The response of various Catholic ecclesiastics to the coronavirus phenomenon has included a lot of talk about “the common good.” I read an article written by a priest that misrepresented the very idea of the common good, and confused it with what would more properly be called “the public good,” or even “shared goods.” This is no trivial blunder because the common good is something essentially spiritual in nature, and to confuse it with the public good or shared goods is to dismantle the hierarchy of goods, and thereby to drain the concept of the common good of its lofty meaning.
Here are Father Thomas Crean, O.P., and Dr. Alan Fimister explaining the common good in two paragraphs of the book they co-authored, Integralism: A Manual of Political Philosophy (pgs. 24-25):
Closely related to the activity of a society is the notion of the common good. This notion is more restricted than that of ‘shared good’. A common good is a good which can be shared entirely by several persons. Thus when several persons share a cake, the cake is not a common good, for no one person can have the whole of it. But when several persons enjoy together some work of art or philosophy, this work is a common good; the enjoyment which one person receives from the work does not lessen that of the others, and may even increase it. Hence, the notion of ‘common good’ applies directly to spiritual things, such as truth or beauty, which of their nature may be possessed by many without diminution. Common goods are not harmed as such by being shared and are often enhanced. Since the spiritual good is attainable only by the intelligence, and since the intellect is man’s highest faculty, man’s highest goods are all common. Material things, by contrast, are always diminished by being shared.
It is because a common good is not diminished by being participated in by more than one person that it can be the end of a society. Only on the basis of such a good can one reciprocally will the good of another for the other’s own sake. Were the good which is the end of a society to be something which is diminished by being shared, the participation in that good by one person would diminish it for the other participants and so harm them. As this is contrary to the identification of selves which is friendship and the ground of society, nothing less than a common, that is, a spiritual, good can ever be the basis of any society. Thus even a bank, if it is to be indeed a society simply speaking, and not a group of people who associate from avarice or necessity, must propose to itself some spiritual end, such as the rights of property or the just distribution of goods.
The good which all men pursue is happiness, and the ultimate experience of this is the supernatural happiness we call beatitude, i.e., the life of Heaven. If we mistake the public good of widespread good health for the common good, we not only commit a philosophical error, but we establish a moral calculus which, in this instance, justifies the pursuit of a lower good at the expense of a higher one. I say this because the priest-author I mentioned above was defending the lockdown of Catholic Churches and the consequent sacramental and liturgical famine suffered by the faithful as an exercise of the common good.
Happiness has clearly been under attack in the coronavirus response. The shutting down of churches, schools, and business has led to sacramental and liturgical deprivation, as well as increased depression, suicide, domestic violence, a massive transfer of wealth from the lower and middle classes into the hands of billionaires, a large increase in porn use, with its consequent moral, social, and even physiological effects, an ever-more creeping nanny state, complete with robot dogs and increased state surveillance aided by Big Tech, etc. The laundry list of ill effects caused by the foolish international response to the virus constitutes a much more serious pandemic than COVID-19 ever was.
Let me say that I am not a libertarian. I do believe that the temporal power that we refer to as “the State” has authority both to promote the common good, and to protect people’s shared and individual goods. This extends even to the market itself, for the inexorable law of supply and demand, or blind market forces, are not sufficient to regulate commerce. This is because commercial undertakings, like all human acts, are subject to the moral law. We have anti-trust laws to prevent the monopolizing of goods or services and the price gouging that is consequent upon such monopolies. Here, positive civil law moderates greed so that the populace is not harmed by such economic predations — and the true “common good” of the virtue of justice is also maintained.
None of this justifies the opposite errors of creeping socialism and governmental overreach.
In principle, the temporal power has the duty to protect its subjects from harm, including bodily harm. This duty implies certain limited rights to intervene in their lives. For instance, prohibiting the sale and use of certain harmful drugs like heroin, cocaine, crystal meth, etc., is entirely just. Similarly, during times of war, epidemic, or natural disaster, one would expect that things like curfews, lockdowns, quarantines of contagious sick people, etc., would be called for and enforced. The details of such political interventions into the lives of the citizenry are matters of prudence (and the devil is very much in the details), but the principle is clearly a sound one.
