COVID and the Common Good

Mark Hoipkemier in The Hedgehog Review:

In ordinary times, the common good is like liberalism’s cranky old uncle: You wouldn’t deny his existence outright, though you don’t usually mention him and his foibles in polite company. But on occasion the common good, like Uncle Orlo, has a role to play in our liberal societies, and the current coronavirus pandemic is such a time. It certainly forces citizens to consider dimensions of our common life that we normally prefer to ignore. While the common good is on center stage, we might profitably reflect on its ongoing relevance for less turbulent times as well.

To be sure, the concept of the common good is a slippery one, subject to contestation and interpretation from all points of the political spectrum. This is a feature, not a bug. That said, most of the contending views draw on a core meaning articulated most clearly by Aristotle and the tradition of thinkers follow him. On this view, the good that members of a community share consists of the flourishing of that community—whether it is a nation, a town, a school, a religious body, or even a family. Irreducibly social goods of this kind are necessary for the flourishing of the “political animal,” yet totally inaccessible apart from the communities with which those goods are bound up. You cannot enjoy the goods of quarterbacking without a football team, nor those of higher education apart from a university system. These communities flourish when their members justly share in the benefits and burdens of pursuing common ends together. When common ends such as knowledge or gridiron glory are achieved with justice, the irreducibly social excellence of the community is a common good in which the members share. The main point of the­­­ “common good” is to name this shared flourishing and use it as a way to evaluate the use of political authority.

At present, away from the crowded wards of busy hospitals and a few mostly urban global hotspots, what we are facing is not the COVID-19 virus itself but the vast social anticipation of its spread, coordinated with varying degrees of competence by the directives of political authorities at different levels of government. Broad compliance with their mandates, it is worth noting, is itself evidence that contemporary society has not become as atomized or individualistic as some critics of liberal democracy claim.

More here.