How do we balance the protection of individual liberty with promoting the common good?
That’s a question making headlines and tearing our nation apart. And one that is particularly problematic given that as a culture we elevate individualism to heroic proportions.
Too much emphasis on individual freedom and the well-being of the entire nation suffers; too much focus on what’s best for the general public and the legitimate interests of individuals get trampled.
At first glance it might seem that since we all benefit from the common good, we would all willingly cooperate to establish and maintain the common good.
Not so fast.
OBSTACLES COMPLICATING “The Common Good”
- everyone has their own version of “the good life”
- whose “good life” will we all pitch in to support?
- efforts, therefore, to bring about the common good can only lead to adopting the views of some while excluding others, thus violating the principle of treating people equally
2. “free riders”
- “free riders” take the benefits the common good provides while refusing to do their part to support the common good
- if enough people become free riders – refusing to get vaccinated, e.g. – the common good which depends on their support – herd immunity – is compromised
- our historical traditions place a high value on individual freedom
- in this individualistic culture it is difficult to convince people that they should sacrifice some of their freedom, some of their personal goals, and some of their self-interest for the sake of the “common good”
4. unequal sharing of burdens
- maintaining a common good often requires that particular individuals or particular groups bear costs that are much greater than those borne by others.
- maintaining an unpolluted environment, for example, may require costly pollution control devices; making the health system affordable may require that insurers accept lower premiums, etc.
- forcing particular groups to carry such unequal burdens “for the sake of the common good,” is, at least arguably, unjust.
There seems to be no perfect balance, no easy answer. Self-interest will always clash with notions of common good.
🙂 🙂 🙂