Powerful concepts in the wrong hands (minds?) are immensely dangerous. Never downplay the awesome power of an idea. Never belittle a theory, for one truly profound soul put it very well: In matters of great importance, there is hardly anything as practical as a good theory! A misused theory can very well be the progenitor of much folly. One such concept is “the common good.” In law, it is advanced as the justification for the awesome powers of the State—police power and eminent domain. In moral theory, it is posited in conjunction with claims and demands for just distribution. Recently, the justices of the Supreme Court were treated to an unsolicited lecture: When you talk about the Constitution, they were rhetorically asked, is it just about a piece of paper? And the scolding went on: Look to the common good!
So just what is the common good? Nakinabang naman ang nakararami! No, the heiress was not really saying anything we had not yet heard before. In a speech that history will long remember not so much for the soundness of the position it advanced, nor even for its literary quality but for its sheer audacity, the Executive Branch of government, through its Head, instructed the Third Branch of government on how the Constitution is to be read: his way.
The Supreme Court was taught that there was a provision of the Administrative Code it had overlooked. Of course, no mention was made of the fact that the public respondent—they! —never called much attention to it either in their pleadings before the Court! But the motif was the same: How can something that benefited so many be wrong?
Although it is possible to trace its roots to the musings of earlier philosophers and moral theorists, the “common good” figured prominently in the treatises of the High Scholastics of the medieval period. From them we learn that “the common good” has nothing to do with counting beneficiaries, and still less with justifying breaches of the law by appeal to numbers appeased. It is not some kind of social reservoir from which society’s members may freely pick what they need—or what they fancy! It is a rather involved notion because it coupled the concept of a person as sui juris (self-determining, self-governing) with the necessity of social and political life. It cannot be the duty of the State to make the individual flourish. That would violate a cardinal mark of personhood – autonomy. But society had the obligation to make it possible for the individual to flourish, if he so desired. And so, the “common good” refers to the sum of circumstances—structures, services, resources—that must be present so that those properly motivated may actualize their optimal potential!
The Constitution is a requisite of the common good. It allows for organized and structured co-existence. It stabilizes behavioral expectations. I can, for example, reasonably expect that while waiting for a cab at a road curb, I shall not be assaulted by a passer-by who may dislike the color of my shirt, and this is the reason that we are rightly appalled when this happens. The people ordain a constitution to protect themselves from whim, and fancy, and the vagaries of temper and mood. And to urge that the Constitution need not be taken seriously when “the many are benefited” is to urge precisely what is antithetical to the common good: disorganized, unstructured co-existence.
Whoever advocates cavalier treatment of the Constitution plays a dangerous game, no matter that she apparently champions the cause of a million beneficiaries. That is exactly what coup plotters and adventurists believe—that the Constitution can be shoved aside “for the common good.” So there is some nasty, performative contradiction in trifling with the Constitution, and at the same time warning against coup plotters and silencing coup mongers. And this is a contradiction that is not only logically and pragmatically troublesome. It is enticement to dismantle the structure to which is owed the cohesion of society at a time when shared beliefs and values, unquestioned common norms and world-views, can no longer do the job that law—principally through the Constitution —achieves.
As for the Supreme Court venturing a judgment beyond the Constitution, that would, in itself, be a coup all its own. Please re-read the job-description of the judiciary!