AECQ : The Common Good : our action and interaction

The Common Good : our action and interaction

Le Comité des affaires sociales
de l'Assemblée des évêques catholiques du Québec
Message du 1er mai 2006 | PDF | Version française

"No sort of scientific teaching, no kind of common interest, will ever teach men to share property and privileges with equal consideration for all.[...] Everywhere in these days men have, in their mockery, ceased to understand that the true security is to be found in social solidarity rather than in isolated individual effort." (Dostoevsky, F.M. 1879. The Brothers Karamazov, Part 1, Book VI, Chapter 2. Translated by Constance Garnett.)

1. With its May 1st message [International Workers' Holiday], the Social Affairs Committee of the Assembly of Québec Catholic Bishops wishes to engage the entire population in discussions about our common future. In a world that is increasingly dominated by market pressures, what will become of the common good, which with our human dignity is the basis of our lives together? What conditions must exist so that the common good is recognized as a fundamental norm of the State and that the aim of a just social order is to guarantee to each person, [...] his share of the community's goods? [1]

2. The common good can refer to the notion of public interest, neither of which can be monopolized by agenda-driven lobbyists. The common good is a continually evolving concept which calls for social transformation and cannot be defined by a dominant minority. Inclusion of all in the life of society, access to the benefits of creation and ability to participate in the effort to improve the world... [2] We recognize that these conditions are essential components for life in society and they must be available for the whole human race, without excluding anyone. [3] The notion of the common good also includes people's good will and community involvement, because We are responsible for promoting life together. We becomes the collective WE who must scrupulously evaluate the motivation and rationale for future social practices. [4] The concept of the common good includes material resources necessary for the preservation of life and the personal well-being of present and future generations : nourishment, water, lodging, environment, etc. This finally refers to intangible benefits and social conditions [5] that are indispensable to personal growth, fulfillment, and the development of each man and of the whole man [6] : social structures, institutions, laws, public services, culture, values, memory, traditions, and peace, etc. Realizing that we will share these benefits with the present and future inhabitants of our planet intensifies the urgency to safeguard the essence of the common good, which is our world's greatest asset. It is present in each society and era through the work of people who promote its growth.

Accelerated Undermining of the Common Good

3. Since the 1980's, we have experienced global economic conditions that have reversed or canceled the potential advantages of market exchanges. The result is that powerful people have free rein to make potentially brutal economic and financial decisions and are able to lobby successfully for supportive government policies. The powerful have cornered the market and designed it to mirror their interests. As in the 19th century, they have proposed blind dependence on market conditions as the solution to the challenges we are facing in the 21st century. This warped view has shrouded our common values and limited our capacity to live and work together. Claiming not to have a choice, the State has been pressured to eclipse its role as guardian of the common good while it compromises its duty to redistribute wealth. The State has also provided the legal framework and resources that this unrestricted market requires. The race for easy money, incessant over-consumption, and a culture of winning at all costs, have sedated individualism and fostered a culture of indifference toward the powerless. How do we initiate and provide support for projects that will benefit society and act in solidarity with others when the pressures of such a disjointed economic system have upset the social structures unique to countries or regions? How is it possible to live together under a legalized totalitarian model that pits people, businesses, and groups against each other in permanent economic warfare? The total freedom afforded capitalism has deceptively transformed expectations of social development and participation in the common good which we were assured would result from economic growth. People are very anxious and have reached their saturation point with a neo-liberal agenda which conflicts with economic justice, democracy, social solidarity, and environmental viability - in short, the components of the common good.

