Individual liberty vs common good

Today those from "the left"generally want individual liberty - except when that includes the freedom to think independently. Of course, that's in democracies - I make no comment about the many totalitarian states - and sadly "the right" can often seem as close to totalitarian as the left.

Freedom of the individual is fundamental - even when we disagree with what someone says (as Evelyn Beatrice Hall put it so succinctly). Sadly many people think their "rights" take precedence over others' rights. Having lost a baby at birth we are especially saddened by mums who've lost a baby - but it is inconsistent to say some babies can have their right to life arbitrarily removed. On what basis do we as a society decide these things? This is not a right to life piece - just an observation on the lack of consistency, which all too often leads to illogical conclusions.

Thoughts lead to words which lead to action. While pacifists see it otherwise, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was one who decided someone like Hitler justified death (Hitler eventually had him hanged a month or so before taking his own life). However, most of us do not deal with people at that extreme - our lives are more "mundane". But The Matrix summarises it so well - so many of us have swallowed the blue pill rather than dealing with reality.

Sadly freedom breeds abuses. The film Slumdog Millionaire showed some examples, and we know from our own culture that some people will always seek their own good, regardless of the cost to others.

Which brings us the other point - the common good. Some take this as state control of everything - but as with so much, taking things too far lowers the quality of life for all (except perhaps for the pigs who walk on two feet).

The common good is not all being the same. It is ensuring each person has the freedom to develop to their potential, and the weak are looked after. Years ago we played a game. Even though we knew the only way we could get ahead as a whole was by cooperating, the temptation to get ahead of others meant as a whole, we stayed where we were. Some may have temporarily got ahead - but overall we were all worse off. Current trends on the control of the world's resources suggest maybe we could have all benefitted from playing the game.

We have two factors in play - and neither can be said to be "above" the other. At times individual rights are sacrificed for the common good. At other times, individual rights will take precedence over what others think. There is no universal rule - but people's individual liberty is only valid when it allows for the common good.

Defining what is "common good" is a minefield. Today the media would have us believe individual freedom is all there is – no restrictions. But they often also say “the state” (which is funded by us) should provide this and that. "The left" (especially Alt right) claims that everything they dislike is not for the "common good" - but often base their decisions solely on what "they" want.

I was confused by the fuss over US judges - until I read My Final Word by Charles Colson (part of Nixon's team). He suggested US politicians were so focussed on power they ignored judges setting law in their courts. He didn't say so - but it's obviously "our" fault. We don't read and understand the "fine print".

There were logical reasons for having three separated arms of the State, but having read this article, it became obvious (in the USA particularly) that the legislature has focussed on power rather than representing the people. As they have done so, the judiciary has taken up "making law" by their decisions. They're no longer applying the law enacted by the legislature - they're not deciding what that law should be. What seems like so much fuss over what I have regarded as "inconsequential" to the direction of the nation suddenly makes sense.

Sadly it looks like we are likely to continue this downward path until Western Civilisation is but a memory. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. Still there is hope.

Recently I saw a film I thought likely to be pretty mediocre (even though it starred Judy Dench). Philomena, co-starring and screen written by Steve Coogan, is the true story of an Irish woman who had fallen pregnant as a teenager and was sent to a convent. Despite the trauma of having her baby taken for adoption as a young child (and knowing nothing for five decades because of the church), the powerful scene was her forgiving the nun who was still there 50 years later. Despite growing up in the most powerful religious institution, somehow she reflected the real nature of God. Steve Coogan's response of righteous indignation didn't seem "wrong" - but in comparison was weak and unhelpful. So much of the modern justice "for whoever we think has been hurt" movement seems to have lost sight of the fact that real justice involves forgiveness and reconcilation. Sounds a bit like Maori justice to me.

Last Modified

Last modified: 28 November 2020.