Several years ago, British politician Margaret Hodge gave a speech in the United States in which she described the “nanny state” as a “force for good.” I’m reminded of her terminology each time I hear a leftist politician or so-called evangelical progressive recommend policy “for the common good.” You just know that they aren’t referring to Aristotle’s ethical understanding of the concept or to the tradition of Catholic Social Teaching. Instead, they are usurping a term that is based on the Golden Rule and central to moral theology for the benefit of progressive social and political values. Indeed, one of the highest recommendations for progressives is to describe a political or social policy as contributing to the “common good.”
The prevailing tenets of the left are based on the idea that society can be perfected into a framework that is effective for everyone’s “good” — that there are principles, regulations and measures that will produce “common good.”
Reason magazine recently ranked American cities according to whether city regulations interfered with the free exercise of citizens’ personal freedoms. The magazine looked at adult entertainment regulations such as the number of strip clubs per capita along with other “paternalistic” regulations such as seatbelt and motorcycle helmet laws, and surveillance cameras. Not surprisingly, Las Vegas, Nevada, is one of the least regulated cities in America, and Seattle, Washington, is one of the most regulated.
There is plenty of economic, demographic, health and consumer data to support the thesis that capitalism, with its free market economy, has made citizens in the United States more prosperous and better off and that American prosperity and technological advances have made it a more productive guardian of natural resources. Even so, there are those who think that people need protection and equality more than personal freedom and individual rights.