by Dave Robinson 11/4/06

Some months ago, Pax Christi USA entered into a partnership with two-dozen national Catholic organizations to create Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good. This important initiative seeks to educate voters, the media and politicians about the foundational role of the common good in Catholic Social Teaching and call Catholic voters to discern their support for candidates based on the full range of values contained in those teachings. As the US bishops’ have consistently affirmed in their election year statements, Faithful Citizenship:

“Politics in this election year and beyond should be about an old idea with new power–the common good. The central question should not be, ‘Are you better off than you were four years ago?’ It should be, ‘How can we–all of us, especially the weak and vulnerable–be better off in the years ahead? How can we protect and promote human life and dignity? How can we pursue greater justice and peace?’”

The concept of the common good can appear to be a drastic position given these times of rabid individualism and self-centeredness that predominate in politics and culture. But the concept of the common good is central to the nonviolence that Jesus consistently taught. Nonviolence, by definition, is relational–expressing a clear position in relation to another–be that “other” a person or even the environment. Therefore we can only be adherents to nonviolence if we in fact recognize that since we are all in this together, we are called to value what is good for all of us in common. In fact, what is good for everyone in common is also good for the individual, and by promoting the “common good,” we are promoting our own interests.

Accepting the common good as a framework for engaging in political discernment runs counter to the culture of individualism, competition and advantage on which so much of our nation’s current thinking rests. But for those who claim a discipleship to the nonviolent Jesus, the concept of the common good is clear. It means that what is “good” is what is good for the least among us. It means that what is good is that which reverences and prioritizes the protection of the natural environment that we all depend upon regardless of individual circumstance or politics. It contains within it the assumption that we take seriously Jesus’ law that calls us all to love our neighbor as ourselves–and act that way.

Unfortunately, the common good is literally under fire today. “There is an urgent need to shed light on the great moral matters of our day, including poverty, family insecurity, inequities in education and healthcare, war, torture and the looming crisis of global climate change,” says Rev. Charles Currie, S.J., president of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities, a partner group in Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good.

The recent legalization of torture and the shredding of the Geneva Conventions is just one example of the short-sighted and self-centered politics that plague our nation. Even as the National Intelligence Estimate clearly warns that our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are breeding terrorists and reducing our security, the quest for control of the oil and gas resources in that region continue to drive policy based on the narrow interests of some rather than the common good of all.

Perhaps nowhere is the lack of commitment to the common good more dangerous than in the current US government’s approach to global warming. Al Gore’s film, An Inconvenient Truth, is a clarion call to think beyond the concerns of individual interests and embrace–for our life’s sake–the inescapable truth that we are all in it together, and the “it” we are in is the planet Earth. Hundreds of million of lives are at stake in the next few decades as coastlines and climate systems are impacted by our ongoing self-interested policies.

Those policies are largely driven by corporate interests that are by definition short-sighted and self-interested. Whether we are looking at the AIDS epidemic or the concentration of media ownership, the prevalence (and tax-incentivized use) of gas-guzzling SUVs or the privatization of potable water, the unrestrained and government-sanctioned activities of multinational corporations are creating the greatest concentration of wealth and power for a small number of individuals while vast numbers of people here in the US and around the world are devalued and abandoned.

In his August 28th essay, “Reclaiming the Issues: Islamic or Republican Fascism?” published on, writer Thom Hartmann draws some explicit historical parallels between the current “corporatism” in the US and the fascism of the mid-20th century. It was then that Mussolini claimed to have invented the term, fascism, although Hartmann points out that “it was actually Italian philosopher Giovanni Gentile who wrote the entry in the Encyclopedia Italiana that said: ‘Fascism should more appropriately be called corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power.’ Mussolini however, affixed his name to the entry and claimed credit for it.”

Hartmann then draws on a 1944 speech given by then Vice President Henry Wallace whose comments pointed at the rise of fascism in the United States at that moment, speak directly to our times: “They claim to be super patriots, but they would destroy every liberty guaranteed by the constitution. They demand free enterprise, but are the spokesmen for monopoly and vested interest. Their final objective toward which all their deceit is directed is to capture political power so that, using the power of the state and the power of the market simultaneously, they may keep the common man in eternal subjection.”

Hartmann continues: “In 1938 Mussolini brought his vision of fascism into full reality when he dissolved Parliament and replaced it with the ‘Camera dei Fasci e delle Corporazioni–the Chamber of the Fascist Corporations. Corporations were still privately owned, but now, instead of having to sneak their money to folks like John Boehner and covertly write legislation, they were openly in charge of the government…American fascists who want CEOs as President, Vice President, House Majority Whip and Senate Majority Leader, and write legislation with corporate interests in mind, don’t generally talk to We the People about their real agenda, or the harm it does to small businesses and working people.”

Today, the polarization that infects our nation and its political discourse works as a ready tool for current day fascists to deflect and divide. There is no room for common ground when a cynical manipulation of “faith” demonizes all “others.’ There is no room for common ground when every challenge is framed as “us’ against “them.” This elimination of common ground leaves little place to make the case for the common good. But it is that very case that we must make.

There is no question that Catholic values and the social teachings of the Church unequivocally call us to a public agenda rooted in the common good. Manipulation of peoples’ most closely held values is nothing new–either in politics or in faith life. But as the evidence continues to mount indicating that we are approaching a point of no return on everything from constitutional liberties to global environmental viability, from the place of poor and working people in our own society to our commitments to international agreements and our relationship to the wider global community, the urgency of our own work to rebuild a politics based on the common good is clear.

If we are to be faithful to the nonviolence that Jesus taught and to which we seek to remain faithful, we must be ready to unmask the powers and principalities that have gained a chokehold on our politics and society and challenge them for what they have always been, the real evil that we are all called to struggle against as Vice President Wallace put it so long ago, “always and everywhere.”

Dave Robinson is executive director of Pax Christi USA, the national Catholic peace movement ( This article appeared in the Fall 2006 issue of The Catholic Peace Voice.