This book should be read carefully by politicians, local and international, and by legislators of every stripe. That will not happen, but perhaps enough students and their professors will study this book so that its wisdom will be disseminated quickly and widely. Local and global debilitating divisions and stark inequalities are so pervasive that the need to address these injustices is of utmost urgency. The author argues clearly, concisely and persuasively that "the idea of the common good is an idea whose time has once again come." (243)
David Hollenbach, a Jesuit professor of Christian ethics at Boston College and a visiting professor at Hekima College in Nairobi, Kenya, is no novice to academic and religious conversations about economic and social concerns and their ethical dimensions. For twenty five years and more, Hollenbach has been a highly respected voice in constructing soundly reasoned ethical approaches to societal and economic problems. Many in the field of Christian ethics will recognize Hollenbach as the principal author of "Economic Justice for All: Pastoral Letter on Catholic Social Teaching and the U.S. Economy," issued in 1986 by the Catholic Bishops of the United States.
Hollenbach proposes that the common good tradition with roots in Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas be explored and, moreover, adapted for an age in which pluralism and globalism are here to stay. He urges on his readers an updated common good approach despite the fact that many elements in local and international society militate against the adoption of this tradition. The author is a realist who readily admits that today "...the idea of the common good is in trouble." (9) Yet, he remains throughout the book a calm but ardent advocate of an updated common good attitude and policy that could overcome the private interests of the powerful, interests that isolate the weak, the vulnerable and the poor. Hollenbach offers contemporary insights into how this tradition might alleviate the devastating consequences of live-and-let live policies that have left the haves and the have-nots dangerously separated from one another.
Hollenbach makes the argument, shared by certain other scholars, that tolerance is not enough to overcome the divisive arrangements that separate the poor from the affluent. Hollenbach is a communitarian who looks to the common good tradition as the way to insure that the poor, the unemployed and the otherwise handicapped are not excluded from the good life. He reports evidence that shows that racial discrimination, for all the evil it has and still perpetrates, is not the primary culprit in depriving citizens in the inner city from enjoying the goods that have accumulated to those who live in the suburbs. Inequalities in economic assets have much more to do with this unfortunate separation that is perpetuated by privileged power and that is usually gained from superior access to education and to better paying employment.
The author articulates ways in which the reliance on autonomy and independence as ultimate goods may be reduced so that there might be a broad sense of shared freedom and extensive interdependence. His argument that religious traditions have much to contribute to a more equal sharing of earthly goods is carefully developed. People, especially in the United States, through the privatization of religion have been deprived of the wisdom that has accrued to these traditions. Dialogue among these traditions in pursuit of the common good will prepare these traditions to become able conversation partners with each other and with secular society.
Professor Hollenbach makes judicious and effective use of his own Catholic tradition with his expert knowledge of the literature from modern Catholic Social Thought. This thought has found a nuanced voice in Pope John Paul II who has advocated a "a new culture of solidarity." (227). Academics no longer need feel squeamish about exploring religious and spiritual traditions. Despite recent turns to religious fundamentalism, these traditions have much that will help to counteract insularity, exclusivity, privatism and a false sense of autonomy.
Scholars will find especially thought provoking Hollenbach's sixth chapter, "Intellectual Solidarity." Civil and extensive dialogue will promote engagement with intellectual and religious traditions that have the potential of eliminating barriers and borders that falsely separate the privileged from the underprivileged.
Readers will be aided in their own work by Hollenbach's scholarly habit of using broad, precise and pertinent resources to construct his arguments. Welcome is the bibliography of electronic resources that complement an extensive but select bibliography of published sources. Professors and graduate students will find in these pages much wisdom about why and how the common good tradition might be retrieved. That tradition is eloquently and expeditiously presented in this book by an experienced and highly regarded academic.