What Happened to the Common Good?

Ultimately, the obstacle that keeps us from adequately addressing our most pressing economic and social problems is our inability to see others as ourselves. Theorists of deliberative democracy have called this reciprocity, the ability to put ourselves in the position of others. John Rawls referred to this as our capacity to treat others as free and equal citizens. From a Christian perspective, we must ask ourselves whether we view all human beings as valuable children of God.

If we are instead driven by pride, we turn our backs on others and worry only about our own interests. I have my job, why should I worry about those who are unemployed? I have my health insurance and can afford it, why should we change it? Now, even these responses can be viewed as irrational, since everyone would benefit from a more affordable health care system. However, we seem prone, in our pride, not only to keep what is ours but also to get satisfaction out of the fact that others do not. This type of pride is the most dangerous, because we not only want more, but we also want to have more than everyone else.

If we are able to view others as like unto ourselves, the greatest benefit will be a greater ability to work together. Currently, we too often work against each other. We cannot work toward the common good if we do not feel that we have anything in common. Both democracy and Christianity require us to work together as one, despite our differences and disagreements, if we are to achieve higher goals, whether the goal is salvation or economic well being.

But we are so divided, is this possible? With faith in Christ, all things are possible. What about in the public square of democracy? Perhaps we need to have faith in each other.

Chris Henrichsen is a visiting instructor of political science at Brigham Young University-Idaho in Rexburg, Idaho. He will be a visiting instructor at BYU in Provo, Utah starting this fall. He is a doctoral candidate at Idaho State University, the father of three children, and the husband of Lyndee. His blog musings can be found at Approaching Justice ( and Faith Promoting Rumor (

11/30/2009 5:00:00 AM