On the Citizen and the Common Good

Author: Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio

On the Citizen and the Common Good

Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio

Politics as a high form of charity

Marking the bicentenary of Argentina, celebrated on 25 May 2010, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio gave an address which highlights his social thought. The following are excerpts from the discourse — given in Spanish — which provide a clear idea of his emphasis on the importance of the citizen, and the citizen's role in politics and society.

Each one of us must increasingly recover our own personal identity as a citizen, but oriented to the common good. Etymologically the word 'citizen' comes from the Latin citatorium. The citizen is the one who is summoned, summoned to the common good, summoned to cooperate with a view to the common good.

The citizen is not the subject taken individually, as presented by the classical liberals, nor a group of people crowded together, but what is defined in philosophical terms as "the unity of accumulation". They are people who are called to a union which strives for the common good, ordered in a certain way; which is called "the unity of order". The citizen enters a harmonious order, sometimes discordant because of crisis and conflict, but ultimately an order aimed at the common good.

In order to form a community, each one has a munus, an office, a duty, an obligation, a need to give himself, to commit himself and to devote himself to others. These categories, that come from our historical and cultural heritage, have fallen into oblivion. They have been blurred by the pressing thrust of consumerist individualism, which asks, demands, questions, criticizes, moralizes and, self-centeredly, does not aggregate, bet, risk, or stand up for others.

To be a full citizen, membership in society does not suffice. Even though it is a big step to belong to a society. Being in a society and belonging to it as a citizen, in the sense of order, is a great practical step; but the social person acquires full identity as a citizen through belonging to a people.

This is the key, because identity is belonging. There is no identity without belonging. The challenge of a person's identity as a citizen is directly proportional to the way in which he lives his membership. To whom? To the people of whom he was born and with whom he lives [...]. When we speak of the citizen, therefore, we compare him to the masses. The citizen is not a pile, a formless mass. There is an essential and qualitative difference between a mass and a people. The people is the committed citizenry, thoughtful, conscious, and united with a view to a common goal or project.

In this perspective, the reflection on the citizen, the existential and ethical reflection, always culminates in a political vocation, in the call to build a nation of people with others, a common life experience based on shared values and principles, history, customs, language, faith, causes and dreams.

Therefore, since the citizen is a person who is summoned and required to contribute to the common good, he is already involved in politics which, according to the Papal Magisterium, is a high form of charity.

The challenge of being a citizen, as well as being an anthropological reality, fits into the political context. For it is about the call and dynamism of kindness open to social friendship. And it is not an abstract or theoretical idea of generosity that establishes a vague concept of ethics, an "ethicism", but an idea that develops in the dynamism of goodness, in the very nature of the person, in his attitudes.

There are two different things. What makes the person a citizen is the dynamic of goodness unfolding to the social friendship. It is not the reflection on goodness that creates ethical guidelines, which, can ultimately lead to attitudes which do not use all our capacity for good. Goodness is one thing, and abstract ethics are another. Ethics can even exist without goodness. They are typical "of a mediocre existence", intelligence without talent and "ethicism" without goodness.

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
24 April 2013, page 12

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