….there are two misunderstandings we have to be especially on guard against in deploying the elusive and self-transcending language of the common good. One is what we may perhaps be permitted to call “the Prussian doctrine of the state”: the idea of a political organisation comprehensive of all actual and possible communications, which is in itself therefore the concrete universal, the achievement and interpretation of the purposes of God. The universal good may be represented in a form we can conceive synthetically, for practical purposes, by the state or some other established order. But this conceivable form does not anticipate all possible moral demands. Concrete moral demand can always outrun synthetic moral vision; it may call us to do what we do not wholly see. That is the truth of the experience of obligation, the experience of something as required of us which is not wholly, or not yet, self-explanatory and perspicuous.
One of the most memorable features of Gaston Fessard’s contribution is his recognition of the “problem” of imagining the universal common good, and his insistence that it cannot be grasped simply as an extension of scale, whether in existing community, on the one hand, or in the activity of communication, on the other.
The Prussian doctrine of the state can migrate into larger-scale bureaucratic organisations of a multinational or international character. One false universal the Scriptures can acquaint us with is that of empire. In the common good, as Gaudium et Spes sought to remind us, there is a thrust towards the universal, but the true universal is not quantitative, realised by extension of organisational scale, scope or rigour, but qualitative, too, requiring a depth of personal “communion,” as Fessard names it.
The other misunderstanding we must beware of concerns the relation of the universal common good to history. The truth of history is that time is not, as Richard Wagner conceived it in Parsifal, “turned to space.” Language about action in history cannot be assimilated to language about making things. The universal is not an artefact, to be constructed, replicated, copied and so on, with time as a kind of material element out of which it is wrought.
The question of the universal is inevitably a question about eschatology, the “fulfilment of the times.” As this is not at the disposal of human imagination, so it is not at the disposal of human construction. What is realised historically can only be watched and hoped for, refracted indirectly through the prism of anticipation.
Read it all from ABC Australia.