and recommendations of the churches and the non-confessional organisations. To that end, a new structure is needed.
(1)The two papers can be found in “The Call for Justice – The Legacy of Gaudium et Spes : 40 years later March 16-18 2005, Vatican City, PP. 293-296 and 297-302.
(2) This Constitution has not been adopted and the new treaty of Lisbon in not yet adopted but the dialogue with the churches and religious organisations is going on.