in the ayn rand lexicon the common good is described as such:
“The common good” is a meaningless concept, unless taken literally, in which case its only possible meaning is: the sum of the good of all the individual men involved. But in that case, the concept is meaningless as a moral criterion: it leaves open the question of what is the good of individual men and how does one determine it?
let me try and apply this notion of the public good to the First Amendment Rights
When we talk about our First Amendment right to free speech, we understand it has a certain dual character: That there’s an individual right grounded in the equal dignity of free citizens that’s violated whenever I’m prohibited from expressing my views. But also a common or collective good that is an important structural precondition of democracy. As a citizen subject to democratic laws, I have a vested interest in the freedom of political discourse whether or not I personally want to engage in or even listen to controversial speech.
to put this into practice take the issue of body (strip) scanners that the TSA employs. One could argue that the individual harms that result from strip scanners are relatively slight, especially when passengers can opt for a pat down instead. In the worst case scenario, some unscrupulous TSA employee might find a way to save and circulate some of these blurry quasi-nude images, the embarrassment potential of which is likely to be mitigated by the fact that the x-ray view doesn’t really show an identifiable face.
However the social effect of making such machines commonplace—of creating a general norm that people who wish to engage in routine travel must expect to expose themselves in this way is of more concern. The airport becomes a schoolhouse whose lesson is that not even the most intimate spaces escape the gaze of authority.
doesn't this validate the concept of common good ?
What is most pernicious, and specifically disavowed by Objectivism, is the linking of the idea of "common good" with the concept of democracy (or society). Ayn Rand explains that issue in her essay, "What is Capitalism?", reprinted in Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal (CUI) and excerpted at length in The Ayn Rand Lexicon, in the entry on "Common Good." It turns out that the quote included in the question comes from that same excerpt. Just three paragraphs later, Ayn Rand strongly criticizes the linking of "common good" with "society" and "majority."
If there is anything unclear in Ayn Rand's discussion in CUI, especially in the excerpts published in the Lexicon, the question could benefit by explicitly calling attention to the aspects that seem unclear.
One additional comment. The question states: "I have a vested interest in the freedom of political discourse whether or not I personally want to engage in or even listen to controversial speech." Objectivism upholds this identification, but in a more general form: the value of a free society to rational individuals. In The Virtue of Selfishness, Chap. 1, Ayn Rand writes: "Can man derive any personal benefit from living in a human society? Yes -- if it is a human society. The two great values to be gained from social existence are: knowledge and trade." Ayn Rand goes on to explain how and why these values are possible. In the next paragraph, she also notes: "But these very benefits indicate, delimit and define what kind of men can be of value to one another and in what kind of society: only rational, productive, independent men in a rational, productive, free soceity." [p. 32 in my paperback edition.] I tried to find these particular paragraphs in the Lexicon, but I was unsuccessful, although the entries on "Trader Principle" and "Physical Force" express essentially the same ideas and more.
answered Oct 18 '10 at 00:39
Ideas for Life ♦