De Koninck on the Common Good in Recent Publications
Updated: Apr 25, 2020
Of interest to students of De Koninck is Chad C. Pecknold’s essay published today in First Things, “False Notions of the Common Good.” The essay serves as a helpful précis for both the occasion of De Koninck’s famous The Primacy of the Common Good against the Personalists as well as the high points of De Koninck’s position. For instance, Pecknold links De Koninck’s thesis of the primacy of the common good with its sources in St. Augustine:
As Augustine writes in The City of God, the common good (commonweal) has weight according to the common objects of love. The more common the object of love, the more lovable it is—and since God is the most common object of love, the one whose goodness is diffused through every particular and common good, God is the most lovable common good of all. This is why De Koninck insists that “the negation of the very notion of the common good and of its primacy is a negation of God. In denying the universality of the end to which man is ordered, one denies the dignity which man receives from this ordination.”
Thus De Koninck’s most powerful claim is that human dignity can only be truly defended by embracing the primacy of the common good “expressly ordered to God.” Without an “explicit and public ordination” to God, our debates about the common will devolve into mere debates between tyrants, and “society degenerates into a state which is frozen and closed in upon itself.”
This paper uses Garrigou-Lagrange in order to explore the wider question of a Thomistic response to personalism and the thought of Jacques Maritain. How ought Thomistic thinkers to conceive of the individual and person distinction so widely utilized by the personalists? Does usage of this distinction necessitate personalism as condemned by Charles De Koninck and his reading of St. Thomas on the common good? Certainly, it is surprising that Garrigou-Lagrange utilized personalist jargon given his other theological views. In short, this article argues that the individual-person distinction can be used in two very different ways: as congruent with St. Thomas and De Koninck and as incongruent with them. Garrigou provides an example of the former, elucidating a properly Thomistic understanding of the relation between the primacies of the person and the common good. Jacques Maritain provides an example of the latter. Upon final analysis, we may make some important claims about nature and grace, the individual and the state, etc. by utilizing language shared with adherents of personalism but without abandoning the important thought of De Koninck on the primacy of the common good.