Now, it is one thing to accept these duties and rights of the temporal power in the abstract, it is quite another to look at the particular historical situation wherein they are exercised, for they can be used rightly or abused. A valuable insight of Dr. E. Michael Jones proves very helpful in analyzing the situation in real time, as it helps us to look at abstract principles in light of our place in history. According to the author of Logos Rising, Saint Thomas Aquinas and the scholastics in general are wonderful at giving us an orderly exposition of both metaphysical and moral principles, the gradual development of which over time Dr. Jones calls “the History of Logos.” The study of the dynamics of history itself, and where we are at this present moment in history provides us with the correlative term: “the Logos of History,” the ecclesiastical doctor of which was not Saint Thomas, but Saint Augustine of Hippo, whose magisterial The City of God was the first Christian attempt at such a study. The modern historian Christopher Dawson, whom Jones cites copiously in his recent volume, brings this Augustinian world view up to date.
Applying Dr. Jones’ insight, we can grant the validity of the above mentioned duties and rights of the State to protect its subjects while also asking what other dynamics are at work — political, economic, financial, criminal, ideological, etc. Doing so allows us to factor in the immoral agendas of the key players in this business — the WHO, the CDC (see here and here), the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the World Economic Forum, Jeff Sachs, George Soros, the corporate mainstream media, Big Tech, Big Pharma, etc. All of these malevolent individuals and bodies have been saying a lot during this crisis, and the world’s governments have been listening very attentively, leading to the pandemic abuse of those rights with which the temporal power is legitimately invested.
There is another way of looking at the matter, one distinct from, but complementary to, the “History of Logos/Logos of History” outlook. This way involves going deeper into the scholastic doctrine regarding the morality of human acts, which teaches that there are three integral parts to a moral act, namely, the object (the thing itself that is done), the intention (the agent’s internal act of the will), and the circumstances (those elements that “stand around” [Latin: circumstāre] the deed: who, what, where, with what assistance, why, how, and when). At least one of these three moral determinants must be good; others may be indifferent; and none may be evil. A defect in any of them renders the act morally evil. If we consider the object only — i.e., the acts that the temporal rulers are doing and whether they have a right to do them — we are limiting our considerations far too much. We must admit the other integral parts of a moral act into the discussions. Now, we should be careful in judging the internal volitional acts of another person, which is why we should, as a rule, avoid assigning motives to other people’s actions. But when that other person is on record explaining his world view, his goals, and aspirations, and when these include eugenics, population control, globalism, socialism, disaster capitalism, and the like, then we would be fools to assume innocent intentions behind what they do. While that list of criminal ideologies does not apply to all governors and mayors enforcing harmful lockdowns, it certainly does apply to the coterie of “experts” (e.g., Dr. Anthony Fauci, and, amazingly, the entirely unqualified Bill Gates himself) who are constantly lauded as our pandemic saviors. Similarly, considering the circumstances — which situate the moral act in its historical surroundings — brings into view the concrete persons, places, ideologies, forces, and movements that are operative. These circumstances (again: who, what, where, with what assistance, why, how, and when) are a big part of what good investigative journalism and historical inquiry explore. And there is an awful lot to explore in the skillful manipulation of this so-called pandemic.
It has to be noted that the three integral parts of a human act are generally applied in moral theology to determine the moral goodness or evil of a discrete act of one person. Here, I am applying it to a number of acts performed collectively by many people. In so doing, I am considering people working together for common goals as a “moral person,” and applying the three integral parts of a moral act to them by analogy.
At this point, some readers will no doubt accuse me of harboring “conspiracy theories,” employing that very convenient term to dismiss what one refuses to accept with a glib two-word label. Those who label the deniers of the official narrative on the coronavirus response as “conspiracy theorists” might themselves be labeled “reality deniers.” But it would be better for us to avoid contentious labels and look at the objects, intentions, and circumstances of the acts we see taking place, as well as to consider, as Dr. Jones would have us do, the dynamics of where we presently stand in history, and what agendas — such as population control via vaccination, increased political control, etc. — are being advanced.
I started this piece by considering the willingness of Catholic priests to justify the most draconian usurpation of the freedoms of Holy Mother Church as warranted by “the common good.” Aside from misunderstanding the nature of the common good, this analysis concedes to the enemies of the Church (such as the WHO and such as a host of pro-abort governors and mayors) an altruistic motive that is entirely belied by the available facts. When Catholic bishops and priests are truly interested in the common good — ultimately, God’s glory and the salvation of souls — they will cease being naïve abettors of the very anti-Christian plutocrats who hate them and their religion. Instead, our hierarchy will denounce the oligarchs for what they are: evil men with an evil agenda. At that point, we will see the benevolent mask fall off the Bill Gateses of the world, but we will also behold virile spiritual fathers who are at once shepherds and not hirelings — and that will be a beautiful thing to see.