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RightNation.US: Beck vs. Greer: The Common Good - RightNation.US

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In our political discourse, there are many words and phrases which mean entirely different things to different people. Justice, charity, and “the common good” come to mind. When Glenn Beck began warning people to run from houses of worships which preach “social justice” earlier this year, many critics took it as a stand against charity. Variations of “how could you be against ‘social justice?” reverberated throughout the media.

Perhaps the most prominent response came from Simon Greer of Jewish Funds for Justice. In a Washington Post op-ed, Greer took issue with Beck’s charge to “make sure your church puts God first and politics and government last.” Amidst a theological case for government helping the needy, Greer concluded, “to put God first is to put humankind first, and to put humankind first is to put the common good first.”

Beck rejected that notion on his radio show, calling Greer’s piece “exactly the kind of talk that led to the death camps in Germany.” Beck explained that atrocities like the Holocaust were excused by apologists appealing to “the common good.”

Wednesday, Greer fired back, arguing “the common good” is a founding principle of American government:

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Given Glenn Beck’s self-professed fealty to the wisdom of the Founding Fathers, I thought he might appreciate these words from John Adams: “Government is instituted for the common good; for the protection, safety, prosperity, and happiness of the people; and not for profit, honor, or private interest of any one man, family, or class of men.”


Greer clearly sees this quote as a grand “gotcha” moment. To those of us who understand what Adams meant (because we’ve considered more than one sentence), it demonstrates only a semantic disparity inhibiting productive discourse.

In Greer’s defense, Beck did a fairly poor job of making his point when he deemed “the common good” a precursor to death camps. Beck’s generalization was sweeping, making his own producer wince. Stu Burguiere argued not everyone who evokes “the common good” does so with nefarious motives, and urged Beck to qualify the statement further.

That said, Greer’s interpretation of “the common good” does have nefarious application, even if Greer does not intend it so. The reason is simple. Government, as George Washington told us, is force. When we speak of utilizing government to affect “the common good,” we are speaking of using force. It is therefore incumbent upon us to strictly define what “the common good” is, lest we use force arbitrarily. This is where Adams differs from Greer. The latter, as judged from his writings, views “the common good” as provision for the largest number. Adams view of “the common good” was upholding the integrity of individuals’ natural rights. That is a significant distinction.

Even the quote Greer cited makes this case. Adams tells us government is “not for [the] profit, honor, or private interest of any one man, family, or class of men.” In other words, government may not be rightly used to benefit a select group at the expense of another. This would preclude the redistributive taxation implied in the “social and economic justice” Greer advocates.

Beck’s point, though poorly made in a moment of exuberance, is a crucial one. When it comes to government, there is no “common good” which minimizes or sacrifices the individual. The only common good which government affects is liberty, freedom from arbitrary or despotic control. Sacrifice and charity are individual acts, the virtue of which are wholly undone when coerced.
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and not for profit, honor, or private interest of any one man, family, or class of men.”

This is a false choice. No one on the limited government side is arguing for a government that protects a small class of people.

Will we ever be rid of Charles Beard's ghost?
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