Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Flying Solo and the Natural Law: The Common Good as Part of the Moral Order

AN OVEREMPHASIS ON INDIVIDUALISM will usually land one outside the philosophy of natural law and even outside human law properly so called. That is one reason why the natural law philosophy is largely out of favor. Individualism may be defined in a variety of ways, but ultimately, individualism looks at the common good as something merely utilitarian or useful. That is, the common good, is "a mere means to the good of individuals," and outside of this has no independent justification. Simon, 97. The common good does lead to the private good of men, but it is a misinterpretation of its importance to view it as a means, and not an end in itself. By subordinating the common good to the individual good, that is by making it the desire of private good and private action, one misinterprets it, and in fact destroys the notion altogether. There must be a common desire and a common action behind a good, and not a multiple of private desires and common actions, if a good it to be called authentically common. Adam Smith's "invisible hand" which supposedly guides individual choice and individual demand and individual supply and leads to the common good is farcical of the common good. By definition, selfishness, even if it may accidentally or even frequently also benefit the commonwealth, is not conducive to common good, at least one strictly so called.

But more is required that mere common desire and common action for there to be a common good. In addition to common desire and common action, this good, to be common, also requires a distribution to individuals; the common good must not be kept apart from or segregated from the individuals that make up the community. So Simon concludes:
A thing which has the appearance of a common good, inasmuch as it cannot be realized without common desire and common action, is not a common good and may amount to sheer destruction if it is kept apart from the persons who make up the community. . . . The accomplishments of common desire and effort if left undistributed are actually kept out of society and denied the character of common good.
Simon, 98. Three things, then, in Simon's view must exist for a common good to be a common good in theory and fact: (i) a common desire, (ii) a common action, and (iii) a distribution, in some fashion, among the individuals who make up the commonality.

Simon draws from a stray comment of the Communist Manifesto to make a point (though not by any means advocating any of its principles!). "The bourgeoisie," Marx and Engles state, "has accomplished wonders far surpassing Egyptian pyramids, Roman aqueducts, and Gothic cathedrals." Both the Roman aqueducts and the Gothic cathedrals can be considered common goods, so long as they are not withdrawn from access by the public. All men may drink the water the aqueduct guides into the city, just like all men can drink the living waters by attending the cathedral. The pyramids, on the other hand, are not common goods. There was no equivalent distribution among the people of the sizable human labor that was expended on these monuments for the glory of the Pharaoh. "The Pyramids of Egypt are a rather clear example of an undistributed and undistributable common achievement." Such things still occur, they are often the result of "pork barrel" spending, as when "a road is built, at great public expense, for the service of a very few people." Simon, 99. This reminds one of the famous "Bridge to Nowhere," a 365 million project to link the town of Ketchikan (population 8,900) and the island of Gravina (population 50) in Alaska.

Given that there has to be some appropriate distribution of a common good among the population to retain its characteristic of a common good, Simon asks whether the common good becomes utilitarian relative to the good of the individual that participates in it. In other words, does it become a mere means? No, says Simon:
[T]he law of distribution which is that of the common good in no way prevents the common good from enjoying the character of an end, and of an end higher than the private good, and of the final end if the community under consideration has the character of a complete community.
Simon, 100-01. (That's why Aristotle referred to the common good (which he calls the "good of the polis") as "greater and more divine," κάλλιον δὲ καὶ θειότερον, than securing private good. Arist., Nic. Eth., 1094b8. This preeminence of the common good is derived from its "completeness" and "duration," qualities that we discussed in our previous blog posting.

Not only does the common good take precedence over the private good because of its relative duration and completeness, there is also a sense of hierarchy or ordering in the types of goods (and evils). Drawing upon the thought of Pascal in his Pensées, [frag. 792], Simon makes this point. In this fragment, Pascal expresses an important truth. While within certain orders goods may be incommensurable, across certain orders they may not. Some goods are of more fundamental value the others. There is a difference of kind between some goods and others, or some evils and others. Not all matters are differences in degree.
Pascal expresses, with his unique power of words, the great metaphysical and ethical truth that all good of a lower order falls sort of any good of a higher order.
Simon, 102.

