Open thread: voting for “the common good”?

I’ve only read the Labour one so far, but these all look interesting as an illustration of what I was talking about in my previous post: representatives of each of the three main parties look at how their policies compare to Catholic Social Teaching, and in particular the concept of “the common good”:

These articles are on the British Jesuits’ website Thinking Faith, and are inspired by the Roman Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales March 2010 document, Choosing the Common Good (PDF).

Rather than comment in detail on these documents, I’ll be interested to know what others think: is “the common good” a helpful basis for political reflection and action by Christians? And how well do you think each party’s policies, as summarised by its representatives in the articles linked above, reflect the concept of “the common good”?

And let’s assume we’ve all already voted, so the aim isn’t to convince floating voters of our respective positions!

Note: if you feel you need more than (say) 500 words in which to express your answer, please can I suggest you post it on your own blog and provide a link. Not looking at anyone in particular, here… 😉

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5 Responses to Open thread: voting for “the common good”?

  1. John H says:

    Maybe I’m biased, but having now read them I thought John Battle’s was the strongest of the three essays. The other two (David Grant in particular) seemed to start with their party’s policy talking points and then say “…and that fits in with what the bishops are saying because…”.

    Battle seemed to go more deeply into the church teaching behind the slogan, and to move out from the church teaching, through the experience of his constituency and only then arrive at issues of policy. That may be because (a) he has the advantage of incumbency, since he can talk about what the government has actually done since 1997 rather than just about its policy proposals in the abstract, and (b) he is retiring from parliament at this election, which means he can take a more detached, less electioneering/party-line approach. See, for example, his highlighting of the value of trade unionism – not a theme which Labour has been keen to emphasise either in government or during this campaign, despite its financial dependence on union members’ contributions.

    Sarah Teather’s was the second strongest contribution, IMO. She makes some fair points about the Lib Dems’ resistance to “knee-jerk populism” in relation to criminal justice and in particular on “subsidiarity” – one area where Labour is weakest, with more of a tendency towards central control.

  2. Phil Walker says:

    Oh, but Alastair was saying with a thousand words what I was less clearly trying to articulate with about twenty. I think: I only read about half of it. 😉

    To view it historically, this is another expression of the constant argument between the Continental absolutist tradition, where the State says la société, c’est moi, and the English (or even British) tradition which has always viewed society as arising in a space vacated and defended by the State. The former view will see the ‘common good’ as something the State has a responsibility to propagate; the latter will see it as something the State can enable to propagate by defending and sustaining appropriate conditions.

    As you know, I think that the latter coheres best with Scripture. The role of the king qua king is to administer the law fairly. He may also be rich, and in that capacity he has additional personal expectations placed upon him, but as king his job is not to raid the coffers of the rich and distribute them to the poor. The ‘common good’ is an emergent thing, not an imposed thing. Concepts like ‘solidarity’ rely on chosenness in order to exist: solidarity is far better among volunteer troops than conscripts.

    But I suspect that you are approaching this from something more like the former position, which is why we disagree on so much. So in the interests of identifying a commonality, let me put it like this: I’m not saying you’re wrong, just French. 😉

  3. John H says:

    Phil: fairer to say that I oscillate uncertainly between the two. Or really that I do at least try to adhere to the second (which is why my way back into Labour politics went through, and remains in, Cooperative politics).

    However, I do think that “defending and sustaining appropriate conditions” does include a redistributive element. Ultimately the justification for redistribution of wealth is that it is a correction or counterbalance to other dynamics that would otherwise work against the common good.

    To personalise this: I’m a higher-rate taxpayer (though in no danger whatever of getting hit by the 50% rate!). Perhaps I should experience the paying of tax at 40% as an unjust raid on my “coffers”. Or perhaps I could experience it as a fair recognition of the fact that I’ve not reached the privileged position of earning enough to pay that level of tax solely under my own steam, but as part of a broader society to whom I therefore owe a certain debt.

    And then we get down to the really practical questions. Taxes are going to have to go up after this election, whoever wins. Should that be an increase in VAT, or an increase in income-based taxes? An increase in VAT will have a proportionately lesser effect on my income than an increase in income-based taxes (including NI), because more of my income goes on non-VATable items (mortgage, pension, savings). Speaking as a “beneficiary” in that situation, I don’t think that’s fair. I’ve benefited proportionately more than others from the way our society happens to operate, so I don’t see why I shouldn’t pay proportionately more than others to help keep the show on the road.

    And this is before we even get into the question of historical and contemporary patterns of exploitation

  4. Jesse says:

    Reading over these two posts I’m left feeling highly uneasy about “the common good” as a basis for political reflection and action by Christians.

    I can see myself in a civil vocation called to participate in choosing a public official. I can see myself developing a rationale for choosing this one over that one in view of my various other callings, obligations, and their interests. However, I doubt that can be safely summed up as voting for “the common good” or voting “for benefit of [whatever group].” Even if you let individuals map it to political specifics as they see fit, it still suggests a single obligatory rationale for casting a vote, implying that any other is not appropriate for a Christian. Therefore, rather than vocational, it seems moralistic. I suspect it’s possible for Christians to exercise their vocations without reductionist moral guidelines.

    I suppose this also means I doubt that suffrage in a democracy involves duties of kingship. Voting is not functionally a marginal bit of kingship.

  5. Pingback: Why not socialism? « The Wandering Hedgehog

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