• Tyrants often try to justify their power grabs as being for the “common good”
  • There is no such thing as a “common good,” however
  • Collectivists will justify gross violations of individual rights in the name of the good of the whole

No tyrant ever seized power by openly saying his intent was to punish and forcibly rule over his subjects. The typical appeal is made to some “common good” of society as a justification for eroding the rights of individuals and centralizing power into the hands of the ruler or ruling class.

North Carolina progressives use the “common good” as a pretext for everything from a death tax to increased government spending to wildly expensive and wasteful public transit plans. The common thread of these appeals to the common good is a forcible transfer of money and power from the hands of citizens into the hands of the political class.

So-called “common good capitalism” peddled by the likes of Marco Rubio is another recent example. This system would of course erode the free enterprise system and replace the priorities of individuals with ones set by the government.

Moreover, the concept of a common good is a mere chimera, a hoped-for concept that is nothing but a myth.

A “good” can only be experienced by the individual. Each person has unique desires, values, needs, and priorities. There is no such “good” that can be enjoyed equally by everybody in common.

Scarce resources and the results of productive processes are valued and perceived differently by individuals. One man’s junk is another man’s treasure, and vice-versa. Even something seemingly innocuous like warm sunlight on a summer day is experienced differently by unique individuals. To one it could present a soothing warmth, but it could represent a health threat to be avoided by a fair-skinned melanoma sufferer.

When it comes to politically chosen ends, the “common good” is typically determined not by a majority within society, but by the most powerful members of the ruling class, designed to serve their preferred set of outcomes.

Friedrich Hayek, in his seminal 1944 book The Road to Serfdom, made the case that collectivists elevate the “good of the whole” as the sole ethical consideration at the expense of all others. The “good of the whole,” Hayek insisted, will justify any violation of individual rights and liberty.

“(T)here is literally nothing which the consistent collectivist must not be prepared to do if it serves ‘the good of the whole,’ because the ‘good of the whole’ is to him the only criterion of what ought to be done,” he wrote.

“Once you admit that the individual is merely a means to serve the ends of the higher entity called society or the nation,” Hayek continued, “most of those features of totalitarian regimes which horrify us follow of necessity.”

And perhaps still worse, the collectivists will recognize their gross violations of individual rights yet nevertheless convince themselves of their moral superiority. As Hayek wrote: “From the collectivist standpoint intolerance and brutal suppression of dissent, the complete disregard of the life and happiness of the individual, are essential and unavoidable consequences of this basic premise, and the collectivist can admit this and at the same time claim that his system is superior to one in which the ‘selfish’ interests of the individual are allowed to obstruct the full realization of the ends the community pursues.”

Under such a system, the desires and preferences of individuals are demonized. According to Hayek, “the striving for personal happiness” is painted as “immoral” while “only the fulfillment of an imposed duty” by those in charge is deemed as “praiseworthy.” In short, a subject’s moral worth is determined by his obedience to the preferences of the ruling class.

Those serving and promoting the common good therefore must remove any moral convictions of their own. They adopt the goals established by the leader as absolute and above all others. They must be “unreservedly committed to the person of the leader; but next to this the most important thing is that they should be completely unprincipled and literally capable of everything. They must have no ideals of their own which they want to realize; no ideas about right or wrong which might interfere with the intentions of the leader.”

This notion of sacrificing individual rights and freedoms for some fantastical notion of a “common good” begs the question: why would it be immoral to pursue one’s own desires while not imposing your preferences on others, but somehow moral for a ruling elite to force others to comply with their preferences?

People need to remain highly skeptical when those in power insist that the masses must sacrifice their own desires, interests, and rights in service of the “common good,” as determined by those in charge. Quite often it turns out to merely be a veil used to disguise the power grab of a tyrant.