The Liberal view of Common Good

Within Liberalism the notion of common good changed from the early to the later positive. The early liberals were fanatical in their belief that all that was needed for achieving the common good was for each individual to pursue his own happiness in his own way so long as it did not interfere with the happiness of others. In this he needs to have the total freedom to do as he pleases with only societal institutions like courts and a constitution existing only to solve disputes and fights. They invented the concept of utility maximisation to explain their theory. Later liberals took a positive and constructive view of the common good and suggested it was not enough for each individual to blindly seek his own selfish interest in a state of free competition. That way the common good would never be realised. T.H. Green who is believed to have provided the ethical foundation to liberalism, argued that the individual is a social being and he comes to acquire his capacities by being a part of the larger social whole. For a free, rational and moral life one has to live in accordance with the common good which may or may not be the individual’s good. It is only this wider common good defined in a more real and benevolent sense which provides the context for rights. He suggested the common good is served when the external conditions prevailing within in a society provide the conditions for the internal development of man. This can be achieved not just by making provisions for rights, liberty and justice but also by such things like providing public education and health care, factory and minimum wage legislation, food adulterations laws etc. For the sake of the common good meant in this sense the state needs to intervene and regulate the economy and even should stand in the way of free competition if necessary. The liberal thinker R.H. Tawney even went to the extent of suggesting that common good is served by proper distribution of resources and regulation of the economy for social purpose. Thus they supported the idea of a welfare state rather than a free market economy. 

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