4. The pressure from shareholders to safeguard their capital and demands for higher returns on investments incite even more competition. These conditions produce an unstoppable vortex that damages working and living conditions through restructuring and job losses. According to Statistics Canada, in the manufacturing sector alone 145,000 jobs were lost during the period from January 2005 to January 2006. Of these, 33,300 were in Quebec. [7] Social programs have suffered because businesses have been allowed to diminish their fiscal commitments to their employees. Economists have provided data which proves that neo-liberal globalization has aggravated inequalities in every society, particularly between the rich and poor countries where structural readjustment policies have made life almost impossible.[8] In a frenzy that demands profit at all costs, the market is colonizing sectors which previously were untouched : public services, culture, access to clean water, etc. Even our genetic plant, animal, and human heritage is in the process of being patented and subsequently governed by rules that favor privatization and commerce. [9] Neo-liberalism has produced a minority class actively engaged in appropriating what was considered our common good, which we believed to be unlimited, whereby depriving the majority of the essentials needed for life and personal integrity. Our own humanity is at stake!

Hunger and Thirst for Change

5. The world does not appear to pay any attention to what once was considered common to all. Neo-liberal globalization has succeeded in creating an inhospitable world that has not only lost its credibility, but also its air of fatality. What we see is a thirst for change and for participation in decisions concerning our future. This is good news! [10] These unexpected reactions have rekindled hope and the impetus to create alternate ways to structure our society. Concern for our children's future, our society and planet has motivated people throughout the world, particularly our youth. How can we remain insensitive to opinions expressed by such distressing graffiti : Is there life before death? Is man's inhumanity becoming the norm that will engulf our world? There is great urgency to find a common starting point whereby WE would move from protests and indignation to a pro-active willingness to live and work together.

6. This WE, this third option, offers a radical contrast to the neo-liberal one-track mindset that dismisses all alternative proposals as "unrealistic". This civil society, this pro-active coalition of stakeholders that exists alongside the market and the State, promotes initiatives that would create alternate world structures, which are not only possible but absolutely necessary.[11] In Québec, the autonomous community movement, spurred on by the solidarity coalition of the victims of neo-liberalism, has more than 9,000 organizations and networks in all sectors of the economy and constitutes a presence unequaled in the Western World. Some examples are the movement for legislation to eliminate poverty, the anti-war protests "? chec à la guerre" or more recently, the province-wide student strikes and protests that emphasized solidarity issues. To this we can add widespread concern and public participation in debates concerning daycare issues, school reforms, the legal battles for pay equity and environmental safeguards, and the declarations : "pour un Québec lucide" and "pour un Québec solidaire". The Québec Social Forum in June 2006 will be the next local venue for planetary resistance to neo-liberal policies.

A Market-Driven Society or an Interactive Citizenship?

7. We live in a world where conflicting concepts of life and the realities of living together are jostling for space. Rapport with other people is essential for our identity and fulfillment. We create bonds through recognized references : family, language, country, customs, etc.[12] and these experiences are the foundations of modern democracy. As human beings and citizens, we must be free and equal before the law and acknowledged heirs of a political and global community. WE must be authorized participants who will fine-tune the definition of the common good and who will make laws that respect our common references. As participants, WE must be committed to honor the agreed-upon social contracts that promote solidarity. This inclusive, social, and political WE must define what constitutes the common good. Without this intervention, the laws of a self-regulating market place would downgrade people to the status of pawns and actors, the latter who would promote only their self-interests. Left unchecked, these laws would draw battle lines which would destroy both our social bonds and the search for the common good. Without a social and vocal WE, in whose name and for what purpose could we limit the demands of an unrestricted market?

Social and Reciprocal Ties

8. In the Bible, the God of Moses and of Jesus is clearly a God of grace, a Provider. In the spirit of the Jubilee, the grace that we receive must be shared with others. The result is reciprocity, the social bonds of solidarity whereby our love for God and our neighbor becomes a single force that embraces all human beings. A modern example of solidarity can be found in the recent television series "Donnez au suivant" [Pay It Forward]. All of these considerations acknowledge the concrete realities of people's lives with the goal of improving their living conditions and access to what we consider the common good. In the biblical tradition of the Jubilee, there is a demand to limit the procurement of land, to the resulting servitude of debt, and the over-exploitation of land and workers. The first Christian communities clearly understood that their faith required them to share their goods in order that there was not a needy person among them (Acts 4 :34). In the 4th century, the Fathers of the Church affirmed a universal right to the common goods of the earth, thus indicating that private property is ordained to promote solidarity. We should always be involved in paying down this "social mortgage" (John Paul II).

