Individual Rights vs. Common Good?

Nothing epitomizes summer more than the annual celebration of the Fourth of July. The national holiday celebrated this weekend will be highlighted by parades, picnics and fireworks commemorating the independence of the United States from Great Britain.  The founding Fathers sought to create a new nation which would honor what they believed were the God given rights of individual freedom; one they believed of great importance, is the right of religious freedom, independent of any governmental influences. The Fathers also believed that individual freedom was not an absolute in every case but had to be coupled simultaneously with the need of a common good benefiting all citizens.

  What is difficult about the ideal of the founding Fathers is the tension which has always existed between individual rights and the common good. Throughout history different political philosophies have either placed too much emphasis on individual rights or too much on what they saw as the common good. For those who claim the common good is the paramount objective of a society, the political philosophy of Marxism was most attractive. The old Soviet Union and present-day China have adopted such a philosophy.  On the surface, Marxism seems plausible, but what is not publicized is the crushing, and in some cases, the complete elimination of individual freedom.

First to be eliminated in these societies is the freedom of religion. The old adage of Marx comes to mind, “religion is the opium of the people” he would decry.  Once religion is nonexistent, all of our other rights fall like dominoes. We only need to remember the deliberate abortions of the one girl policy China has dictated for years, all under the banner of the common good. Now China has gone to a 3 child policy in order to supply workers for their future expansion.

The lopsidedness of Marxism with its total emphasis on the state, claims they are the sole steward of the common good. Many countries in Europe have adopted the philosophical philosophy of socialism with the hopes of marrying individual rights with the common good.  Generally speaking, the state still has a vital role in securing the common good by the benefit programs it offers its citizens while at the same time, legislating certain rights they believe belong to certain individuals.

In our country, take for example, the Affordable Health Care Law which demanded employers like the Little Sisters of the Poor offer contraceptives to its employees even if it is against the individual religious rights of the Little Sisters of the Poor. Thank God the Little Sisters prevailed. Another example which can be cited is the situation which forced Catholic Charities to stop assisting in adoption and foster care because the government demanded they take cases which would be in direct opposition to the teachings of the Church.   The major problem with this philosophy is individual rights are given to some honoring their ‘religious belief’ while at the same taking away the rights of others.  

Yet another, and most vile form of governance by which dictators, despots or lawless nations thrive. For those countries neither the common good nor individual human rights have any legitimate voice. Those countries are ruled by violence and greed and can be observed in too many countries throughout the world where the induvial rights nor the common good exist at all.

Perhaps what is worth recognizing this holiday is a society with utopian ideals can never be achieved in a Fallen world

What needs to be acknowledged is a society where the tension between individual human freedom and the common good are constantly evaluated and fine-tuned, so that both the individual freedom and common good are protected.

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