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How common is the 'common good'?

A world where choice is selfish and 'individual' has become a dirty word

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December 08, 2021


11:25 AM

How common is the 'common good'?

During a three-hour “debate” in the UK Parliament on regulations to be imposed in light of the newly discovered Omicron variant of the coronavirus, MP Steve Baker talked about the “dignity of choice” that gives “meaning in our lives.” He asked his Parliamentary colleagues to consider whether “we are to be empty vessels, or mere automata – things to be managed, as if a problem?”

For Baker, the real question wasn’t about masks or quarantine regulations. It was about “the kind of nation and civilization that we are creating in the context of this new disease.”

The Guardian didn’t like that question. It denigrated Baker’s politics as “essentially emotional” and called his appeal for “dignity of choice” a “dried-up vision of the human condition.”

What was actually wrong with calling for individuals to be permitted to make their own life choices? The Guardian explained: Conservatives like Baker were “hostile toward the state being used to shape society and the economy.” Far from being open to debating the relationship between the state and the individual, The Guardian has already made up its mind: The state’s role is to “shape” society.

The question then is, in whose image? What is the state, anyway? Isn’t the UK a democracy, with “the state” being simply the expression of the will of the electorate? In which case, “the state” is made up of the individuals within it.

Not according to The Guardian, apparently, which accuses Conservatives like Baker of having views that are “more about the individual than any notion of the common good.”

So apparently, “individuals” and “the common good” are somehow opposed. The common good is not the sum of what is good for the individuals within that commonality. It is something quite nebulous, apparently, as The Guardian does not even deign to define it. But whatever it is, people who base their politics on “the insistence that people like them should be able to do as they please” are somehow enemies of the “common good” and dangers to society.

Because who really wants to do what they please? Everyone would much rather think about the “common good” than their own good. Wouldn’t they?

And if they don’t, then luckily “the state” is there, looming in the background, ready to “shape society.”

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