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THE COMMON GOOD IN THE POLITICAL THEORY OF THOMAS AQUINAS INTERPRETERS OF THOMAS Aquinas do not always advance the understanding of his political theory. As is too frequently the case in intellectual history, some of Thomas's followers find in his writings those ideas which are important to them and which they want to find in Thomas. These findings include " disciplined liberalism " as well as Thomistic hints of such concepts as a society of states, world law, world government, and a more radical populist system.1 The literature on Thomas's political theory abounds with positive assessments. I. T. Eschmann calls Thomas's treatise on kingship " a classic in the world's political literature." To C. H. Mcilwain Thomas stands as the most important single figure in the development of the theory of the state in the thirteenth century. Frederick Copleston admires Thomas's "moderation, balance and common sense." 2 This study investigates the function of the common good in the political theory of Thomas Aquinas. A document in which Thomas made a practical application of his political theory would clarify a great deal. Unfortunately, such a document does not exist. Thomas was not a professional politician and therefore not inclined to get involved in specific political activities and issues. This makes his political theory less timeconditioned but more difficult to comprehend in concrete terms: 1 See for example Thomas Gilby, Principality and Polity: Aquinas and the Rise of State Theory in the West (London, 1958), p. 72; Gerald Francis Benkert, The Thomistic Conception of an International Society (Washington, 1942), p. 70; Robert Maynard Hutchins, St. Thomas and the World State (Milwaukee, 1949), p. I; Walter ffilmann, Principles of Government and Politics in the Middle Ages (New York, 1961), p. 268. 2 Eschmann's introduction to Thomas's On Kingship to the King of Cyprus (Toronto, 1949), p. xxxix, hereafter cited as OK; C. H. Mcilwain, The Growth of Political Thought in the West (New York, 1932), p. 323; Frederick Copleston, A History of Philosophy (6 vols.; Westminster, Md., 1946-), II, 421. 155 156 RICHARD A. CROFTS His approach to politics was essentially theoretical. It did not arise from any practical issue. The impact of philosophy was the determining factor. His views on State and government were a deduction from metaphysical premisses.8 Primary sources for this investigation include the Summa Theologiae, the Summa Contra Gentiles, and Thomas's most political work, his treatise On Kingship.4 The starting point for Thomas's political theory is the conviction , shared with Aristotle, that man is a political and social animal. Or to state it another way, man's nature requires government and politics. To quote St. Thomas, " it is natural for man, more than for any other animal, to be a social and political animal, to live in a group." 5 Because of his social character man is obligated to do " whatever is necessary for the preservation of human society." 6 Aquinas felt that man's natural social condition as well as express ecclesiastical command obligated him to serve the political community.7 Social responsibility is the foundation of all community and is based upon truth, justice, and the happiness of individuals: Now as man could not live in society without truth, so likewise, not without joy, because, as the Philosopher says, no one could abide a day with the sad nor with the joyless. Therefore, a certain natural equity obliges a man to live agreeably with his fellow-men; • Thomas, Selected Political Writings, ed. with introduction by A. P. D'Entreves; trans. by J. G. Dawson (Oxford, 1948), p. xv, hereafter cited as SPW. Perhaps the only exception to this non-practical rule is Thomas's response to a question about the governing of Jews included by D'Entreves in his selections, pp. 84-95. Thomas's work On Kingship addressed to the King of Cyprus appears on the surface to be a concrete application of his political theory. It should be noted, however, that Thomas included a discussion of such subjects as how a ruler should best choose the site for his country or city, a rather theoretical subject to be included in a "practical " work. • Helpful guidelines for...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2473-3725
Print ISSN
0040-6325
Pages
pp. 155-173
Launched on MUSE
2017-05-15
Open Access
No
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