This is a truth utterly forgotten by moderns, who are loathe to make judgment calls, as if all value is a matter of taste. For modern ears, the sentiments of St. Thomas or of Cardinal Newman are incomprehensible
The good of grace in a single soul is greater than the good of nature in the whole universe.

The Church . . . holds that it were better for the sun and moon to drop from heaven, for the earth to fail, and for all the many millions who are upon it to die of starvation in extremest agony, so far as temporal affliction goes, than that one soul, I will not say, should be lost, but should commit one single venial sin, should tell one willful untruth, though it harmed no one, or steal one poor farthing without excuse . . . she considers the action of this world and the action of the soul simply incommensurate, viewed in their respective spheres; she would rather save the soul of one single wild bandit of Calabria, or whining beggar of Palermo, than draw a hundred lines of railroad through the length of Italy, or carry out a sanitary reform in its fullest details in every city of Sicily, except so far as these great national works tended to some spiritual good beyond them.
S. T. Ia-IIae, q. 113, 9 ad 2; John Henry Cardinal Newman, Certain Difficulties Felt by Anglicans in Catholic Teaching (London: Longmans, Green & Co. 1891), Vol. I, 240.

Here is a traditional truth entirely lost, one shared by St. Thomas, Cardinal Newman, Pascal, and anyone that gives a moment thought to eternal verities: "[A]ny good of the higher order is greater than the totality of the good that the lower order admits of." Simon, 102. (It should be noted that this notion is entirely lost by the advocates of the "New Natural Law Theory such as Finnis, Grisez, and George, who hold all human goods to incommensurable and do not admit of this sort of hierarchy of goods.) The physical order is subordinate to the rational order, and the rational order is subordinate to the natural moral order, and the natural moral order is subordinate (though never contradictory) to the order of grace. So, for example, one should never intentionally kill an innocent human being even to save one's physical life, or to gain riches, or to acquire knowledge, because this would be to commit a moral evil to so as to gain advantage in the physical or rational orders, violating this hierarchy that prevents such confusing of orders.

Simon then asks the question of what order--physical or moral--the common good may be placed. When one hears the Ciceronian saying: salus populi suprema lex esto, the health of the people is the supreme law, which is nothing other than the principle that the common good of a people is the centerpiece of law, is this suprema lex a law of the physical or moral order? It is, Simon insists, a principle of moral order, and so supreme, but not absolutely. That the common good should be at the center of law, should be its end, is a supreme principle:
Supreme, indeed, not absolutely speaking for the order of charity [which I've characterized as the order of Grace, L.C.], in the words of Pascal, is above all the perfections of nature; but supreme in an order that it would be most inappropriate to designate as physical, material, or external. The common good of the civil society . . . [is in the] order of moral perfection, which remains essentially naturally and never should be confused with the order of charity (in the strictly theological sense which is that of Pascal) . . . . Of this common good it should not be said that it is the ultimate end absolutely speaking, for it is an ultimate within an order which is not itself ultimate.
Simon, 105. Simon then concludes:
[T]he common good indeed enjoys primacy over the private good of the individual, when both are of the same order, but that at the same time the common good is internal to man and by its very nature requires continuous distribution among the members of society. As such it is the end of the laws of the state. . . . If the purse of law is common, the cause also must be common. Thus the law is a rule of reason, relative to the common good which, on account of its relation to the common good, proceeds from the community. . . . [t]he making of law belongs either to the community as a whole or to someone who is in charge of the community. . . . [and] has to be promulgated, it has to be conveyed to the knowledge of those who are subject to the law.
Simon, 107-08, 109.

When one gathers together all the thoughts of Simon on human law, the analogate of law with which we are most familiar, he proposes, in fact, the definition of law of St. Thomas Aquinas:
Law is an ordinance of reason for the common good, promulgated by him who has the care of the community.

[Lex] est aliud quam quaedam rationis ordinatio ad bonum commune, ab eo qui curam communitatis habet, promulgata.
Simon, 109; Ia-IIae q. 90 a. 4 co.

Using his understanding of human law as the analogate, Simon now turns to what it may tell us of the natural law, the natural moral law.

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