BRACK:  Let’s refocus state, nation on the “common good”

By Andy Brack, editor and publisher  |  In today’s media-saturated culture that focuses on appealing to individuals through greed and ego, the notion of “common good” may seem as charming and antiquated as the horse and buggy.

It is, however, fundamental to our nation, as highlighted in preamble of the U.S. Constitution, which listed our values in forming a more perfect union:  to “establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”

“Welfare” in this case doesn’t mean handouts by the government to people who are down on their luck.  It means people in towns and villages across the country working together to accomplish common goals, or goods, to make their areas better for all.


“‘Promote the general Welfare’ to me means we provide the environment that promotes opportunity for success,” reflected GOP Rep. Bill Herbkersman, a Bluffton developer.  “We don’t ensure anyone a good life, but we do provide fair opportunity, and protecting the fruits of one’s labor from those that do work from those that don’t care to, that ensures that the tax dollars extracted from the working goes towards the welfare of those that can’t.”

New England towns physically represent this notion of pulling together in the village greens or town commons, which originally were tracts of land in the center of an area to allow animals to graze.  Over time, they have become parks, often flanked by an old gleaming Congregational church not far from a community memorial for soldiers who died in the country’s wars.

Andrew Dorsett, town manager of Littleton, N.H., reflected upon an old proverb which says, “If you want to go fast, go alone.  If you want to go far, go together.”

A covered bridge in Littleton, N.H.

Sure, there’s individualism and spirited discussions about politics, just like in South Carolina.  But the harsh winters pull people together in ways that may reinforce the notion of the common good.

“We’re so small and we need to lean on each other for our own interests,” he said.  “It’s created this tight-knit community and maybe because of those conditions, the monies [for goods and services] are spent more locally.”

The notion of common good has served America well.  It created a national bank at the beginning of the nation, which boosted industrialism.  In turn as farmers exploited the nation’s bounty, entrepreneurs built the nation’s infrastructure.

The common good, through Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal, whipped the Great Depression.  The Greatest Generation sacrificed at home and abroad for the nation to win World War II.  Then came long-delayed successes in civil rights that led to improvements across the nation to improve education and reduce poverty.

What followed wasn’t pretty.  First was the “me generation” of the 1970s that fueled Wall Street’s greed for two decades.  Intertwined was an erupting partisan fissure that twisted the knives of politics into festering sores of race and class.  The result?  Our duty of common good is suffering.


State Rep. Tommy Pope, R-York, recently lost a special election to serve in Congress.

“Based on the recent election I went through, I think many see the desire to work together for the ‘common good’ and actually accomplish something as a weakness, not a positive attribute,” he said.

Pope reminded us of a Bible verse in the second chapter of the Book of Philippians that he said was the bulwark of his legislative service.  It reminds people to refrain from selfishness and conceit.  “Rather, in humility, value others above yourselves,” the verse says.

Pope observed, “I believe that is what our forefathers envisioned and expected from our newly-formed government — to serve the ‘common good’ of the people rather than inure solely to the individual benefit of those in office.”

Let’s hope that people in South Carolina and across America can start working together more and reinvigorate the principle of common good, instead of devolving into more individualism, rancor and partisanship that will tear us apart.  Let’s turn off the TV and turn on conversations with our neighbors.

“Alone we can do so little,” Helen Keller once said.  “Together we can do so much.”

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  1. Excellent article with an important message about working together for the common good.

  2. Excellent article about working together for the common good

  3. Fred Palm says:

    The common good is mutual respect and acceptance of another person’s beliefs and entitlements that is also reflected in that person’s acceptance of your beliefs and entitlements. Shared acceptance is another way to think about this missing quality in our contemporary values. Good for me good for you makes for the common good.

    But is goes deeper than getting along. We all can say The Pledge of Allegiance. It is the expression of the common belief we all share but also permitting differences in interpretation and acceptance of those individual interpretations to exist because it is for the common good of nationhood or our nation.

    The common good is also what gives rise to democracy as a form of governance, so in lacking this core idea of the common good, as we do in these times, we run the risk of not having the bill of rights that is the political expression of the common good. Absence of the common good makes it much easier to deny your rights, beliefs and entitlements.