The “Common Good” refers to the collective well-being, interests, and benefits of a community. It emphasizes the importance of community values, resources, and goals that contribute to the overall well-being of the community. Decisions and actions that promote the common good are those that consider the needs and rights of all members of the community and seek to create a fair and just society. A city council, for example, allocates funding to improve public infrastructure such as roads, schools, and parks. This benefits all residents of the city and contributes to the common good by enhancing the quality of life for everyone.
In our latest book, we define the 9 domains of the Common Good, tied to the essential freedoms they provide:
The “Greater Good” refers to a perspective that makes decisions and choices that might require sacrifice or compromise on an individual or smaller group level in order to achieve a greater benefit for a larger number of people. The concept of the greater good often involves ethical considerations and the idea that certain actions are justifiable if they lead to significant positive outcomes for a larger portion of society, even if they might negatively impact some individuals or smaller groups.
The problem with the greater good is that the decision-making for the sake of achieving significant positive outcomes – is left to an elite. And this elite may not be serving the interests of the common good.
Authoritarian regimes – both on the extreme left and the extreme right – have used the idea of the “Greater Good” to justify imposing strict controls on society, limiting personal freedoms, and suppressing opposition. This is done in the name of maintaining social order (harmony?!) and achieving national unity.
Fascism and Communism both focus on nationalism, a strong centralized government and strongman leader, and often promote the supremacy of a particular race or nation. These regimes historically have justified their actions by claiming to pursue the greater good of the nation or the state, often at the expense of individual rights and freedoms.
Thus, authoritarian ideologies can lead to exclusionary policies that discriminate against certain groups deemed as threats to the nation or its interests. The “Greater Good” might be invoked to justify these policies, claiming that they are necessary for the security and prosperity of the dominant group. Such regimes use propaganda to manipulate public perception and present their actions as necessary for the greater good. This can involve distorting information and suppressing dissent to create a unified narrative that supports the regime’s goals.
At its worst, interpretations of the “Greater Good” have been used to advance ideas of racial or ethnic superiority, where one group is deemed as inherently superior and entitled to privileges at the expense of others. It is the rational behind hate-based politics – leading to separation – apartheid, institutional injustice, and genocide.
Don’t get fooled by the Greater Good – or long-termism, another form of greater-goodism.