9. To recap, from the point of view of witnessing to the Christian tradition, and of the new way of living together that it implies, the plans for society proposed by neo-liberalism do not ring true. The god of the marketplace is not a provider; it makes unceasing demands on the lives of the most vulnerable. The other person is only a commodity : a renewable resource that can be abandoned on the side of the road once it has outlived its usefulness. All measures or limitations to its power of private appropriation or any course of action that will permit universal access to the common good, remains foreign to its purposes.


10. These are urgent issues and we have to find answers. How can we overcome our lack of effort to promote the common good? How can the heads of States distance themselves from the dictates of the market place and lobbyists and regain their legislative power to prioritize the common good and ensure a just redistribution of wealth? Isn't the common good an untouchable and indivisible concept? How do we integrate a social WE whereby every individual's worth and dignity would be priceless, particularly those who are abandoned and forgotten in a seller's market? What are the conditions required for living together that would take into account our common humanity? Are we merely paying lip service to the concept of justice for all? What tangible means can each of us undertake to repair and re-weave the torn threads in our social fabric?

11. Just as the women and men mentioned previously who are passionate about humanity and already involved in these collective and engaging endeavors, we are also summoned to leave our comfortable homes and join them as we strive to restore hope for a just society. No discussions, debates, and initiatives are too modest to be counted among the initiatives that will enable us to live in a world that is more hospitable. At the end of the day, what we are proposing is to reinstate universal access to the common good.

Social Affaires Committee

Msgrs. Gilles Lussier, Roger Ebacher, Jean Gagnon and Pierre-André Fournier

M. Pierre Côté, SJ, Mmes Andrée Cyr-Desroches, Yvette Roy and Gisèle Marquis

Published by : L'Assemblée des évêques catholiques du Québec [The Assembly of Québec Catholic Bishops]
1225, boul. Saint-Joseph Est, Montréal (Québec) H2J 1L7
Email :
Web site : http ://
Legal Deposit : 2nd Quarter 2006
Bibliothèque nationale du Québec
ISBN : 2-89279-091-3

[1] Benedict XVI, Encyclical Letter : Deus Caritas Est, December 25, 2005, 26.

[2] Commission for Social Affairs, CCCB, The Common Good or Exclusion : A Choice for Canadians, Open Letter to the Members of Canadian Parliament, February 2, 2001, 11.

[3] Vatican II, Gaudium et Spes, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, 26.

[4] Jean-Paul Jouary, « Le bien commun : une quête dépassée? », Virtualités, Vol. 3, 4, April-May 1997, p. 33. (free translation)

[5] Catéchisme de l'Église catholique, Concacan Inc., 1906-1912, Ottawa, Ontario, 1993, 676 p.

[6] Paul VI, Populorum Progressio, To the development of ‘each man' and of the ‘whole man', 14.

[7] « Emploi : Saignée dans le secteur manufacturier », Le Devoir, February 11, 2006, p. C1.

[8] Éric Desrosiers, « La mondialisation n'a pas tenu ses promesses », Le Devoir, October 24, 2004, p. 1, 8.

[9] Josantony, Joseph, « Breveter le vivant : une menace pour le bien commun », Development and Peace, 2001, p. 4.

[10] Guy Paiement, Michel Rioux, Collectif des journées sociales du Québec, « Une bonne nouvelle pour le peuple », Le Devoir, January 5, 2006.

[11] Peter Leuprecht, « Contraindre le fort pour affranchir le faible », Relations, No. 705, December 2005, p. 18.

[12] Dany-Robert Dufour, L'art de réduire les têtes. Sur la nouvelle servitude de l'homme libéré à l'ère du capitalisme total, Paris, Denoël, 2003.